So we’ve begun the complicated dance they call ‘professional home renovation’. It’s a complicated number; it involves being clean and dressed by a certain time, and the steps are more tightly choreographed. I’ve always compared it to swing-dancing in a minefield, based on my previous experience.
Up until the reality of hanging thousand-dollar cabinets in an out of square room hit me, I was happy to do just about everything myself. For the more specialized and dangerous tasks, like hooking high-voltage circuit breakers up to the board, or sanding oak floors, I was happy to hire somebody in. But this kitchen is a whole project; there’s demolition, plumbing, electrical, carpentry, framing, and finish work to be done in a particular order, and it’s all pretty specialized. If I had a million dollars and a month off work, I’d actually be looking forward to doing things like moving the gas line, or hanging the cabinets myself. But this house is out of square in four dimensions—which means I’d wake up two weeks after I started with nothing done, holding a pile of sawdust and some nails, and have no recollection of where I’d been or how the basement got flooded.
We’re thrilled with the kitchen planning company we went with (more info on that later: Movable Type now has unlimited weblogs, which means the house will get its own specific page) and we already have a plumber we know and like. We had an electrician, too, but I kept losing his number. I’ll back up:
Two years ago, we moved into this wreck of a house with a few conditions on the settlement. One of them was for the sellers to merge both electrical services into one (the doctor’s office was separate from the house) and upgrade the panel, which dated back to the 60’s and was a brand known for its ability to spontaneously catch fire. BG&E Home sent out a crew the first week we were in the house, which was a minor miracle based on further experience—I’m not recommending them—which consisted of one very nice man named B. who came to sort out the rat’s nest of wiring in our basement. I was at work, and Jen was upstairs in the kitchen unpacking our collection of orphan dishes, when she realized somebody was standing in the back doorway: The doctor’s son, who smelled like he’d fallen into a bottle (this was before noon on a weekday.) Jen’s curiosity got her talking to this man, and she felt safe enough to walk outside with him, knowing that B. was downstairs and by the window. (I’ll let her tell the rest of that story.)
Later on, after seeing the work he’d done, we got to talking with B. and asked him if he did electrical work on the side, pointing at all the ancient, deadly outlets around the house. He gave us his cell number, and I promptly lost it in the shuffle of housework and an upgrade to OS X. We tracked him down through BG&E, who gave us the number of his current employer, and I did a little social engineering with their receptionist to get his cell number. He came back out to hook up the wiring I’d prepared in the bedrooms, and a fair price for four hours’ work turned into a fair price for eight hours’ work (through no fault of his). He also got to meet Jen’s Mom, who had that particular ability of the terminally ill to ask probing questions into his personal life. He took all this in stride, which meant he was Good People. At this point he’d left BG&E Home and was working for another company, but was doing work for us on the side so we weren’t paying the markup. Unfortunately, I lost his number again during one of the many moves up and down the stairs before the wedding, and my focus was directed elsewhere after we returned from the honeymoon.
I should also add that my previous encounters with electricians have all been expensive and unsatisfying: For example, the job done in my first house was three times as expensive for half the work (and I’d done most of the prep, thinking it would save money.) This did not make me happy, and I decided never to re-hire that particular white trash electrician and his toothless apprentice.
Now that we’ve got the gears whirring, I realized we had to track B. down again through the various things we knew about him. Jen did a search online and found his old address down the street. (Aren’t the internets wonderful? Isn’t that also a little frightening, too?) There was no phone number associated with the address, and 411 couldn’t tell me anything. We decided to do a little footwork, and stopped at the address last weekend. I rang the doorbell, and we waited outside for a few minutes, but nothing happened. As we were walking back down the sidewalk, the door opened, and a woman in the throes of a massive sinus infection asked if she could help us. It turned out that this was B.’s wife, and that she didn’t have his number (they’re separated) but she’d pass along our information. We gave it to her, apologizing for getting her out of bed, and put the whole thing in the hands of the Sky Pilot.
As I was driving home yesterday evening, I called Jen to talk about dinner plans, and she told me she was talking with B., who was standing in our living room! He’d heard part of the story from his wife, knew of only one family on that side of Frederick road he’d done work for, and stopped by to see if it was us. As Jen explained all the work we had, his eyes got bigger and bigger. We stood and caught up for about a half hour, and he seemed happy to know we were looking for him. The sense of relief we have for getting him on the job is immense—he’s reliable, he’s good, and we like him. We’ve got first dibs, but if you need a good electrician in the Baltimore area, let me know. Because we have his number.