Sometimes going home is hard

First of all, I need to apologize to my one trusty reader that I have been so delinquent updating my blog. I’ve been really busy and have not had a lot of time or energy to put into the blog. Plus, I have this pressure that I put on myself that every entry must be great. Every entry is far from great, even with effort, so I should strive for something less and maybe accidently do something interesting. So, my single reader, I apologize.

I have time right now though, oh my do I have time. I am sitting in the Indianapolis International Airport waiting for my baggage to hopefully arrive, and then waiting for Tomo to arrive 7 hours later than planned. I knew we were taking a risk traveling from LA to Indianapolis separately. Oh, the joys of holiday travel.

As part of the ex-pat life, going “home” tends to be difficult at times. You have many things you need to get done or plans to make and any one item can completely derail the plans. Welcome to my holiday.

It all started with a little snow in Nagoya on Saturday, December 19. I like snow, but not on a travel day. And, for some reason, I was compelled to try to get through as much work email as possible before flying away and was pretty successful clearing out the inbox. What I was not successful on was getting out of my house on time to make a leisurely trip to the train station. Nor did I anticipate the road construction making access to the taxis difficult. I had to take a taxi going the wrong direction, and the time it took for him to start heading the right direction severely impacted my total time available. I was running so late that I told the driver to keep the change (about a 240 yen tip, and you never tip in Japanese taxis) and jumped out. Luckily, he was kind enough to help unload. I dragged my bag across someone’s foot (sorry!) and scrambled to the train station. I was too late – it was past the appointed time. Oddly, the big board (or big monitor) showed that the train had not departed yet. What? Are Japanese trains running late? What is the world coming to? Indeed, the train WAS late. Perhaps it was the dusting of snow, perhaps it was construction, but I was saved. I made it on the train and to the airport with no problems. I saw this as a good sign.

I arrived at home in LA after a smooth run through immigration, baggage claim, and customs. I was rather surprised that immigration asked how long I planned to be in the States. Ummm, I AM a US citizen so does it matter? Anyway, I made it home, Tomo let me in (he had arrived several days before me), and things were good. Later in the day, I had to go in to the garage. I opened the garage door and got a pretty strong odor of natural gas. “Hey Tomo, does the garage smell like gas to you?”
“Yeah, I thought it did so when I turned the light on, I turned it on slowly.”
Of course, a spark is a spark, an explosion is an explosion, but I found it amusing.

Not wanting to take chances, I called the gas company to check it out. I had noticed an elevation in my gas bill, but not significantly enough to think I was turning my condo into a time bomb. I just thought my house-sitter was taking really, really, long showers. The gas company came, checked out a few areas, then checked out the flow at the meter and told me, “You have a pretty significant leak, but it is on your side of the meter,” so they promptly shut off my gas and put a lock box (think Al Gore when you read that) on it. That was on Saturday, I have no gas, which means no heat, no dryer, no oven/stove, and no hot water. And a gas leak that now has to be traced by a plumber. Oh no. Tomo and I had meaningful plans as well, a party to go to on Saturday, our own party on Sunday, an event Monday and Tuesday, and a Lady GaGa concert on Tuesday night before heading to Indiana. What next?

I knew this job would probably be a little too big for my usual plumber. He’s a crazy Irishman and I just didn’t see him having the methodical approach to get it done. That has nothing to do with being Irish, by the way. I really felt helpless, so I called one of those industrial strength, large plumbing companies. There was some confusion, so they didn’t make it to the place until Monday. We had a little hot water in the tank, but that disappeared quickly. Nothing like cold showers.

Still, we had our party with no hot food and had a really good time. It was great seeing so many friends. Of course, I talked to everyone at the party and one friend had high marks for his plumber. I forgot to get the number, but fortunately his son left his jacket and he had to swing by on Monday and I got the number.

Monday afternoon, Brian from Industrial Behemoth Plumbing arrived. Immediately, I thought, “uh oh.” He had no idea what the run was about, and wasn’t really prepared. Plus, I could tell immediately he just did not want to make the effort. “Well, it could be anywhere. It could be in the walls, and then we’d have to start ripping out the walls. It is probably easier just to re-do all the gas running through the house.”

Since the gas line is a closed system, to diagnose you pressurize with air (remember, no gas available) from some location and then start inspecting. Brian had some purple fluid that he haphazardly put on a few exposed joints and ruled out any leaks. In the meantime, I was freaking out because he seemed so, so, … something, and I just didn’t trust him. I called Kim, the recommend plumber, and probably sounded like a crazed fool. I think there was real panic in my voice. I talked to Brian again, got some estimates for home demolition, and then told him I had to get a second opinion. “I don’t blame you.”

I called Kim back and arranged for him to come that afternoon. He ran a little late because he decided to go out and buy a portable compressor for his truck. Nice. He came, and explained what he was going to do, and was very methodical. He disconnected all the flex tube from the pipes to the appliances, pressurized the system, and then went joint by joint with soapy water. We found a leaky valve at the hot water heater and a leaky valve at the furnace. The valve at the furnace was blowing BIG bubbles. I was relieved, it looked like our problems were solved. Kim replaced the valves and the system held pressure. I scheduled the gas company for inspection that night (Monday) and we would be good to go. Tomo and I had to cancel our big plans for Monday night / Tuesday, but Tomo was a good sport in spite of the event being his Christmas gift to me. We can make it up and no money was lost.

The interesting thing about gas lines is that there is one line from the meter to the house, and another line through the house. The meter to house line is buried, and in my case runs under a sidewalk and concrete slabs and planters. Great. Foreshadowing? You bet.

The gas company ran the test and said, “Well, you still have a big leak, it is about half of what it was before but still big.” Luckily, Kim was going to come the next day (Tuesday) to do some cleanup work and replace my garbage disposal (failed while out of the country), so I said, “We’re not done yet.” I talked to the gas company to learn how to test from the meter. Sure enough, once that line was pressurized, it took no time for the gauge to go to zero. Uh oh. This was serious. Kim was unfazed though, and started digging. He was able to expose all joints up to the line that ran under the slab by digging under the sidewalk and the slab. We were relieved to see that the piping underneath the driveway was plastic. Anyway, after some testing, he found another leak near the house. The soil in that area was disgustingly stinky, so it seems the leak might have been going on for a while. Maybe that explains why all the plants there had died.

Unfortunately, the joint could not be repaired without breaking concrete. Fortunately, it looks like the design of the condo took that in to account and we were able to minimize the damage, and perhaps it might be easily repaired. The joint was completely disintegrated due to corrosion. Not good. He replaced the joint, charged it up, and we STILL had a leak. Upon further review, there was a crack in the transition from the plastic tube to the galvanized elbow. At that point, Kim informed me that he didn’t have the tools for that repair and needed a colleague to do it and it wouldn’t be done until Wednesday. Unfortunately, Wednesday, today, is my travel day. A couple of phone calls indicate they have completed. We’ll see for sure.

But wait, that’s not all

That’s a sort of bad story, but today’s travel day hasn’t been that easy either. We decided to stay at a hotel last night because we really thought it would be a good idea to actually have a warm shower before traveling. I was flying Northwest, Tomo was flying Southwest based on the bookings I made. Sorry Tomo. Tomo got to the terminal 1.5 hours before his flight. That should be enough time to check in, right? WRONG. That’s absolutely ridiculous. The problem was not security, it was checking in bags. He got to the gate 10 minutes late. I was aiming for us to get to the airport at 6:45 which might have given us the extra time, but we didn’t quite make it.

He’s been working with Southwest all day to get here. He made it to Las Vegas, and is now finally on a plane for Indiana. That’s only 7 hours late. That’s not his fault. But it’s OK. My plane got in on time, and my travel was rather uncomplicated except for NOT getting upgraded to first class on one leg and a surly flight attendant who rejected my credit card and was aghast that I ordered lunch food in the breakfast period. I was tired though, and I think I fell asleep on the guy next to me. What hasn’t been OK those is the luggage handling by Delta. My bags, conveniently marked PRIORTY, did not arrived. Apparently they made it to Minneapolis. That’s what I’ve been told. Other than that? Who knows. I am waiting for the next flight from Minneapolis to arrive to try to find my bags (oh, and there is currently a winter storm warning in Minneapolis – I hope the flight makes it out). I hope my bag comes in because they contain all Christmas gifts and luckily Tomo’s toiletries. God knows his bags won’t be anywhere to be found. I hope they find his bags before he goes back to Japan!

Still, we are looking forward to seeing my family, and I hope we can have an uneventful Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, and Boxing Day. I hope to get my Kyoto description on line soon and my orphan experience. But until then, please have a wonderful and safe holiday season!