Random Brain Dumping

Musings and observations about life

20 years ago, a blizzard changed my life

Forecasters in this Southern town of about 25,000 had told us a storm loomed, and as I headed home from work after 11 p.m. – traveling about a mile uphill – a light snow fell.

Once home, I walked through living room, down the hall and into the kitchen, noticing mail on the floor, yelling at my sons in my mind for not picking up the mail, and going downstairs to check on them, making a mental note to pick up the mail when I came back upstairs.

They slept.

Back upstairs, I picked up the Friday mail and noticed one from a university where I had applied for a graduate school fellowship. Already, I had received two rejection notices that said something like, “Because we received packets from so many qualified applicants, we had to choose the best of the best” and then letting me know I wasn’t among the best.

The first word of this letter, which I had found face-down on the floor, was “Congratulations,” and while I was thrilled to see that word, I had not decided to move to that state. My choice school was Washington University in St. Louis, and I held out hope that Washington University would give me a fellowship so I could go there.



My sons made this 4-foot-tall soldier snowman in 1993. This shot was taken on Day 4.

My sons made this 4-foot-tall soldier snowman in 1993. This shot was taken on Day 4 of the blizzard.

The next morning, the roof of my detached carport sagged under the weight of the snow, threatening to smash my new car, a Geo Prism.

A tree just outside my back yard had fallen onto my fence and my neighbor’s fence, fortunately missing both houses. My insurance company would pay to fix the carport and fences, and have the tree cut up and removed.

(I will say that I ultimately paid someone to cut up the tree after renting and learning how to use a chainsaw and failing miserably at doing the work myself. My hands and body ached for weeks, and I know this may sound sexist, but chainsaw work is not for women, at least not this woman.)

My sons each donned my Army boots – neither can fit my boots any longer – put on layers of clothes and went traipsing around the neighborhood to join other kids at play.

As the weekend editor at the Anniston Star, however, I had to go to work, and since my car was covered in snow and the streets yet to be cleared, I fabricated a sled out of cardboard and a plastic bag and slid on my bum down the hill to work.

Turns out, for the first time in the newspaper’s history, papers couldn’t be delivered. Not that day or for several days afterward either. The city had shut down, with the exception of Waffle House and a radio station (The DJ couldn’t leave, and no one could come in to relieve him; the station ended up being the conduit for requests for help and offers to assist.). Waffle House became the community center and the only source for outside foot – if you could get there.

I sent reporters to both places for interviews. Even though we couldn’t distribute the papers, we still printed them, ultimately wrapping the current edition around the old ones when the roads were clear enough for carriers to make deliveries.

Students got five days out of school. I was in my final semester of an education degree and was doing my student teaching at a middle school at the time. When the students returned, eager to share their experiences, I told them they could not speak about it in my class. Instead, they had to write about their storm experiences.

Write, they did. Even the boy so unmotivated that his only participation thus far had been taking the weekly spelling tests wrote.

Because we had been working on drama, they students wrote essays, then plays and then chose characters to act out their experiences.

The unmotivated boy even volunteered to act in each play, at one point playing the role of the family cat.

That blizzard provided so much fodder for great stories – and provided clarity for me.

That congratulatory letter was from a school in Florida, a school that had given me 30 days to reply with my intention.

Hmm. Snow in St. Louis or sunshine in Florida. A maybe vs. a promise of four years with full tuition and a stipend.

The blizzard of 1993 indeed changed my life – for the better.

March 18, 2013 Posted by | Random Brain Dumping | , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Stop the trickle before it becomes a stream

When I got a water bill for $1,000 for my vacant house, I asked that my meter be checked and my bill adjusted.  When I got a bill for more than $3,000, I decided to take on the city.

The $1,000 bill was December 2010, before I moved back to the Atlanta house. The meter was checked, the bill not adjusted.

Water meter and torn-up sidewalk after service line repair

This water meter supposedly makes it easier to check water usage. That stuff in the background is the remains of my sidewalk and torn-up grass after installing the new service line.

A month later, I moved back into the house and began paying only the $45 or so average monthly bill (rather than the ridiculous extra fee).

Ten months later, when the bill began averaging more than $200 and ultimately topped $3,000 cumulatively, I stopped paying and ultimately decided to take on the city, a city where people were getting water bills for thousands and thousands of dollars – a month.

I won … and lost.

Atlanta residents have been complaining about high water bills since the city installed electronic meters that allow drive-by readings.

The system is flawed, and the city now has to issue refunds to residents affected by the faulty meters.

But, that may or may not affect me.

As I said, I won and lost.

In March, I contacted a plumber to have him check my system for leaks so I could be sure I had no significant issues that would cause my bill to quadruple. He checked everything and found only a minor leak that seemed like it could have been a drip on an outside spigot.

Armed with his information, I met with the appeals board, who told me either I had a leak or I was using a bunch of water.

Now, I do take extra long showers, but I use rain barrel collections to water my plants and wash my car. (Well, I’ve used it once to wash my car; I usually just let rain wash my car.) I use the barrel water to fill my fish aquarium and replenish my dogs’ water bowls.

Anyone who knows me knows I hate laundry and doing dishes, so I don’t run either water-guzzling appliance until I absolutely to.

The bottom line is that I don’t use that much water in my house.

The board members suspended my case to allow me to hire yet another plumber to check for leaks.

Hidden behind the furnace in an extreme corner of the basement, bubbling up in the dirt was a leak. A leak that likely had been bubbling since October 2011, when my bill skyrocketed. The previous plumber had not checked that area.

Fixing the leak would cost about $700. I had already paid about $300 to fix a leak last year. Replacing the service line would cost about $1,300 and would mean no more leaks.

I replaced the line and rescheduled my appointment with the appeals board, where I was given credit for the $1,000 bill from 2010 and other adjustments for the two highest bills in 2011 and 2012.

Total credit was about $1,900.

That was the win. The loss was that because I waited so long to appeal, I still owed some of the high bills.

Ultimately, I had to pay the remaining $1,100 bill.

Here’s what learned from the experience.

If you have a high bill, have your meter checked. If the meter is deemed OK, have master plumber check your house for leaks – and fix them. (A neighbor who also had taken on the city recommended the plumber I used.)

Appeal your bill. (If you’re in Atlanta, you’ll appear before the Water and Sewer Appeals Board.)

If the leak is from a faucet or toilet, you won’t win your appeal because that’s something you can see should do something about. If the leak is hidden in the corner of your basement or in the ground, you can win the appeal.

The hardest lesson I learned is that procrastination is costly.

Atlanta allows residents to get credit for only two bills a calendar year. Had I appealed the month I got the first high bill, I wouldn’t have encountered other high bills and would have gotten credit for the high ones.

Footnote: Got my latest water bill today, Oct. 1. It’s for $740.67. The fight continues.

October 1, 2012 Posted by | Random Brain Dumping | , , , | 4 Comments


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