Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Broken plane

I was supposed to fly to Cleveland yesterday for a business meeting, and ended up not going because the plane broke down.

In spite of the fact that it was an early morning flight, with a return to Chicago later in the afternoon, I was looking forward to the short trip. A prominent high-end gift company was flying me out to meet with their lead design director and one of their top executives in the likelihood of establishing an ongoing consulting relationship. I would become one of their outside go-to guys for product design, ..which is good news, obviously. Some steady freelance work for me, and something outside the toy industry (which I do love, but after 17 years, gets a little monotonous). It will be nice to work some different muscles.

I had been emailing and speaking on the phone with the lead design director there, who as it turns out, is an old friend of mine from high school. We hadn't seen or heard from each other in the 30 years since, but I had noticed recently that he popped up on the Classmates website. His name is John Smith. Out of a sea of John Smiths in the world, I knew it was my friend since he was the only John Smith at Minooka Community High School, class of '79.
So I dropped him a note to say 'hi'.
I received a warm reply from him bringing me up to date on things at his end, and it turns out he pursued a career in illustration after graduating high school. Cut to now, and he's heading product development at the Things Remembered company. As I said, John and I were friends in high school. Even back then I had a good drawing hand and John had seen that I ran with it over the years. Along the way I had also acquired a lot of experience in product design, which is what he's now involved with every day.
Needless to say, our phone chats over the last couple of weeks have been fun. Certainly business talk and the potential of working together to create some beautiful stuff, but reconnecting after 30 years has been the icing on the cake. I was psyched for the meeting.
It was only going to be for a few hours, but meeting face to face with them would accomplish a lot.

So, I drove to O'Hare for my 7:42 flight, checked in, and boarded the jet, portfolio in hand.

And we sat there for 30 minutes, before they asked us to get off the plane.
There was a maintenance problem with the jet.
What's more, United didn't have a back-up jet available, and there were no other flights on which to put us.
We would have to sit and wait. Indefinitely. Until they fixed the plane, or got a stand-by flight.
My meeting time was quickly shot, because my return flight was at 3 PM.

I waited 2 hours before deciding to leave the airport and drive home. I phoned John and explained the situation, and he sympathized with my frustrations. There was nothing either of us could do except agree to reschedule our meeting, which is pending.

I may have dodged a bullet in avoiding a potential plane crash yesterday, but it doesn't inspire my confidence in United Airlines.

At least I didn't have any guitars to check in.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Confessions of a house geek: The Shitstorm

Seriously, waste and fecal matter need to be flushed out of any home, and mine is certainly no exception. Especially when there is a break in your sewer line and things start to get nasty inside from backup.
It happens to homeowners, and it happened to me back last month.

I had noticed my basement toilet was backing up, and the laundry sink wasn't draining. I called a friend of mine who handles my inside plumbing and heating and he suggested I call Power Plumbing to have my lines checked out. (I should note, I vetted this company well. They're highly rated and award-winning members of Angie's List)
Well, upon them coming out and doing a diagnostic with cameras and routers they found that my sewer pipe was half-filled with wet sand and silt. So much, that they couldn't get through it with their heaviest router. It had become impacted sludge.
There was a break in the middle of my back yard and they'd have to dig down, blow the pipe out with a jetter and replace the broken section.
Total cost; about $8000.

Oof!

There was no doubt; it had to be done. It had to happen fast, and this was nothing to cut corners on. It was a nasty job and these guys were the pros to do it right. So I bit the bullet and had them do it, starting to figure out a way to pay for it over the next few months.
Well, they did the repair, and the sewer line was clean, but upon inspecting the rest of the lines coming out of the house they found another problem.
My old kitchen pipe that went out my basement wall and out to an old grease-trap (which I had tied to the main drain 7 years ago) had completely rusted away and dropped from its connection. Waste water was leaking into the soil next to my foundation, and the wet soil was leaching into the sewer line by the break.
This, they determined, was a source of the larger and ongoing issue. This was a separate problem from the broken clay pipe in my yard, and would require another dig next to my foundation. It was a major repair outside and a rerouting of the way my kitchen drains inside.
With part and labor, it would come to another $7500.

Oof! Again.

I honestly couldn't stand to watch the 2nd phase of the work, but it went fine and it's fixed now. The good news is that my 115 year old house actually drains and flushes better than it ever did. A mean feat for a house that was built before the advent of indoor plumbing.
(Yes, that's right.)
The house has been modernized into the 21st century. My sewer line from the house to the alley is also as clean as a whistle, and there are now 3 clean-outs in different places to allow easy access for any future maintenance.

And as much as $15,000 would've been better spent on a new roof (which my house sorely needs), I can save the receipts from this project and get some equity there when I eventually sell.

..and I am reconsidering my battles at this point.
I can console myself in that this incident is a once-in-a-lifetime expense for any homeowner. Like getting a new boiler. It's expensive, but you never have to do it again. But there are other expensive things that go wrong with houses this old, and I have to consider an exit strategy if things become too much.
There is still too much to do on this place before I can seriously consider putting it on the market for sale. It's in much better shape than when I bought it 10 years ago, but still; with the housing market being the way it is now, I wouldn't walk away with very much.

So, I'm looking at a refinance right now. I'm hoping there is enough additional equity to pay off the balance on this repair work, and take care of some other debt that has been accumulating.
I still have some grand plans for the place, but every project has to offer some serious potential in return investment or I just can't justify it.
I'm hoping to hang in for another 5 years. By then, the place should be at a finished stage, both of my kids will be done with school, and the real estate market should be in a better place.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

..and I haven't slept in over a year!

I've been so busy.

Seriously, I'm not very good about updating this blog. Probably because nobody reads it.
I have certainly had the time to log in and post something, but life is barreling along so quickly, everything becomes yesterday's news too fast, or it's just way too transitory to mention.

But a couple of things bear mentioning. Since I'm here, and all;

My last blog entry coincides with my taking a hiatus from my beloved improv troupe; International Stinger. After 5 1/2 years I felt my life tugging me in directions that demanded some hard decisions. I had been in a new romantic relationship for two years, and the only time we were able to spend together alone, aside from a few weeknights, was every other Saturday night. All other times my kids were here. As Stinger moved up and gained membership status at the Playground Theater we started getting a lot more Friday and Saturday night show slots. In addition to all of that, we rehearsed every Sunday afternoon from 4 to 6 pm.
It was very rare that Leslie and I got an entire free day to ourselves.

When I co-founded International Stinger back in early '03 things were significantly different. The schedule and the late hours were fine and fun, but as Stinger got even busier I felt spread a little thin between being a single dad of 2 and performing improv. I was already saddled with tending my business in the toy industry and working on the house, and both of those weren't really progressing as quickly as I wanted. Still, I was very happy performing with my friends and dedicated to the troupe's growth. We were an established and respected ensemble.
But as my relationship with Leslie moved into 2 years it just became clear that I wasn't going to be capable of continuing. I wasn't growing as an improvisor anymore and I decided I either had to re-commit to the craft or step away.

This wasn't an easy decision to make, but it was necessary. I was already getting all the signals. I knew my priorities had shifted and I had to make a choice.
I have no regrets, but it was still painful. I will always cherish my time with Stinger. Such amazing and magical and hilarious moments we created together!

On stage and off.