Local Dispatch: Replacing old pipes was hardly a gas for this community

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Back in the Middle Ages, folks had to deal with invasions by Vikings, Visigoths and Huns, who caused their communities unusual amounts of trouble and inconvenience. Nobody missed them when they left.

Here in Swissvale, we're dealing with workers representing the gas company.

Unlike those medieval invaders, their purpose is benevolent. They're replacing old pipes. Judging from the large piece of rusty metal I found in my flower bed a few weeks ago, this is a good thing.

But, as with the Visigoths and the Vikings, nobody around here will miss the gas company when they leave.

They arrived one May morning, with cans of spray paint and a nifty little gadget that cuts through concrete, and split the sidewalks. They returned with jackhammers, backhoes and other weapons of mass destruction and started digging.

They started early. Nobody on my street had to worry about sleeping late. The low roar of the backhoe began competing with the rattle of the jackhammer sometime between 6 and 7 in the morning.

In due time they had most of the sidewalks dug up along with parts of the street, so they could find the old gas pipes.

Once the pipes were replaced, the gas company replaced the sidewalks with gravel, which can be walked on -- but I wouldn't advise it. We slipped on the gravel and tripped over pieces of gas pipe.

They could be very considerate. They dug the 3-foot-wide trench across my street after most of my neighbors had left for work and filled it in before they came home.

They were dedicated. They came on Saturdays with their trucks and giant shovels, which made going anywhere on Saturdays kind of a challenge, but we managed.

There is no rule forbidding gas company employees from going into basements that they think might have mold. There is a policy that they may refuse to go into a basement if they think toxic mold might be present. But they are allowed to brave dank basements, if they think it's safe.

I learned this by emailing the gas company after the men who turned my gas off to fix my line told me they weren't allowed to go into my basement to turn it back on because I might have mold.

I can understand why they would make a mistake like that. It was the end of what was, probably, a very long day. Now that I know the real policy, there's a good chance that I won't have to heat my dishwater in the microwave anymore.

Of course, my gas bill won't be much this month.

Right now, we are celebrating the return of the sidewalks. One of my neighbors left a pitcher of ice water out for the crew who were putting in a new walk in front of her house. I considered putting out a six-pack.

There was a small backhoe parked in front of my house overnight. Only part of it was in my flower bed.

Having replaced the sidewalk in front of my house, the crew buried a third of it under what I hope is dirt. I expect some of my plants will come back.

I will not miss the gas company when they finally go away. Neither will any of my neighbors.

Firecracker season has just about started. In a few weeks, my street will sound like the siege of Vicksburg. I have a funny feeling I won't mind much after the jackhammers.

I have had one of those experiences that teaches you to appreciate everyday things, like sidewalks and hot water and quiet mornings.

Like the lady of a medieval castle, I have withstood the siege, taking only a little damage, happy now to see the invaders retreat and hoping it will be a very long time before they come again.


Jean Martin of Swissvale can be reached at ladyjeandeburg@aol.com. The PG Portfolio welcomes "Local Dispatch" submissions and other reader essays. Send your writing to page2@post-gazette.com; or by mail to Portfolio, Post-Gazette, 34 Blvd. of the Allies, Pittsburgh PA 15222. Portfolio editor Gary Rotstein may be reached at 412-263-1255.


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