Monday, June 25, 2007

Fifteen Tons (and a garden rake)

Each day, as I look through my windshield up the 150+ feet to the road, I feel a sense of pride. The driveway itself might not appear so inspirational, as it’s only a smooth layer of crushed stone. It IS, however, a smooth layer of crushed stone—15 tons worth, all raked out by yours truly with a garden rake.

A contractor constructed the original driveway (and the utility pole, the septic tank, and such), laying crushed limestone by driving slowly while gradually dumping the cargo, but in a few years, the stone sank into the clay soil, particularly when heavy fuel trucks hazarded the drive. So, years later, a new neighbor, also a contractor, offered to drive his small dump truck to the quarry for a load of crusher—and the problem was solved with a new layer of stone.

Sort of. Over the years, erosion chipped away until the ruts were so bad that negotiating the drive required noting high ground for the tires. My neighbor had moved, so I turned to the phone book late one afternoon.

I explained my problem, and started asking questions. “Hang on,” interrupted the woman on the other end of the phone. “I’ll get the guy you need to talk to.” OK.

When “the guy” (who turned out to be the owner of the business) came to the phone, I started again. After asking me questions about area and depth, he gave me a very reasonable price on five tons of crusher—but wasn’t sure if he could do it that day. “That’s fine,” I explained, understanding this was late in the day, and the job certainly wasn’t urgent. “No, no—I just need to find if we have a free truck” (they were out at construction sites). “Let me call you back in five minutes.” Gotta love a guy who gets business—here’s a customer, checkbook in hand, ready to deal. Get the man some stone.

He didn’t call back—he showed up 20 minutes later (impressive, since his business is 15 minutes away). We talked, I explained where I wanted the stone, he said he’d try, did an awesome spread—and noted that he’d given me a few extra tons. I could see that. Roughly, he grabbed a truck with two tons of crusher, added the five tons, and dumped what he had. From our chat, he was clearly building a new business, and I was certainly a satisfied customer.

I spent a few weeks raking out the stone with a rake—not an easy task, working on it a few hours a day (and nursing my sore muscles). But, as the sea of stone gradually settled, I realized I would need another load to finish the job.

I called the same business. This time, I got a very pleasant, witty young woman who, in the course of our conversation, revealed that she had recently been hired—the business was growing. I placed my request for another five tons of crusher, and by chance, it was again late in the afternoon. As before, my point that I didn’t need delivery that day was rebuffed, they’d find someone, and 20 minutes later, a very large dump truck arrived, driven by a polite but clearly not happy man. He surveyed the job. “I don’t like to spread uphill,” he noted, and given the size of his truck, I could see his point—we’d definitely be testing that thing’s center of gravity. “That’s fine,” I explained. “Just spread downhill and back up over it.” He agreed.

When he had done this, a significant load of crusher still lay in the dump truck’s bed. “Just leave the rest up here in a pile,” I asked, gesturing toward a depression near the road. “I expect to rake it out anyway.” He hesitated, then got into his truck, gingerly backed to the indicated spot (carefully avoiding the mailbox) and dumped the entire contents—clearly far more than the five tons I’d ordered (I estimate at least eight tons). “I gave you a little extra,” he said. “Thanks,” I answered, paid the man, and let him get home.

I’m reminded of graduate school in Cambridge. My housemates and I were struggling with difficult studies and difficult finances in an expensive corner of the world. We split up duties as best we could for mutual benefit, mine including visiting Boston’s Quincy Market at Faneuil Hall one a week for produce and seafood. This was a two day affair, Friday and Saturday, but I always went on Saturdays, around four o’clock, an hour before the end of the market. I’d walk around, buying nothing, just seeing what was available. Before long, though, merchants would realize they had unsold fish and fruit that wasn’t going to keep another week, and suddenly bananas were $1 a bunch, fresh seafood ridiculously inexpensive. Nor did I need to push my way through to the bargain table, since other merchants immediately took up the tune. I returned each week with two grocery bags full of food, $10 worth, all I could carry back home via the subway.

“Tons of work” certainly took on new meaning. Even wearing heavy work gloves, I had blisters all over both hands. I tried to use a shovel and wheelbarrow to move some of that stone pile, but I found that so unproductive that I settled for just gradually raking it down the drive. I’d work for a while and check the time—oh, just five minutes. Sigh. I hurt in places I didn’t know I had places. But every day a little more, and then every day a little adjustment, and eventually—done.

Now it’s a work of art. And now, as usual, I have a ton of work to do, and I can’t imagine how I’ll accomplish it. But I have a rake.



Two Write Hands said...

This post feels a little Elbert Hubbard-ish for the new century.

Writer said...

Ah. Well, perhaps this century could benefit a bit from idealism, fine books, and hand craftsmanship.

Thanks for the thoughtful post!


Two Write Hands said...

Back when he was teaching, my husband used to begin each semester of his remedial writing course with the Message to Garcia. The ones that got it didn't figure it out until long after the semester was over. It was the same way for him when he had the assignment.