Actually I called 311, to report a leak. That was Saturday, after spotting a leak in the street on my way to do the laundry very early in the morning. I like to get there early so I don’t have to fight for a machine, or worse yet, for the single folding table my local laundry has.
I’ve seen this leak before, and it’s really only obvious when the temperature is below freezing and the water on it’s way down 152nd Street to the sewer grate on the corner starts to freeze and expand.
The first time I remember seeing it was a month ago, the last time it was below freezing on a Saturday morning, and I wondered if there had been a fire or something overnight, as there was a hell of a lot of frozen water in the gutter.
I followed the frozen stream up the block where it petered out, but there was no fire hydrant there or evidence of a fire and I lost interest.
But seeing it again this Saturday I was determined to get to the source of the mysterious ice stream.
I walked up the block from the southeast corner of Broadway and 152nd with my eye glued to the gutter, observing the ice that had formed around all the candy wrappers, cans, cigarette buts and whatever else ends up in our gutters. The ice petered out just short of the front entrance to 584 West 152nd.
And that’s when I noticed that here the ice had water around it, and I followed the wetness to a spot in the street a car’s width from the curb. There it was, a wet puddle, and I could actually see water actively flowing from a crack in the asphalt.
On closer observation I noticed that there was a trough of different colored asphalt a couple of feet wide that went up and down the street.
It looked like the street had been torn up at some point in the past few months, and either a pipe or cable had been laid or repaired, and then repaved.
It was my ah-ha moment, I felt like a real detective, and I took a picture.
Then I went back down the block to the corner, snapping more photos on the way. One way or the other I was going to let the world know about the leak I’d discovered. Maybe I could get it named after me.
While folding my clothes at the laundry I decided on a course of action. I would call 311; I was pretty sure reporting a leak is a civic duty. I envisioned Mayor Bill shaking my hand and handing me a plaque declaring me a civic hero for saving the city hundreds of thousands of gallons of water.
When I got home I found the 311 website and looked until I found the report a leak category. I filled out all the info, name, address, etc., and then I filled out all of the details, the location (a car’s width north of the curb 7 feet west of the front entrance of 584 West 152nd Street.) and whatever else I could think of, like my estimated rate of flow (at least hundreds of gallons per hour!)
Feeling very satisfied with myself I set off to our first meeting of the local community garden, The Garden Of Hope on 152nd between Amsterdam and St. Nicholas Avenues.
It was too cold to meet in the Garden, so we all retired to Wimpey’s Hamburger Heaven on Amsterdam Avenue. In the middle of the meeting I got a phone call that I declined, and when I looked at the number it said, “Water Department.”
Wow that was quick, I thought.
When I listened to the message, though, I was a little confused.
“We’re downstairs. Can you let us in?”
After the meeting I called the number back where I got a strange message, where a woman says, Hello? So I said, “Hello.” She said hello again and I started to say the leak is in the street. Then there was a third hello, followed by “I can’t answer right now, leave a message. Strangest voicemail greeting I’ve ever heard. So I repeated my “the leak is in the street” message and hung up.
There was a text as well, the one you can see at the top of this post, and I wrote, “The leak is in the street.”
I forgot all about it till Monday morning, when my phone rang as I was on a C train headed to the Whole Foods at 59th Street. I was somewhere between 103rd Street and 96th. I looked at my phone and it said WATER DEPARTMENT so I answered. It was the three-hello woman.
“Yes, we’re in front of the building, can you let us in?” I had no idea why they wanted to come in my building, but I knew I was going to lose her when the train left the 96th Street station.
“Listen, I’m on the subway and I’m going to lose you. Let me call you back.” Then I heard the beep-beep-beep of a dropped call.
As the train pulled into 86th Street the phone rang again.
“We need to get in and blah, blah, blah.” She was breaking up and I couldn’t understand a word she was saying.
“Look, I’m on the subway and I can’t understand a word you’re saying. Let me call you back when I get off.” Beep-beep-beep again.
At 72nd street I answer the phone again.
“Why you keep hanging up on me? I’m gonna hang up on you!” Beep-beep-beep.
Desperate to straighten this thing out and explain I had not hung up on her I willed the train to get to 59th Street as fast as possible. It slowed down for the lumbering entrance to the Columbus Circle station.
From the safety and relative comfort of the Time Warner building’s lobby I called back. The woman answered.
“We need to get into the building, why won’t you let us in?”
I had no idea why they wanted to get in the building.
“The leak is in the street, a car’s width north of…” There was a strangled cry of frustration on the other end of the line, some scratching noise, and then a man’s voice.
“Hello, this is the water department. Can you let us in?”
“Well, I’m not home, for starters. You haven’t found the leak yet? It’s a car’s width…”
“Sir, we found the leak, we just need to inspect your basement.”
“But the leak is down the block, in front of 584. I live on Amsterdam.”
“Oh. You’re not the building super?”
“But you reported the leak.”
“I’m just a concerned citizen.” I said.
“So you don’t need me anymore, do you?” Then in the background I heard voices, and the man I was speaking to said, “are you the super?” to someone.
Getting back to me he said, “No sir, we don’t need you anymore.” Finally.
Well, I’m impressed that the water department is on top of things. No so impressed with their communication skills. I deserve a plaque just for dealing with the three-hello woman, who raised my blood pressure to no end several times for nothing.