Sunday, 3 August 2003

Greetings to all reading our trip journal! Last year we drove east; this year we're heading west. I know, I know … it's not very imaginative. But forgive us. We're binary thinkers.

In addition to a change in direction, we've got another big change on this trip. Our good friend David Hale is accompanying us. For those of you who don't know David, he's the fella whose genius was behind the dining room and kitchen makeover of a few months ago. He just finished taking the Missouri Bar Exam on Wednesday, so he's ready for a little R & R; that, and he doesn't have a job. See, that proves it: the economy is so bad, even newly-minted lawyers can't get jobs.

Over the last couple of weeks, Denise and I have been busy busy busy busy. Our tenant finally moved out downstairs in our duplex (well, not totally … but that's another very long, very annoying story), and she left behind a lot of work for us. Oh sure, when tenants move out, we repaint rooms that need it, and we perform any minor repairs that need our attention. But the work we've been doing the last few weeks? Oy.

Picture this: it's her last day in the apartment, and we'ere doing the walk-through with her. Everything is out (except her damn piano, part of the very long, very annoying story). About 2/3 of the 1700 square feet are hardwood flooring. The previous owners of the building hadn't really redone the floors during the entire time they owned it—they really didn't need to—and while Denise and I had redone the floors in our place when we bought the house, we hadn't redone the tenant's floors: we really didn't need to. Oh sure, they could have used renovation, but it wasn'tnecessary. When I say "redone" & "renovation", by the way, I mean it: sand the floors down to the wood, removing all polyurethane and wood stain, and then apply multiple coats of poly back on. It's a big job. It's a time-consuming job. It's a hard job. It's the job we've been doing for the last three weeks.

Back to why we're doing this job. We're doing the walkthrough. Broken glass on the front door. Add it to the list. Broken storm door. Add it to the list. Broken freakin' door knob. Make that, no door knob. That's right … no door knob. Just a white rag stuffed in a hole where the door knob used to be. And you know it takes real skill to BREAK A FREAKING DOOR KNOB! Add it, grumbling, to the list. Dirty floors. Add 'em. Walls that need painting. Not her fault, but add 'em to the list. And what the hell is this?!?

I unfortunately don't have a picture of the damage on my laptop. It's at home on my desktop. But I will add it once I get back home, because you really have to see it to believe it.

I'm walking through the hallway, and right in the middle of the hallway is a … problem. A problem with the hardwood floor. Picture an area on the floor about the size of a large coffee cup, or a mug. In that spot, there is no polyurethane any longer. There is no wood stain. There is wood, but it is evil, nasty-looking wood. It looks like something wet and corrosive was placed on the floor, and left there for a long, long time to work its hideous magic. Around that hellish spot are rivulets of more evil, creating a dinner-plate sized area of hardwood floor devastation. If you melted Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin, and Pol Pot down into a bubbling green brew, and then poured it into a glass tube, shook it so it got really angry, and then let it slowly ooze onto a floor, you would have roughly the same spot as the unholy mess I saw on my tenant's hardwood floor.

I gasped when I saw it. My stomach retched. I staggered backward in horror, raising my arms in a futile attempt to shield my gaze from its Medusa-like effects. My mind reeled, as I saw visions that still make me shudder when I recall them in tranquility. The edges of insanity were fast racing towards my weakened state …

Alright, that didn't happen. But I was pretty p.o.'d.

And the following conversation took place.

ME (annoyance in my voice): What happened to the floor?


ME: The floor. What happened to it?

TENANT: Huh? What do you mean?

ME: Look at the floor! What happened to it?

DENISE: Aaaaaaaagh! Oh my God! The horror, the horror!

(OK, Denise didn't really say that. But it would have been pretty cool if she had!)

TENANT: Wow. I've never noticed that before.

ME: Uh-huh.

Yeah. Never noticed an entryway to hell on your hardwood floor before, eh? Suuuuuuuure.

The end result? In order to fix that one problem on the floor, we had to redo all the hardwood floors. Why? Because the floors had a very dark stain applied to them, and there was no way we could match that stain after 20 years. Because all the floors are connected, so changing one area means that you have to change them all. Because that spot demanded an exorcism.

The real end result? Denise and I and Randy (the waif we've taken in) have been busting our humps (I love that phrase) over the last several weeks. We actually made it harder on ourselves. The dining room had this awful gray carpet in it, thin and wrinkled and ancient and completely unattractive. I ripped it up and threw it away in order to get to the hardwood flooring beneath it. Unfortunately, the padding under the carpet had the consistency of 50-year-old asbestos, and the adhesive that held the padding to the floor had long since turned into a gummy, tar-like paste. It was so thick and so sticky that I half expected to find mammoth or sabre-tooth tiger fossils in it. But under it … ah, beautiful hardwood, just waiting to be reborn, Phoenix-like, and restored to the glory it knew in 1912, when it was first transmogrified from wood to floor.

We've been busy. Denise and Randy painted a lot, which had to be done anyway. I rented a drum sander (very manly, that) from Home Depot and went over all the hardwood floors three times, sanding them down to the smoothness of a baby's ass. Randy used the edge sander (even more manly, I must admit) to get all the edges. Meanwhile, Denise used another evil substance—adhesive remover—to remove that gunky tar off the floor of the dining room. On her hands and knees. With a 2" wide putty knife. While breathing in fumes guaranteed to shorten her life and kill brain cells in record numbers. Glad she did that job & not me! After she finished the floor, I used the drum sander on it, but that didn't do much. Randy had to go over every inch of the floor with the edge sander and that, if you don't know, is hard, grueling work.

And it's still not done. We've got a new tenant, and she looks great, but fortunately she's not moving in for a few more weeks. That gives Randy time to finish sanding any remaining spots with a palm sander, and then to apply four coats of polyurethane, and then to perform any touch-up paintwork that needs to be applied. It's a lot of work, but he's got time, he's got nothing else to do, and he's got motivation: money. He'll do a good job.

So, I guess that's a long way of saying that we're all glad to be going on vacation. Denise has been to California several times, and I think David has as well, but I've only been to Palo Alto twice to speak at conferences. We've been to the Grand Canyon and Sedona and Phoenix, and I look forward to going back. Denise has been to Denver several times, but I've only been there once, perhaps twice, and that was a long time ago, when I was but a wee lad. So most of our journey will be virgin territory for me.

Of course, we'd planned to leave by 3 pm today, but we didn't really leave until 9 pm. I wasn't surprised. Now it's 1:30 am and we're about 30 miles outside of Tulsa, Oklahoma, our first planned stop. Believe me, it's not because Tulsa offers us charms unavailable in St. Louis. I've been to Tulsa a couple of times, and if you've ever been to Tulsa, I think you know what I mean. However, David's best friend from college works at Oral Roberts University (!), so we're going to see her tomorrow. And it's a convenient stop, only 5 hours or so from St. Louis. A good stopping point for the night.

Good night.

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