Coverage: Aftershock

The Rabbi has become my new BFF.  We text several times a day, engaging in deeply philosophical and intellectual conversations that span a myriad of topics.  I just wanted to share one such lofty exchange with you.  Mike, in green, started it:

It is a rare thing to find someone with whom you can converse on such a level.  I feel very fortunate to have this jackwad in my life.

Coverage Day 15: Release...and Rogues' Gallery

And like that, it's done.  Words cannot describe how I'm feeling tonight.  Dead tired, relieved, joyful at the end, and full of incredible emotion at saying goodbye to everyone I met at the garage.  Here we are, my team:

I really cannot think of anything to say, other than to thank all of my family and friends for being so incredibly supportive during these past two weeks.  It sounds so banal but I truly could not have done this without all of your love and encouragement.  And thank you to the Powers that Be for making today such a beautiful summer day.  The sky was amazing this morning driving to Rockland, and the view from the TZ coming home was crystal clear, I could see for miles both to the north and the south.

In lieu of words,  I thought I would just put up a gallery and let you see some of the faces behind the names I've been dropping in these posts, and some unmentioned but still worthy of seeing.  These are some of the most wonderful people I know.  Brothers in arms.  My garage.


Coverage Day 14: Penultimatum

T minus two days.  The light at the end of the tunnel grows brighter.  What a relief to drive into the garage compound without the Red Sea Crossing.  Inside, RB had brought in breakfast, and over coffee and bagels there was still a haze of mixed feelings about the end of the strike.  The morning prayer was short, we saddled up and headed out. Mike and I had swapped jobs with Fred, because apparently Fred's original jobs were in his neighborhood and he didn't feel like running into people he knew.  Fine, whatever, at this point it made no difference and it would be a nice change to get out of Monsey, so we switched.  Our first job was a "no access" right off the bat because we couldn't get to the telephone box on a Sunday.  Our next job was in a duplex where the upstairs apartment had had intermittent static on the dial tone for over a year, and in the past week the incoming calls were not getting through.

This was the first job we diagnosed ourselves, alone, without one phone call.  It took hours, again in a rundown house with no A/C, trotting upstairs and down, wiring and rewiring, finding and losing dial tone.  Finally we took a lesson from the past and installed a new NID, rewired the jack and the problem was solved.  I say "installed" and "rewired" rather blithely...the Rabbi and I have sworn a sacred oath that what it takes for us to manipulate the ends of copper wire, tiny little screws, 18-volt power drills and what-all else to get the job done, shall remain an inviolate secret to the grave.

We took our triumphant selves out to lunch, and not to a deli for sandwiches eaten in the truck or the break room at the CO, but a proper sit-down at a cafe (and oops, as I write this I realize I forgot to take my receipt with me to expense).  We were tired, but we marveled at how the human body adapts, for two weeks ago the fatigue had been crippling, now it was merely part of the background noise.  Yeah.  Tired.  What else is new.  Carry on.

We carried on to our last job, which ironically had us in the exact same neighborhood where we had done one of our very first jobs, two Mondays ago.  It felt like two years ago when we stood around Glen - the only one with a modicum of experience - watching him and trying to make head or tail of what he was doing, trying to match it to something, anything we had learned in training, struggling with frustration and weariness and feeling stupid.  Now we were out on our own and finding a groove.  I was climbing on the roof of the van taking out extension poles so the Rabbi could knock an old piece of aerial wire down from a tree.  It turned out to be the wrong piece of old aerial wire, as we discovered when we called the customer to say the job was done:  we were around the block from his house and he was staring right at his piece of dangling, old aerial wire.  Well, I said we had a groove, I didn't say we had a GREAT groove.

We drove around the block and inspected the wire.  This was dangling off the strand along a road that sloped down an incline too steep for our inexperienced taste.  We explained to the homeowner that we were barely confident putting a ladder across a strand on level ground, let alone on a hill.  He was understanding about it, safety first and all that, and we said we'd send it back for someone to come with the bucket truck and get it done in six seconds.

By then it was four-thirtyish.  We took the long way back to the CO to call in our tickets, then headed back to the garage.

The whole day it was in the back of my head that tonight I would be saying good-bye to the Rabbi.  Having worked six straight days, he is entitled to a day off, which he is taking tomorrow.  So tonight was it.  In two weeks this guy had gone from a complete stranger to a trusted friend.  I would never forget what he'd done the day I was up on the ladder and the picketers came, hearing his voice saying, "Listen to me and only me," and knowing he was right there with his foot on the bottom rung.  We'd merged our brainpower, stumbled and stuttered through the learning process, found trust and amassed a few private jokes, and somehow coagulated into a functioning team.  If the strike had gone on, I knew we only would have become better at it.  There was almost a degree of wistfulness of not knowing what we could have been.

The rain was coming down hard when we all came out of the garage tonight and headed for our cars.  The Rabbi and I hugged hard under his umbrella and said good-bye.  "It was a privilege," I said.  "I'm gonna miss you," he said.

When I started up my car, out of my iPod came Dave Matthews' "The Best of What's Around."  Never before have the words been more true:  turns out not where but who you're with that really matters...

Coverage Day 13: Liberation

And just like's over.  In two days, I will have my life back. I certainly didn't see it coming.  I woke up after a good night's sleep including that whole extra hour because we don't start until 7:00 on weekends, and who knew setting the alarm for 5:30 instead of 4:30 would be so thrilling.

TZ Crossing:  Journey's "Suzanne."

Red Sea Crossing:  Uneventful.

Morning festivities:  Full of rumor, gossip and intrigue.

Kerry mentioned that she'd heard from someone who knew someone who'd heard from someone else that New York and Massachusetts were in alignment, only Pennsylvania was holding out, and that everything should be wrapped up by Friday.  Pause to figure out what day it is.  Friday, OK, that means end of next week.  But it's a rumor.  I let it in one window of my mind, and shooed it right back out another.  The last thing I need is false hope.  Not interested.  Come back with the goods.  Besides, I hang out with Rabbi Sunshine who is already investing in his long underwear and electric socks for when we are still doing coverage in November.

Rab and I got breakfast and ate it in the truck in the CO parking lot.  And over 80s music on the radio, we proceeded to bond.  We had a really great conversation, life stories, lot of laughs and reflections and philosophy.  It was a good time.  I was at peace.

We started off to our first job at an apartment complex in Monsey.  Some of the places we've seen on jobs either turn our stomachs or break our hearts...or both.  We were let into a tiny studio apartment that a single mother had been living in for eight years:  it was the size of my kitchen.  And broiling hot, there was no A/C.  Her phone had been out a week and try as we could, it came down to needing access to the phone boxes on the side of the building, which were all locked.  And it was Saturday so no superintendent was on the complex site.  We had to call around to a few different numbers and leave messages before someone finally got back to us with yet another number, the super's direct line, and we left a message there.  So that was a chunk of time and hassle with no results.

From there we headed over to a community home for disabled adults - with a small diversionary drive as we found ourselves being tailed by red shirts but it didn't last long.  I won't describe the home to you because I am a coward.  It was pretty unbearable and another large helping of "shut the F up, your life ain't that bad" to choke down.  The building's main line was on the fritz as well as their fax line.  The funny thing was that the Rabbi and I got the job ticket for the main line, and then we bumped into one of the Mountain Brothers who had the fax job.  "We could never get one of you guys out here before," the woman at the desk marveled.  "Now we got three of you!"

She showed us to the panel in the back room and Mike and I proceeded to do our thing.  Check dial tone and the number.  Take the wires off the binding post.  Then get out the damn meter and pretend we know...what...we're talking...about...wait a minute..."Hey, Mike, I think I got a good one," I said, the lightbulb beginning to flicker over my head.  "Look at this.  Look.  See that?  And that on the ring side?  That's a good pair, isn't it?"  He peered over my shoulder.  "That is a good one," he said.  "I think we got it.  Now can we trace it?"

Ah.  Yes.  Unfortunately this particular establishment had the rotten luck to be serviced by the notorious Central Avenue Cross-Box.  This box was hit by a car nearly a year ago and while it suffered significant structural damage, the wires within remained intact and sound and little service was interrupted.  Until some other individuals (who shall remain nameless) arrived on the box on a certain date in time (which shall remain undisclosed) and proceeded to perform an act of violence (unproven) with an alleged instrument (possibly a pair of scissors but we can neither confirm not deny).  In a nutshell:  when we set tone on the binding post in the home, picking it up in the mangled mess of intestinal wire in the cross-box was going to be like finding a you-know-what in a you-know-where.

Unless...of course...Re-Pete, the master of cable and splice and all things nice, was at said cross-box...

Muah ha ha ha ha ha ha HAH!!!

The Rabbi nipped on over to the cross-box, which, since it is shrouded in blue tarp and surrounded by a chain link fence, goes by names like "The Hole," "The Hut," "The Clubhouse," and "Roy Bruce's Hubcap Shop."  He called me when he arrived, "Pete is here!"

"Helloooo, Pete!" I called.

"Helloooo, Suzanne," I heard in the background.  I've stopped trying to correct him on my name, it's just a lost cause.  I flicked on the tone and watched, or rather listened to the master at work.  Soon, I heard the beautiful sound of a probe picking up tone.  "Is that it?!"  I cried.

"No, that's not you.  I got about four people sending me tone to this place," said Re-Pete.

"How do you know which one is ours?" the Rabbi asked.

"I just know," said the cablemaster.  I heard whistling, snatches of conversation, and then:  tone.

"We got it," said Re-Pete modestly.

"We got it?" I repeated incredulously.

"Sue!" the Rabbi crowed, "we found a pair!  We actually fucking found a pair!!!"

"Put a short on that baby," Re-Pete called.  I put a short on that baby and it was a beautiful thing.  He ran a new cross-connect at the box while Mike drove back over to me.  We re-ran the wires, threw on the butt set, and...(drum roll):  dial tone.

"I think I just came," the Rabbi muttered.  Naturally I couldn't let that one go so I quickly texted Re-Pete:  Got dial tone.  Had orgasm.  Going back to CO.  Well done.

High fives all around, we'd actually read the meter, found a pair, and fixed a phone by ourselves.  We were at the pinnacle of our technical career.

So back over to the CO we go for biological breaks and re-grouping.  We bumped into Tracy, and hung out chatting in the hallways, discussing the rumor that was brought up this morning.  It was funny because we were all actually sitting on the floor, legs outstretched, backs up against the cement block walls.  "This is very college," I observed.

"It is like a dorm, isn't it?" Tracy laughed, "except no one's walking around in a robe or a towel, carrying their shower bucket."

"That would make the job more bearable," the Rabbi remarked, fiddling with his Blackberry.  "Let me call this guy I know.  I hate to get caught up in a rumor but he should know something..."  He dialed, and the conversation from my side went along the lines of, "Joe [whatever]...Mike...hi...listen, we're hearing vicious rumors that this thing could be wrapped up by next Friday...[suddenly his eyebrows fly off his forehead]...Tuesday?!  What, 'off the record, Tuesday' what does that mean?...Really?..."

Tracy and I were exchanging excited glances, wondering if this was real, could it actually be over?  Then my phone pinged with an incoming text.  It was my boss, and I'll give you the visual just so you can see how it was:

It was over.  There was light at the end of the tunnel and it was not a train.  It was over.  I was going to get my life back.  Mike's phone started ringing, Tracy's phone started ringing, my phone started ringing.  The three of us erupted into screams.  IT WAS OVER.

And yet...

(I can feel you all looking at me funny, just hear me out).  It's over, and thank God, don't get me wrong, I am limp with relief that I no longer have to work these crazy hours, I can do the next two days standing on my head now that there's an end-date and no pressure of picketers, and I spent the better part of the afternoon composing a mental list of all the things I was going to do with the recovered time.  But back at the garage tonight, a handful of us hung around to listen in on a conference call, discussing what had gone down and what it had meant for both sides and what was going to happen now.  And if you looked around the room, you saw a lot of set jaws, a lot of furrowed brows, and a lot of expressions full of emptiness and a sort of principled puzzlement.  Because if they are coming back to work, under the same terms that they left two weeks ago, to work under those terms indefinitely, and we are, in essence, right back exactly where we started from...then what the hell was it all for?  The executives on high had made clear that they appreciated our sacrifice, and we in turn had made it clear to them that we didn't want that sacrifice to be in vain, to be for nothing.

And listening in on that call, and looking around the room at those felt a whole lot like nothing...nothing except politics and posturing and being one side's pawn and the other side's punching bag.  And the looming possibility that we could be right back in this garage in another 30 days.

"You guys are tired," one of the office managers said quietly.  "And it's after seven.  Why don't you all go home?"

Some hung around, but I drove home.

I'm mostly relieved.  And partly...confused.  I guess this experience has changed me more than I realized.

I don't know how to tidily tie up this post.  I'm going to leave it there for now and go to bed.

It's over.

Coverage Day 12: The Day I Cried

Yeah, it got to me.  I feel half justified and half annoyed about it but whatever, it was a tough day on a lot of levels. TZ Crossing:  Joan Osborne's "Light of this World."

Red Sea Crossing:  Uneventful.

The day's agenda:  four jobs with the Rabbi; one was the inside wiring job carried over from two days ago.  The other was one Mike had worked on most of the day yesterday, out in the field by himself with an untrained escort for company but no assistance.  He said it was a very frustrating time, up on a pole for hours trying to "find a new pair" which is a concept that continues to elude both of us.

We did yet another crash course with a meter, trying to wrap our brains around it.  It's like an intermittently flickering lightbulb with both of us, it remains just tantalizingly out of reach.  One of these days it's going to click but in the meantime, we hate the meter with the white-hot intensity of a thousand suns.

So back out we drove to Calvin Street (not for real), parked the truck, set up, the Rabbi belted up, and up the ladder he went.  And he looked good:

"Lookin' good, Mikey!" I called up.

"What, you taking pictures?  Text 'em to my wife!" he yelled down.  "I'll give you the number..."

He was up about half an hour trying to find good pairs.  "Six is a good one, I think," he said.  "I'm really not sure.  You want to look?"

"Yeah," I said.  And I did.  It was time to climb.  And I did.

"You look great," Mike called up.  "You were born to do this."

"Ha!" I laughed.  But it felt OK up there.  Putting the meter on pairs, I still didn't know full well what I was doing, but the point was I was up there.  I'd done it.

And then...

"Sue, we have some company," the Rabbi's voice floated up to me.  My stomach sank down to my boots and I looked across the street, where the driver's side door to an SUV was opening and a Red Shirt getting out.  I looked away and back to the terminal box, determined to keep my eyes there.

"There are only two," Mike said.  He'd moved closer to the base of the ladder.  "Come down if you want.  But listen to me and only me, whatever they say you ignore it.  You all right?"

"Yep," I said, narrowing my focus into a pinpoint laser beam on the meter and the binding posts.  My heart was doing a slow, kettledrum thud, because this was what I always feared happening since I'd gone to pole climbing school and they had discussed the possibility and the tactics of being harassed while working aloft.

One guy was ten feet behind us, the other ten feet in front.  They were keeping their distance, and for the life of me I can't remember what they were saying.  I know one yelled, "You should learn how to use your safety equipment!"  That rattled me until I did a quick inventory - cones, hat, gloves, glasses, belt, ladder extension tied off, ladder tied to the, they were full of shit, we were textbook here.  I tried harder to block them out, focusing on the meter, pushing the tip side, flicking the reverse button.  Tip.  Ring.  Change pairs.  Tip.  Ring.  Change.  The sun beat down on my neck and the back of my legs.  I was sweating.

Don't be dramatic, I thought.  There are only two.  This is not the angry mob of your nightmares, surrounding the ladder and trying to bring you down.  There are only two.  Mike's right there.  I can come down any time...

Then Rabbi said, "'s a woman up on the pole, OK?  Yell at me all you want, rip me a new asshole if you want, but do the right thing here.  Let her be."

And they did.  Not another word from them.  They just loitered and stared.  And smoked.  I thought I'd found two good pairs so I wound up the cords of the meter, put everything in the bucket, and started down.  Near to the ground, Mike reached up, unclipped the bucket from my belt and said quietly, "You have to close the box."  He handed me a 216 wrench, I stuck it in my pocket and went back up, safetyed back on, closed the box, screwed the latch, then came down.

My heart was pounding like cannon and my hands were shaking.  I leaned back against the van doors and exhaled.  "You did great," Mike said.  "Catch your breath.  We're gonna pack up, get the ladder down and get it on the truck.  That'll give them something to laugh about.  Then we'll get out of here."

I nodded, shaking out my shaking hands, glad to be down, glad the Rabbi was my partner for good, and a little ticked off that these guys had upset me.  Thankfully we got the ladder down and on the truck without too much of a Keystone Kops routine.  We got in, fired up the A/C, and drove off.  The two strikers got in their car and followed us.

"We'll just take a little drive," Mike said cheerfully.  "To Bear Mountain if we have to..."

We drove for about half an hour and eventually lost our tail.  And then we made our plan:  we'd call RB to send out an escort, I'd go back up the pole and set tone on the pairs I thought were good, and the escort would stay with me while Mike went back to the cross-box and tried to pick up the tone.  We were going back.  Why?  Because screw them, that's why.

This time we had no company, and logistically, the plan worked well.  Our pairs sucked, Mike couldn't pick up any tone on either of them, but going back to the scene of the crime was a small victory and enough was enough, we'd tried our best.  "Let's go over to the CO and take a breather," he said, after we were packed up.  We thanked our escort and sent him back to the garage, then drove off.  I felt exhausted suddenly.  I'd been riding a pure adrenaline wave and now I was crashing.  I felt bone-weary and a little sick to my stomach.  Actually a lot sick to my stomach.  I ducked into the CO ladies' room and I wasn't sick, but man I did cry.  Later on I would post on Facebook that I'd had "a little bit of a cry," but that was an understatement.  Ugly cry.  A really spectacular jag.  I just let it go, let rip, the whole twelve days out in one big magnificent bawlfest.  Then I washed my face.  I felt only a little better - I was wickedly thirsty and my stomach was still skittering in all directions.

We got back in the van to head to the inside wiring job, and I felt like I had a whole pack of wolves on my tail.  I had to fight really hard to stay level.  Keep breathing.  You're tough.  You can do this.

The wiring job was also a bust, but the people there were truly nice and very sympathetic to our plight and understanding that we might not get it done.  There was no A/C in there, we were way past lunch, thirsty as hell, weary and getting wearier.  We were tracing multiple wires and cables all through this huge house, trying to figure out how it got to the garage at one end to the living room at the other.  And then we had to call Mike's instructor Glen again, trying to work out the algebraic equation for taking two phone lines that had been split into one and wired into a single-port jack, and splice them into two again to wire to a double-port jack, but in a way that let both phone lines ring on both jacks.

Yeah, I know.  Even Glen was stumped.  And the Sabbath was approaching.  Rather than rip all the wiring apart and start, we begged their patience another day and said we would come back on Sunday.  They were very cool about it.

By then it was 3:45.  I truly felt like crap.  We grabbed lunch and headed back to the CO, trudging up the stairs to the break room.  I knew I had to eat; both the Rabbi and I have lost weight since the strike started, and neither of us has it to lose.  Still, I could barely swallow anything, I just wanted water, cool water in my stomach.  I felt like I'd had the shit kicked out of me.  I wanted to go home, but I was even feeling bad about that because Jeeps had taken the kids camping and the house was empty.  I wanted my home, my bed, and my children sleeping on top of me.

Somehow I got through the rest of the hours and we got back to the garage, signed out, and hit the road.  287 was choked with weekend traffic, wolves were looming in the rear-view mirror and I thought to myself, I'm not gonna make it.

What do you mean, you're not going to make it, asked the Voice of Reason.  Not make it home?  Of course you will, it's going to take some time, but you'll get home.  Not make it through tonight?  Of course you will, maybe it won't be the greatest night's sleep of your life, but you'll make it through to morning.  You had a shit day.  Now there's nothing to do except to feel better.

There's nothing to do except feel better.  That was it.  That was the hook.  I grabbed on and let it reel me in.  Driving out on the span of the TZ, Moby's "Memory Gospel" came up.  And I began to feel better.  And finally I was home.  There was one Mike's Hard Lime left, and two awesome, encouraging emails from co-workers.  And I found the energy to make some dinner:  soup was definitely in order here.

Ladies and gentlemen, the money shot:

(I know you've missed them.  So have I)

Coverage Day 10: We found our game, Part II

We last left our heroes, the Rabbi and the Dancer, strutting off the property in Monsey after bringing crystal-clear dial tone back to the house. "It's Miller Time!" I cried out, back in the truck.  Fat chance, it was only one in the afternoon, but that was the spirit of things.  We got lunch and brought it back to the CO to eat.

Ah, the CO.  An ugly edifice, even uglier on the interior.  Windowless, industrial, bleak, it often smells weird.  And yet it is our haven.  Our "Cheers".  Most importantly, the bathrooms are decent.

Back in the truck, we looked over our two remaining jobs.  One we had visited yesterday and found it involved complicated wiring at best, and a ladder-against-pole climb at worst.  The other was a straightforward jack installation.  We went for the jack.  It turned into a "ring no answer."  Meaning nobody was home.  There were three hours left in the working day.  Would that be enough to handle the other job?  The ladder climb was making us both edgy.

"Let's just do a drive by and take a look," I suggested.  So we booted up Gertrude (our GPS) and took a drive over.

If you are not familiar with the area, it is a huge Orthodox enclave, a humming hive of Hasidic activity.  Men walking, constantly, here, there, everywhere.   Children all about, running, biking, playing.  Turbaned and hatted women pushing strollers, clustered in little groups.  And I'm a fairly tolerant, non-judgemental person, you're not going to hear any commentary on their lifestyle from me, but I do have to say that man, they drive CRAZY in there!  Stop signs seem to be totally optional, they barrel on through like God is on their side.  If you know where I'm coming from, I think that's fact more than opinion.

Anyway, it's interesting for me working in there, simply by being a woman.  I tend to hang back, just to make it easier on everyone, and I keep my hat on.  The men don't make eye contact with me, and if it's a hot day and I'm wearing short sleeves, some won't talk to me entirely.  It doesn't bother or offend me, I have nothing to prove here.  I let the Rabbi proffer his MOT status and be the ambassador, it's fine.

So the issue Chez Stein (not their real name, I remember jobs by addresses, not names), was static on the line for nearly three months.  Let me repeat that:  three (3) months.  All right.  Fine.  As much as I can, I'm keeping these blog posts opinion-free as regards the company and the warring factions.  Just take it as another independent fact.  Three months.

When we were out there on Tuesday, the Rabbi and I found some very odd wiring.  There were two drop lines coming off the pole to the house.  One was wired into the NID, but there were no wires coming out of the NID.  In other words, the NID wasn't being used.  The second drop line was a two-wire, cloth insulated antique from the 1970s, and it bypassed the NID all together, went directly into the house, and was hooked up to an equally-ancient thing that couldn't be called a "jack", it was referred to as a "block".  The inside wiring was also attached, with about four wires crammed onto each lead.  And here was the god-awful dial tone filled with static.

"Static is usually behind you," Re-Pete had coached us earlier that morning, during a fast tutor session in the parking lot.  So static at the NID, as it were, meant the static could be coming from the drop wire between the house and the pole.  That meant checking the pole.  That meant climbing.  And an unstepped pole meant putting a ladder up against the pole.  Ugh.

So we were standing around, shading our eyes from the sun and staring up at the terminal on the stand overhead, far far higher, it seemed, than the climbs we had done in training.  And then the Rabbi's phone rang:  it was our garage supervisor, and he was on the way.

In the spirit of nicknaming and protecting the innocent, our supervisor will thus forth, forthwith and heretofore be known as Roy Bruce, because other women in the garage seem to think he resembles Bruce Willis but I happen to think he looks like Roy Scheider.  So RB he will be.  And joy of joys, he be on the way!

In the space of ten minutes, he had arrived, thrown out cones, took a look, and put all our bits and pieces of gathered information into a diagnostic picture.  Basically the Rabbi and I had been spot on with what needed to be done:  the block in the house had to come out, the antique drop wire would be removed, and the other, unused drop would replace it, going properly into the NID and hooking up with the inside wires on the other side of the wall.   We still had to get up into the terminal to move a binding post over, but lucky for us RB was here, and full of cabin fever from sitting in the garage office most of his days.  He loved to be out in the field and it showed:  like it was first day of school he belted up, grabbed a ladder off his van with one arm, threw it up against the pole, tied it on in a manner we'd never seen before, and fucking SKIPPED up it like he was going up a freakin' flight of stairs.  He even managed to take a phone call while he was mucking around in the terminal.  The man is an artist.  Even Master Stein looked on in interest.

"Hey," RB called down to me, and mimed rolling up his sleeves.  I couldn't figure out what he meant, I thought he was showing off his pipes or something.  And hey, another independent fact, I am an arm girl and he does have nice guns, just saying.  But I wasn't sure what he was trying to get across.  When he came down he joked about how the customer wouldn't talk to me because my arms were showing; he was trying to get me to roll my sleeves up more.  "I'll take my hair down, that'll really cause mayhem," I said, watching him bring down the ladder extension with one tug of the rope, and throw it carelessly over his shoulder, and toss it up onto the rack on the van's roof.

"I had such trouble with that in training," the Rabbi remarked.  "Being vertically challenged.  I couldn't reach to push it up there, I was literally on my tippy toes."

"It happens," RB said sympathetically.  Then he looked at me.  "You went to climbing school, right?"

"Yes," I said carefully.

"You feel comfortable handling the ladders?" he asked.

"Nooooo," I said carefully.

RB nodded.  "Right answer."

"Why's that?" asked the Rabbi.

RB made a disgusted, dismissive noise.  "I was just catching some flak for coming out here to help you guys.  'Sue went to school, why you need to go help?'" he mimicked.  "I said to them, 'Sue weighs 100 pounds, she can't throw around an 80-pound ladder by herself.'  Asses," he finished.  "Just letting you know, I'm keeping you two together.  Neither of you has experience, but you work well together and you're figuring out how to get it done.  If you close one ticket a day, so be it."

Back at the house, we hooked up all the wires and had Master Stein go inside to check the dial tone.  He came out beaming.  "Perfect, except one jack isn't working."

Mike went inside to put tone on that jack so RB and I could pick it up downstairs.  One minor tweak and the job was done.

Done and done.  We'd done it again.  OK, we 90% had done it again.  But it was done, and I have to say that leaving the Steins with clear dial tone after three months of static, was a pretty damn good feeling.  We headed back to the garage with our heads high.

Coverage Day 10: We found our game, part I

It was an A day simply by virtue of tomorrow being my day off.  Today was going to have to work hard to suck, and in the end, it was a really good day for me and the Rabbi. And now the morning report...

TZ Crossing was Martin Sexton's "Diner," which is one of the greatest little ditties ever written.

Picket crossing looked to be uneventful.  The Red Sea parted as usual and I began to drive through, when near the driver's side window loomed this female union worker with a hard look in her eye.  "Ugly bitch," she said as I rolled past.  Whoa.  Wait.  Ugly bitch?  Really?  OK, I give her credit for getting my attention.  Ugly bitch - that was really thinking outside the box.  I'll conceed to bitch, but ugly?  I never claimed to be able to stop traffic's fighting words!  And frankly she was no Miss America either...

So the morning festivities continued with the usual prayer meeting gathering in the break room to discuss updates, announcements, the day's teams, etc.  The Rabbi and I were teamed up once again, but this time we had a prepped truck, a cell phone full of numbers, and only 3 jobs to work.  2 of them were carried over from yesterday and we headed out with the full intention of climbing.  Well, actually, it was pretty understood that Mike was going to be climbing.  He was real quiet driving out and getting breakfast, seemed very focused and occupied with getting into climb mode, just getting to the house and getting up the damn pole, already, bring it, let's just do it.

So back out we went to Monsey.  We pulled the truck into place, set the cones, prepped his bucket of tools, he belted up, got the rungs on the pole, tested it.  And then, ladies and gentlemen, the Rabbi climbed the pole.  Piece of cake.  Textbook.  Beautiful.  There was one problem:  the pole was not stepped properly, and even on the top rung, Mike couldn't reach far enough off the strand to get to the terminal.

A crushing blow.  How anti-climactic.  He came back down and we stared at each other in defeat.  Now what?  Well, call for the cavalry, which in this case meant Sensei with the bucket truck.

(By the way everyone say happy birthday to Sensei)

Sensei was not answering his phone.  We left a message and went back to the house to look once again at our problem.  I'll attempt to explain it to you but I'm going to be showing off and using some technical lingo.  Because I can.

The trouble reported at the house was static on the line.  We'd been out yesterday and found there was dial tone at the house, at what's called the NID - the network interface device.  Tracing backwards, omitting the terminal on the pole, we found that there was no static at the cross-box, and damn well no static at the CO because we'd run that unnecessary jumper at the equipment frame (the CO people are not happy with us about that).  So that only left the terminal on the pole to check out:  if there was static there, it was one kind of problem; if there wasn't, it was another kind of problem.  We needed to climb.

Or did we?

We looked at the NID again and for lack of anything better to do, and for practice, we looked for dial tone.  None.  None?  It was there yesterday.  Now it was gone.  No dial tone.  Odd.  We looked even more closely at the mess of cables inside the NID and began to realize that a lot of them were closed off.  Just unnecessary wire not going anywhere.  We also realized that the drop wire was not going from the pole directly into the NID, but going into a piece of equipment I suddenly recognized - from a job I did with Sensei - as a DAML:  it's a switch that takes one line and splits it into two.  One split went out of the DAML, very weirdly spliced, and into the NID.  The other went nowhere.  We sorted out the route, pulled the drop wire out of the DAML, and put dial tone on it.  Bingo.  There it was.   And crystal clear.  No static.  We didn't have to climb after all.  But we still had no dial tone to the house.

"The drop is good," the Rabbi thought out loud for both of us.  "The drop wire is good, it has dial tone at the DAML, but then there's no dial tone at the NID.  Why?"

We tried wiring the drop wire straight into the NID, the way it was supposed to be done.  No dial tone.  "How can the drop wire have dial tone, but then the NID has no tone when it's wired?" I said.  We both knew the answer was going to be incredibly, stupidly simple but we just needed someone experienced to point it out to us.  But nobody was available.

Mike then got the brilliant idea to call his I & R instructor.  Why the hell not, all of them ended the week-long training with, "if you need help, call me!"  So he called.  And got Glenn on the phone.  And Glenn was thrilled to pieces, glad to be of help, tell me what you got, describe it, talk to me.  And we talked him through it and in the end he said, "NIDs never go bad....but you guys got a bad NID.  You got another one in the truck?"

We did.  The Rabbi ran and fetched it.  He held it in his hands, I connected the drop wire.  Dial tone.

If you were in Monsey today and saw two technicians dancing around a driveway yelling, "It's the NID!  It's the NID!"...yeah, that was us.

We hung up and got to work with a vengeance.  By golly we were going to fucking CLOSE this ticket!  We yanked that old NID right out of the siding.  We pulled everything out of the DAML because it was serving absolutely no purpose.  We got ready to drill the new NID onto the house...


"We don't have a drill," the Rabbi groaned.  We tried it with screwdrivers but forget it, impossible.  We needed a drill.  We called the garage, got our supervisor, and found out a very interesting fact:  if you want help, say the word "drill".  People get very nervous when you mention drilling in this field of work.  "I'm on my way," Jim said, and hung up.  He soon arrived with the drill and another office manager.  The cavalry indeed.  We got the NID on, wired, moment of truth with the butt set...drum roll...

Dial tone.

We did it.


To the tune of five and a half hours and three phone calls, but we did it.  The Rabbi and the Dancer officially have game.

They then went to lunch.

To be continued tomorrow with the afternoon's events...

Coverage Day 9 (a Dancer and a Rabbi walk into a CO...)

People have asked if the drive bothers me.  Not really, as long as I have music.  And actually I'm grateful for the drive home:  I think if it were a short commute, I would be unloading more stress of the day onto my family.  The 45 minutes to unwind, sing, and yell at the windshield a little lets all that steam off. Crossing the TZ today it was U2's "Acrobat".  Don't let the bastards grind you down.  Right on.

Speaking of bastards (sorry, yes, I will be civil), the worst part of the commute is making that turn onto the road where the garage is, and seeing that circle of red shirts.  I hate it.  I know they're not going to do anything to me and it's just stupid posturing, stopping at the entrance, letting them circle, letting them be the ones to decide when you can proceed.  But what a shitty way to start your day.  I hate it.

On the other hand, down the road from the garage is a Freihoffer's Bakery Outlet and in the mornings and late afternoons the air around the building smells AMAZING.

So today the Rabbi and I took the plunge, took a truck and a handful of tickets and went out on our own.  "Fuck it, let's just do it," I said in my charmingly direct way.  "We'll give it the ol' college try," the Rabbi agreed.  When he crosses the picket line, the strikers tend to call him "College Boy" and I think it stings.

We loaded up with everything we could think of and rolled out of the compound.  "Scaaaaaaaaaab!" the picketers yelled as we rolled past.

"Scab," the Rabbi muttered.  "That's not even a technically correct term," he complained, "pardon me if I show off my college education."

"How about they call us unhealed, oozing, pus-filled wounds?" I suggested.  "That's at least a little bit insulting."

"Insulting, exactly.  Is Scab supposed to upset me?  Scab?  Really?  Should I be filled with shame?  It's not like they're yelling at me that I have a vagina or something."

*COUGH* *CHOKE* *COFFEE SPEW*  I grabbed my phone so I could quickly jot that down for tonight's post, but I was laughing so hard I could barely type, then the Rabbi starts yelling at the windshield, "Hey Vagina Face!!  You know how to use that span wrench?!"  I completely lost it.  I was crying laughing.

So we stopped for breakfast, and being that it was still a little early to be knocking on doors, we headed over to the CO.  If you can't test a line from the house backwards, why not test from the CO forwards, we thought, rather pleased with ourselves.  We're intellectual people, we can do this.  And so began a day of total and complete frustration.  Frustration at being two completely competent people who were not used to completely SUCKING at what they do.  Frustration at swearing there was no dial tone on the pair, then another tech comes in, clips on the leads and gets dial tone.  Frustration at running a new jumper when it was pointless.  Frustration at having no groove - forgetting to take tools out of the truck or put them back in, leaving the cones on the road, not knowing who had the keys, stupid little shit like that.  Frustration at the belts not fitting when we psyched ourselves up to climb.  Frustration at knowing what the meter is doing, but having no clue what the meter is telling you.  Frustration at not being able to get the job done, at wanting to get it done because we and everyone else in the garage has a huge work ethic and actually gives a shit...but not having the equipment or the wherewithal.  It was exhausting, a long day of a lot of hard work and very little to show for it.

Picketers came to circle us as we were at a cross box in Monsey, across the street from one of the Orthodox schools for girls.  They behaved themselves - three stayed across the street and another three were on our side but back about 10 feet.  Still, my heart was pounding and the Rabbi's jaw was clenched as he unscrewed a couple binding posts.  There was no name-calling.  Really they just loitered and took some pictures.  "Damn, my hair's a mess," the Rabbi muttered, "I hope they get my good side."  I sighed, "C'mon, must you?  I have no makeup on."  And we tried to keep cool and keep at the job but we were so green and inexperienced, who could work like that?  Might as well by your physics teacher lurking over your shoulder.  After a while we packed up and just left.  They didn't follow, and as we drove away I saw them in the parking lot of the school, giving their signs to a group of girls and taking their picture.  I thought that was rather gross.

Driving to another job later in the day, we passed Anthony (one of the Mountain brothers) and my sister-in-solidarity, Nora, working that same cross box.  I rolled down the window and yelled, "Scaaaaaaaaaaaaaaab!"  They laughed and waved and yelled back, "Management scum!!"  See, now, that's funny.

We got back to the garage at the end of the day dead tired, with only one ticket closed.  But as we stood around in the hallway, another team came in, Joe and Glenn, looking as weary as us, waving their sheaf of jobs and declaring they had only closed two that day.  "Only one more than us?" the Rabbi marveled.  "I don't feel so bad now..."

More seasoned techs helped us pick the right safety belts, took us through the tool rooms and helped pack the truck a little better for tomorrow.  They gave us their cell phones and told us to call for assistance at any time, nothing was too stupid.  People really are encouraging and generous about sharing their knowledge.  Our garage supervisor said that we'd tried our best and that was all he could ask for, and tomorrow he would give us more local jobs so he could come with us.

I couldn't tell you the music coming home because I spaced out on the Palisades and missed the 287/87 east exit, so ended up going all the way north to Bear Mountain.  A prettier drive, yes, but a much longer one.  I arrived home to find a package waiting for me.  I thought it was my new cargo pants but no...surprise!!!  A Burt's Bees Spa gift package from my old boss.  She sent one to all "her girls" who were out there in the trenches, isn't that awesome?  You really do get by with a little help from your friends...

It was a B day.

Coverage Day 8

First of all, I realize this blog has veered away from eating and reading and thinking and, sadly, scribbling...and yet there were 149 clicks today.  You can't imagine how much that touched me.  So whether you came here today for the first, fourth, tenth or hundredth time:  thank you for staying with me. Another day in the CO and it was pretty mind-numbing.  I am really tired but I do have a few random things:

Crossing the TZ to Rockland this morning, the Doors' "Riders on the Storm" was playing.  Appropriately it was raining pretty hard.  I do love the view of the Hudson from the bridge span, and how it's different every morning.  Into this world we're thrown...and every day it's different.

I know it's vulgar to discuss money, but mucho thanks to the company for doing the right thing and doing it retro to Day 1.  Not that we're purely motivated by greed...but we're really motivated by greed.  Sorry.  A strike brings out the hero and the whore in all of us.

In my tendency to collect people with the same names, now I have two Peters to sort out, so they've become Pete and Re-Pete (they came up with this themselves).  I also discovered that two techs in the garage are brothers with a really long, wonderful Italian last name that begins with 'Monte' so I am calling them the Mountain Brothers.  They're the ones who like to tempt me with cigarettes BUT I HAVEN'T SUCCUMBED YET!!!!

Sensei dropped by the CO to test tone on a pair.  Brought me a pack of gum.  "Getting lonely in here, kid?"

Thank God the CO has a computer in the back where I can access Pandora radio.  A little music while you're working is so nice.

Drinking a couple of Boosts a day to keep weight on.  They're pretty gross.

Crossing the TZ home, it was Ivy's "Edge of the Ocean."  A bit commercialized from cruise line ads, but still a nice, soothing song.

Annnnnnnnnnnd...that's it.  That's all I got.  I'm home, my boots are off, I'm drinking a Mike's and eating some cold pulled pork that my mother-in-law made, along with some cucumbers I pulled out of the garden, which is about all I'm going to get out of the garden this year, I'm just resigned to it.  It is what it is.  If anything, this experience is teaching me to let go of a lot of things.  The garden declining sucks, but it's not the health of someone I love declining.  This too shall pass.  There will be another garden next year.  I will read a book again at some point in the future.  I will cook something good to share with you.  I will buy a new couch with the overtime money.

But for now I'll just lay out my stuff for the morning, get the coffee set up, and go to bed.

Girl, you gotta love your man...

Coverage Day 7

I fucking made it through a week.  Pardon my French, but this is a milestone.  Day 1 seems like a year ago, when I was struggling for 12 hours not to throw up or cry.  It seems safe to say that I have adapted.  I don't like it one bit...but I have called on reserves of strength and cunning that I didn't know I possessed, simply to figure out a way to deal with it, to find a groove, to find a game, to survive it.  And to make plans for the money I'm making. So, today's news....

First and foremost, I get a day off on Thursday.  I so needed this psychological beacon.  Just 3 more days and then a day of nothing.  NOTHING.

So today I was taken away from Sensei, but instead of being thrown to the wolves I was sent back to the CO, which is really a place I prefer to be, and a place where I actually feel somewhat competent.  Still, it's a lonely kind of assignment - just you and the walls and the frame and the wires.  I found it a much longer day mentally, the hours dragged and I found myself missing the camaraderie of the field.  Thankfully plenty of techs dropped by the CO needing this or that, and once they found out I was working the cable and pairs, my cell phone started ringing up a storm.  At one point in the morning, it was Sensei calling in.  "I miss you, kid," he said.  "You were nice company."

This guy Pete had driven me over to the CO.  I don't have a nickname for him yet, he's just Pete.  Not that there's anything "just" about him; like all the other men in the garage, he is a prince of a guy, extremely knowledgeable and a good teacher.  And also on my humor wavelength.  As we drove over, he made the observation that, "You've been paired up with a lot of different people this week, huh?"  And I replied, "Yeah, I'm the garage slut."  He nearly drove off the road.  "I'm sorry," I said.  "I just have no filter left at all."  He assured me we were going to get along fine.

Imagine my surprise when later in the morning, Sensei came into the CO and who is his new grasshopper but the Rabbi!!  The Rabbi has been transformed.  Up until now, even in the trench warfare he'd retained an aura of corporate crispness:  shaved, t-shirt tucked in, an office persona.  But today,  he came down the frame with shirt untucked, a couple days of beard growth, handset and tools at the ready, four-letter words flying, and with a very different kind of stride.  "Damn, Mike," I said.  "You're looking like a tech!"  He grinned and said, "You know, I said the same thing about you to someone this morning!"

Speaking of rabbis, I helped get one back in service late this evening.   I hope he keeps us in his prayers because right now I think Divine Intervention is the only thing that can push this ordeal forward to a close.  As Pete and I drove back to the garage at the end of the day, we passed by a church with people outside all heading in for Mass.  Being even more punchy and unfiltered at the end of the day, I rolled down the window and yelled "Pray for us!!" as we drove by.

Thank you to all my family and friends who continually email and text me throughout the day.  It fills up the tank like nothing else.  A few times today I'd get a text from an unknown number, with rousing cheers of "You go girl, thinking about you, hang tough, love ya!!"  And I'd reply, "Thank you!  Who is this?!"  Loved it.

I cannot fully express how much I love my husband.  I'm humbled by how much I miss him during the day, and so full of awe at how he has stepped up to the plate and supported me during all of this.  The kids have gone to my parents for a couple days, so tonight it was nice to be able to sit down to dinner (made by his mother, thank you thank you thank you) and just talk together, uninterrupted.   I am so weary that I can only fall back on the lyrics to that god-awful song, so please forgive me if I say he is indeed the wind beneath my wings.

Three more days.  I can do this.  I can.

Yes we can.

Coverage Days 5 & 6

The days are starting to run all together.  Nobody in the garage knows what day or date it is, we're all operating on some higher level of survival.  I have to say the camaraderie is first-rate.  I think it's part of the survival. I continue to go out on jobs with Irish Mike, whom I've renamed Sensei.  Others call him "Yoda".  He's the one people call with their tough jobs and confused questions, or if they need the bucket truck.  He always has an answer or he shows up.  I've never seen him lose patience or get annoyed.  Great guy.  [Editor's note:  he's cute, too.]

Thank you Jeeps for leaving your wallet in my car and making the trip over with the kids to come see me.  Best hour of my day.

I can't believe Scott Shannon and Todd Pettengill from WPLJ are still alive.

The Rabbi is not being transferred to FIOS!  Computer glitch, he stays where he is.

Thank God I commute from Westchester to Rockland and not the other way around.  After a 12-hour day, 287 West at rush hour would make me shoot myself.

I've come to truly appreciate the beauty and function of cargo pants.  There cannot be enough pockets for this job.  Nor enough pens.  Sensei and I lose at least ten a day, along with two packs of gum.

Still haven't caved in and had a cigarette.

Coconut water is disgusting.  I'll hydrate some other way.

I've had an egg-and-cheese sandwich every day for breakfast.

I still don't get the meter.  I get a lot of the separate parts of the job but I still can't put it all together into one diagnostic picture.

Thank you to all my friends who text me during the day.  A little "hello" goes a long way.  Don't be shy.

I'm doing it for the money.

I'm tired.

Really tired.

The money.

Coverage: Day 4

Not such a great day today, definitely back down to a D.  I really have no idea what I'm doing.  I'm just going to skip over all of that and get right to today's acknowledgements. I swear that overnight, 20 miles gets added to the Saw Mill River Parkway, and then taken away in the evenings.  That's not really an acknowledgment but just wanted to get that out there.

Thanks to the company for the injunction.  Much appreciated.

I had to say goodbye to my partner Mike, whom I shall refer to as the Rabbi (I think he'd take it as a compliment) because I have a new partner, also named Mike.  I shall miss the Rabbi but he's been reassigned to FIOS and goes off to training tomorrow.  So many many thanks to him and I'll just share one last funny story from yesterday, when we were in the CO working, me and the Rabbi and Kerry.  We had traced a line together all the way back to the equipment side of the frame.  The origin of dial tone.  And we stared at the boxes and wires in awe and Kerry said, "I don't get it though, if this is the beginning of it...where does it come from?"  We continued to stare in silence for another 10 seconds and then I said, "Maybe it comes from God?"  And then the Rabbi said, "I was thinking it's Lance Armstrong downstairs on a bicycle..."

And speaking of partners, a former one cheered me up tremendously this morning.  Thanks, big wolf.

Many thanks to my new partner Mike, Irish Mike, cut from entirely different cloth but a real prince of a guy, extremely patient with me as I proved my utter uselessness in the field but made me feel that maybe there was hope.  His wife also works for the company and her strike coverage hours are 24 on, 18 off.  She and Mike haven't seen each other for 3 days.  Chew on that.

Speaking of which, many thanks for the community hospital in Pomona that served me a bracing helping of "Shut the F Up" when I was about to go into another bout of self-pity.

Thanks to myself and whatever inner survival instinct I possess that makes me not too proud to pee against a tree 15 feet away from men I barely know.  Trust me, there are a lot of DISGUSTING bathrooms out there and when you're at a cross-box in the middle of freakin' nowhere, a girl's gotta do what a girl's gotta do.  OK?

Gratitude, kisses and bouquets to my seester-in-law who played mind games with me from 5-6, when I was fading fast.

HUGE thanks to the two guys in the break room whose conversation I overheard on my way out, and made me leave the garage with a smile on my face: Guy #1 - "Between training and the strike, I feel like I haven't seen my kids in weeks." Guy #2 - "Dude, between training and the strike, I haven't been laid in a month." I feel your pain, boys.  Between the hours, the fatigue, and the stress, I think a lot of us are wondering if we're ever getting laid again.  Moving on...

Thank you Eddie Vedder and your song "Big Hard Sun" which came on as I was crossing the TZ.  Beautiful.  Perfect.

Thank you to my son who opened the car door and jumped right into my lap before I had it in Park.

Thank you to my husband who had the dinner hot and the Mike's Hard Lemonade cold.

Thank you to my daughter who asked if I could read something to her after dinner.  I thought I had about 20 minutes of fuel left in me.  So I picked up Maeve Binchy's "Circle of Friends" and started to hour later, she went to bed.  Best hour of my day.

Goodnight.  And thank you.

More coverage

Today's reflections: 1) If the past 2 days were a D-, then today was a C:  I found something I was actually pretty good at, I put two customers back in service, I only felt nauseous twice, and I took 6 Advil instead of 8.  And I got home at a decent hour to have dinner with my family.  My mother-in-law cooked and I thank her with sloppy, effusive gushiness.

2) I'm learning to like my partner Mike a lot, his heart is definitely in the right place.  And today I was especially appreciative of his Old Testament justice:  "I tell you, from this day forward, until the end of time, I have cast these people out of my heart.  AND!  Out of my prayers!  I will never forgive until I perish from this earth."  I might take a page from that Book.

3) Mike also got the brilliant idea of each of us sneaking into an empty cube on the 2nd floor and closing our eyes for 20 minutes, while the other covered.  I tell you, those 20 winks made a world of difference.

4) I met another girl Kerry who I like a lot.  We reached a certain level of punchiness where we were half-laughing, half-crying over everything and nothing.  I tell you, a friend in the trenches also makes a world of difference.

5) I have new boots and my feet like them very much.  The pink made a nice statement, but it was time to go for long-term comfort.

6) I am deeply grateful to my car windshield, who patiently listens to my ranting and raving on the commute home and never passes judgement, but still allows me to see the big picture.

7) At every moment of the day, I am acutely aware that it could be worse.


These are just funny little thoughts that went in and out of the transom of my mind during the course of my workday.  Think of them what you will... 1) Don't you love when a song comes on the radio or playlist that fits the mood or scenery perfectly?  As I approached the Tappan Zee this morning, the girders silhouetted against a pink-and-gold-streaked sky, Billy Joel's Summer, Highland Falls came on.  "Thank you," I thought.

2) As I stood in my group of five working a job, I was suddenly and strangely reminded of when I'd had my thryoid surgery at Yale-New Haven Hospital, which of course, is a teaching hospital.  So when your surgeon comes around to visit you, he comes with an entourage of students, interns, what have you, observing and occasionally offering the use of their stethoscope.  So in my work team, only one guy really knows what he's doing, and the rest of us are the entourage, and we stand around and observe and hand him the occasional screwdriver.

3) There's a lot of hurry-up-and-wait involved, and you're often standing around for long stretches of time waiting for something - information, tools, teammates to return, etc.  During one such lull, I was really overcome with a compulsion to pull the weeds in the customer's garden bed.  Would that have crossed an ethical line somewhere?

4) I've really wanted a cigarette pretty badly but have not succumbed to temptation.  This is huge.

5) I hope I have enough t-shirts to last me until I can do laundry again.

6) Thank God I got my eyebrows waxed before the strike.

7) It really, really, really REALLY kills me that I am not to cook for my family and not there to reap what I sowed in the garden.  No seriously, it's like physical pain.