« Musical Delights And Audiences | Main | The Amazing Mrs West »

American Pie: In Florida It’s Manana, Or Never

…For reasons I cannot explain, obtaining reliable help in Florida is far more difficult, in my experience, than any other state I have lived in. At the height of the real estate boom, getting anything done was impossible. Some businesses flatly refused even to accept orders…

John Merchant, tormented by devious and inept tradesmen, is now far cannier when setting on someone to carry out work around his house.

For more of John’s columns which paint a true picture of life in the USA, please click on http://www.openwriting.com/cgi-bin/mt-search.cgi?IncludeBlogs=1&search=john+merchant

Do visit John's Web site

There’s an old Yorkshire dialect jingle, the last line of which is “If tha wants owt doing for nowt, do it thyself.” I’ll translate for the benefit of none Yorkshire speakers: “If you want anything doing for nothing, do it yourself.” Well, I never expect anything to be done for nothing, but growing up, as a family our first line of defense was to try to solve our own problems.

Only as a last resort did we seek expert help, and that included our medical needs. It’s perhaps fortunate that we all had fairly robust health, because the remedies we relied on were at best only palliative, and at worst could have done us harm. In any event, the spirit of self-sufficiency made its mark on me, and has endured.

It probably resulted in me becoming an avid do-it-yourselfer, and a fair hand at fixing most problems around the house, eventually graduating to major remodeling projects with all that entails. Moving to the USA helped, because the high cost of qualified labor here has been the engine that has driven the DIY market from the beginning.

As a result, almost all construction materials are readily available, and there’s a tool for any job. If you can’t find what you need at the local “Big box” store, the Internet will surely lead you to a source. Some of the stores will even rent you a truck by the hour if what you need won’t fit in your car. If you don’t know how to fix a problem, those same stores also provide clinics, demonstrations and classes.

In recent times, as my body increasingly refuses to execute the instructions my brain sends it, I have very reluctantly surrendered to calling in the trades. Coincidentally, the few medical needs I have are not those that will yield to one of Mother’s potions. She never developed one for high cholesterol, simply because it was unknown at the time, despite our dedicated consumption of grease. So now, I grudgingly make trips to the doctor.

It is through this reluctant dependency on the “experts” that I have gained an insight into why my family was so doggedly independent. Reliance is not for the fainthearted. For reasons I cannot explain, obtaining reliable help in Florida is far more difficult, in my experience, than any other state I have lived in. At the height of the real estate boom, getting anything done was impossible. Some businesses flatly refused even to accept orders.

My first battle involved the installation of some sliding glass doors in my condo. I probably called a dozen vendors before one agreed to give me an estimate. It took three broken or rescheduled appointments before anyone came, then more phone calls to get the written quote. Because the doors were a non-standard size, delivery would take a month.

Two months later I was still waiting! Then the manufacturer, located in Georgia, supposedly broke the news to my installer that they didn’t deliver to the west coast of Florida, and the installer would have to rendezvous with the manufacturer’s truck in Miami. I couldn’t bear to ask why this wasn’t disclosed when the order was placed.

More angry phone calls and a threat of legal action finally succeeded in getting the doors fitted. It gives me a certain smug satisfaction now to drive by the installer’s premises and see the darkened windows and a “For Sale” sign outside.

By now, the time to leave Florida and fly north for the summer was approaching. It was essential that we have blinds installed on the large expanse of new glass, to lessen the load on the air conditioning through the baking hot summer. After another search for a willing vendor, we contracted to have the blinds made and installed, and also some other window treatments.

We handed over a sizable deposit against the promise that the order would be completed before our departure four weeks hence, so we booked a flight. Two rescheduled flights later, we had the blinds but no window treatments, so we left for Connecticut, believing that the outstanding items would be waiting when we returned in the Fall.

That mid-summer, we received an official looking envelope, the contents of which informed us that the vendor had declared bankruptcy! Further, if we wished to submit a claim, our presence, with supporting paperwork, was required at the vendors premises on the following day! Needless to say we couldn’t make the deadline, but friends kindly stood in for us.

That was four years ago. The bankruptcy hearings dragged on interminably. Each of the several letters we received over the next two years enumerated the funds that had accrued from successive auctions of the company’s assets, and also the disbursements. Somewhat predictably, the lawyers and administrators got first dibbs, until, you guessed it, there was nothing left.

In the years since we trustingly handed over our deposit, we have become more canny, which is just as well, because there is no shortage of devious and inept small businesses, greedily eyeing our helplessness. In the five years we’ve lived in this condo we’ve had four air conditioning service companies. The details are just too aggravating to recount.

# # #


Creative Commons License
This website is licensed under a Creative Commons License.