Thanksgiving: the most plumber-ful time of the year
LOS ANGELES AND BOSTON
Plumber Bob of Kevin Shaw Plumbing has a pressing question for historians: Where is Squanto when we need him? The legendary native American taught Pilgrims the meaning of Thanksgiving in 1621 - but history records little of his advice on table-scrap disposal.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
Thanks to that omission, the nation's day of gratitude has a growing, and humorous, dark side. Thanksgiving has become far and away the busiest time of the year for plumbers trying to take out what nature - or good sense - never intended to be put in. So as turkeys cool, plumbers grab plungers and overtime punch cards. And, sometimes, the scepters of peace.
Take Victor Gutierrez.
One November Thursday, the Redondo Beach, Calif., plumber arrived at a home where the man had bet his wife $100 that the culprit of their clogged sink was not potato peels. When the drain-clearing snake revealed that it was, indeed, potato peels, the man paid Mr. Gutierrez $100 not to tell his wife.
And from those other trenches - the bathrooms down the hall - plumbers report holiday finds of everything from "hot wheel" toy cars to toothbrushes, wigs, and false teeth dropped, and flushed, in the wrong spot.
"It's the busiest time of year for us as well as the funniest and most lucrative," says Donald McDonald, CEO for Rooter-man franchise systems with 600 outlets nationwide.
Statistics back him up. Last year, the number of plumbing calls jumped 46.4 percent the Friday after Thanksgiving, compared to a typical Friday, according to Paul Abrams, national spokesman for Roto-Rooter. That translates into 865 additional jobs for Roto-Rooter alone, worth about $235,260. Other companies report similar spikes, starting around 2 p.m. on Thanksgiving day.
And the cooking free-for-all makes plumbers Renaissance men of sorts: there are pipes and drains, sure; but also gas lines, water heaters, and the occasional flaming bird.
Patrick Tibets, a Boston-area plumber in the business for 18 years, says one disaster is seared on his mind. "A turkey caught fire," he recalls. "The flames came up over the stove. When I came in the kitchen the turkey was sitting in the sink, black and smoking. I had to turn the gas off."
But most plumbers pardon their patrons - a magnanimity born of experience and the holidays' time-and-a-half pay. "Hey, nobody taught anyone what's supposed to go down the drain and what's not," says Bob, a career roto-rooter in Northridge, Calif., gearing up for the year's most lucrative day. "When's the last time you saw a school curriculum on what to put and not put down the drain?"
So Bob and company brace themselves for potato-packed pipes and stuffing-stuffed sewers - thanks to well-meaning table clearers making fast work of Thanksgiving cleanup.
"Because there are so many helpers in the kitchen at once, people put things down the drain that the owner never would - and too much of everything," says Mr. McDonald of Rooter-man.
"Chicken bones, turkey bones, peelings, corn on the cob," says Chuck Wojciechowski, branch manager of Roto-Rooter in Las Vegas. "Anything that gets left on the plate goes down the disposal.... You have family over, they dump everything in the disposal. They figure it's not their house; they can go home afterwards."
Rice and coffee grounds, which expand after disposal, head a long list of clogging foodstuffs that make it part way down the drain, only to cool and harden, creating backflow into the busy kitchen and water shows that rival those at Las Vegas's Bellagio Hotel.
Though Christmas brings its share of clogged drains, too, plumbers say the two holidays don't compare. The November rush "is a once-a-year phenomenon," says John Aducci, plumbing and excavation manager of Roto-Rooter in Pittsburgh. "It must be that turkey gravy. Christmas is ham and whatever else. There is something about that turkey gravy that gets us in the home." His office staffs 20 people on most days; but the Friday after Thanksgiving, there are 28.
The appearance of banana peels, orange rinds, and bones of all kinds seems to spike right around Thanksgiving cleanup as well, sewer analysts say. Such items belong in a separate garbage pail, but end up in sinks because people are focused on their guests and not on proper sanitation management.
"It's not a good thing when you have 20 people over for dinner and try to get rid of that many leftovers down the drain," says Robert Penn of Penn Plumbing Service in southern California. "No matter what kind of disposal and pipes you have, they are not designed for an overabundance of food matter."