Now and again I find myself at dinner — or perhaps brunch with a group of friends in my old, now trendy, Hayes Valley neighborhood — attempting to explain what it is exactly that I do as a plumber in San Francisco.
It wasn’t all that long ago that people knew a thing or two about plumbing. Not so much these days, I’ve found — even among my technologically mind friends and restaurant entrepreneurs. These folks are smart. They’ve got college degrees out the wazoo, but they have little knowledge about what it is that a plumber does.
But ask yourself: Is computer-coding not the plumbing of technology? And for my restaurateur friends, surely their fine eateries would be lost without proper plumbing.
As a product of the digital technology generation, I appreciate it when I can place an ear bud in my ear and listen to a sexy voice tell me which way to turn while I’m chatting it up with an old friend on my way to an afternoon appointment. This is exciting stuff. And this technology encompasses all areas of commerce and comfort.
Take sewer videos for example. My crews shoot these technologically complex shots that can detect pipes up to 12 feet deep, and Bang! I’ve got emailed copies of the videos on my desk in a flash.
Yet, with the increasing influx of all of this high-tech stuff, I’ve yet to have a desire to write computer code or troubleshoot a problem on my personal laptop. So I can easily imagine a gaggle of Googler’s or a group of computer company employees puzzling over the complexities of plumbing.
Of course they’re perplexed. They haven’t been trained in the fine points of fixing toilets or replacing pipes. It’s like me — and the technological world that surrounds me. These computer folks use plumbing every day, but they don’t have a clue as to how to work on it.
I’m sure they understand the basics: Waste rolls downhill, and when you turn on the faucet, voila! There’s water because the pipe is pressurized. Similarly, I know the basic fundamentals of technology, and I certainly enjoy its advantages and shortcuts to mundane tasks.
But if you ask me if I can imagine sitting in front of a computer all day, every day to write code for the next generation of apps and cool stuff for others to use? Well, you know the answer to that question. Leave the techie stuff to the proper technicians.
On any given day, I coordinate a number of plumbing consultations, riding downtown on my bicycle in order to save time on my many stops. It’s when those complex problems that a digital picture can’t solve occur that my expertise is required on the spot to resolve that particular plumbing problem du jour.
It’s that hard-earned “infinite knowledge” of plumbing and health codes that I get to employ in order to protect health and human safety. Figuring out efficient ways to save time and money while offering the best workmanship possible is among my strong points.
The No. 1 question I’m asked by property owners is “how much?” I respond by telling that property owner to bring me their most difficult plumbing problem and I will solve it.
Hiring the right plumbing company is like finding a good doctor. In fact, when you think about it, plumbing is the premise used in medical school to explain how our anatomy works. A bad doctor can cause a lot of problems if incompetence prevails. In my case, when it comes to a diagnosis of a plumbing problem, there are few who can sit on the other side of a table and top my expertise.
It’s rare these days when I have the opportunity to break out my tools and demonstrate myself as a skilled tradesman and master of what I do. These days, when I leave the job site, I tuck in my cape and pick up the specs to read insurance quotes, do payroll, return phone calls from a variety of clients and coordinate a very busy schedule for the following day.
So for my lunchtime companions, that’s my take on what it is I do as a San Francisco plumber. It’s not sexy, but it’s satisfying.
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About The Author: Paul O’Grady is the founder and general manager of O’Grady Plumbing — San Francisco’s multi-generational residential and commercial plumbing company. Mr. O’Grady grew up in the plumbing business and is backed by three generations of plumbers. At O’Grady Plumbing, he manages a team of Master plumbers who build, repair, maintain and retrofit plumbing systems and equipment throughout San Francisco and San Mateo.