Local Lifestyle

Saturday, Apr 06 2013 08:00 AM

HERB BENHAM: Hot fridge, cold Jacuzzi: Good to be home

By HERB BENHAM, Californian columnist hbenham@bakersfield.com

You go on vacation, you pay for it. The amount and payment schedule correspond to how much fun you've had.

Over spring break, friends and I went surfing in Del Mar. Sunday, Sue and I had Easter brunch with our daughter, Katie, her husband, Hunter, his brother, Spencer, and their parents, Fred and Susan. Waves, laughter, fun.

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HERB BENHAM: Hot fridge, cold Jacuzzi -- it's good to be home

When we returned to Bakersfield, the power was out in the kitchen and the Jacuzzi didn't work. Life was cattywampus. The fridge was warm and the Jacuzzi was cold.

A warm fridge is one thing, but a cold Jacuzzi -- now that's serious.

Sam called us on the way home from San Diego to tell us the power was out and that our vacation was officially over.

"Sam, go to the electrical panel on the side of the house and check the breakers," I said.

I delivered these instructions tentatively. You don't want to kill your son. Not when he has just moved into his new house.

"What if we have to replace the breakers," Sue said, after a somber 20 minutes between San Clemente and Laguna Niguel. "What if we have a really expensive electrical repair?"

Better not to respond. Better to be quiet. Better to remain optimistic.

"Don't worry about the milk, OJ, cheese and stuff in the freezer," I said, when we reached Bakersfield.

"I'll run an extension cord from the fridge into the great room."

Sue gave me a long look. Women don't do extension cords from the fridge to another part of the house. An orange extension cord constitutes permission and signals the beginning of a long slide downhill. Men are headed that way naturally and all they need is a push to reach bottom more quickly.

"If I agree to the extension cord, he'll never get the power back on," she thinks. "He can live forever with an extension cord snaking through the house as long as his beer is cold and his Jarlsberg is firm."

Sue was concerned about my track record. Years ago, the night before the first day of school, a friend and I were pruning a large tree growing on the north side of the property and we dropped a big branch on the electrical panel, shorted it out and almost burned the house down.

That had been a somber husband-and-wife moment.

The day after returning from Del Mar, in order to avoid possible incineration, I called Randy Rankin. Randy, besides being a good electrician, has a fertile mind. Randy wrestled in high school, and ex-wrestlers are somewhere between crazy and brilliant.

"Try flipping the breakers on and off really hard," Randy said. "Sometimes you have to do that to get over the hump."

I flipped them hard. Nothing happened. I couldn't get over the hump. Finally, I did a double leg take down on the breaker controlling the kitchen and almost tore it out of the box.

I reported this to Randy, who said he'd send Joe over and, sure enough, Joe drove up 20 minutes later with several lengths of conduit strapped impressively to the top of his work truck.

"It's not the breakers," Joe said. "Your weatherhead is fried. I could hear the crackling when I turned the power on and off."

A few minutes before, I had no idea what a weatherhead was, and now mine was fried.

"Call PG&E and tell them you've heard crackling," Joe said. "They'll be right out."

I called PG&E. I may have used the word crackling, arcing, sparking and industrial lightning.

I missed PG&E the first time because I was at work. PG&E Dan called and said he couldn't come into the backyard because of the dogs.

I called him back. Please come again. I have an orange extension cord running through the house and a wife who has one foot out the door.

An hour later, PG&E Scott arrived. Scott was from Minnesota. He'd been here 17 years. On spring days like Monday, he knew he had made the right decision to move west.

Scott replaced the weatherhead, the fridge kicked on, the Jacuzzi rumbled to life and we were back in business.

I curled up the extension cord and put it back in the garage. Vacation was over and we were paid up in full.

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