In order to escape the cold, bleak, sunless, all around crappy Michigan weather, Tim and I spent the winter in Miami Beach. After endless days of swimming and sunning we thought that we would take advantage of our extended stay and get some work done on our condo. Now, as far as being handy goes, Tim is a better figure skater, and I don’t know the difference between a regular screwdriver and the one with the pointy things on the end. In fact, I have found that there is no household emergency that can’t be fixed with a butter knife. Electrical, plumbing and tile work topped our newly compiled list and we were smart enough to realize that all of these jobs required much more skill than can be accomplished with a triple axle or a butter knife. So, I went to my laptop and pulled up Home Advisor.com-Miami.
Home Advisor.com is one of those websites that matches you up with vendors. It’s kind of like Match.com but none of the vendor’s photos were taken in a bathroom mirror with the toilet seat up. Our first vendor, Gabriel, came highly recommended by Home Advisor as one of the best tile men in Miami. The job we had for Gabriel was to fix the marble step in the shower of our guest bathroom. Since the step into the shower wasn’t level, it caused water to leak out onto the floor. Now, when someone takes a normal shower the leaking is minimal. But, since our friends, The Feldbergs, visit us frequently and since each one of them spends at least 45 minutes in the shower, we’ve had some major problems. The Great Feldberg Flood of 2015 warped the bathroom door, the wooden molding on the outside of the doorframe and ruined seven or eight towels. Instead of banning the Feldbergs from visiting, we decided to fix the problem. This is where Gabriel comes in.
It is a well-known fact in the Miami area that getting good help is nearly impossible. Vendors either don’t return calls, disappear before a job is done, or just fail to show up. The fact that Gabriel shows up at all gives us hope. Now, I don’t know what I expected in a tile vendor, but it certainly wasn’t a 120-pound guy in skinny jeans. I also notice that the only tool he has with him is a gold necklace the size of a bicycle chain. He also looks young enough to be skipping school. Tim introduces himself and then escorts Gabriel downstairs to the bathroom. “Does he know what needs to be done?” I ask when Tim comes back upstairs. “I think so. He doesn’t speak much English and he needs to borrow a screwdriver.” I just roll my eyes and shake my head.
During the course of the morning, I keep hearing a strange voice coming from downstairs. “Did someone else come in and join Gabriel?” I ask Tim. “No, why?” “I keep hearing a strange voice down there but I can’t make it out.” Tim and I then position ourselves at the top of the stairs to eavesdrop. Sure enough, we hear Gabriel speaking in Spanish and then we hear a stilted, monotone robotic voice respond. “It sounds like Stephen Hawking is down there with him,” I reply. Curious, Tim sneaks downstairs and spies on Gabriel. A few minutes later Tim climbs back upstairs and says, “Apparently, Gabriel doesn’t speak any English and he’s using an app on his phone to translate.” When he finally finishes for the day (using all of our tools) he comes upstairs, puts his phone in front of Tim’s face and we hear Stephen Hawking say, “Pay now. Be back tomorrow.”
Once Gabriel leaves, Tim and I head downstairs to inspect his work. At first glance it looks pretty good, but within hours the cement starts cracking and the silicone he used around the glass surround has seeped out in big globs. We immediately decide that Gabriel will not “Be back tomorrow.” I now have to grab a butter knife and proceed to scrape all of the silicone out of the shower and redo it myself.
The next vendor we need is someone from a glass company who can fix a crooked shower door. This time I go directly to Angie’s List and that’s where I find Mike. Mike the fast-talking, long-winded, (and a bit of a racist) glass vendor. Angie must have met him on Match.com. Tim calls Mike and tells him that we need a shower door adjusted because it keeps banging against the glass enclosure. “Good news,” Tim says as he hangs up the phone, “He speaks English and he said he could fix it for $200. He’s on his way.” I’m skeptical of a vendor who can come right over. I always picture him sitting in a rusted out El Camino behind Home Depot looking for odd jobs.
Mike shows up with an assistant, a young Cuban man who is carrying all of his tools (at least he had some) and never says a word. They are like Penn and Teller without the magic, although Mike does have a few tricks up his sleeve. He not only checks out the shower door that needs to be repaired, he also inspects all of our other shower doors and makes recommendations for them too. When he comes back upstairs to go over his “list” with me, he leaves “Teller” sitting on the steps but clearly within earshot. “Well, Mike says, “I can fix the shower door but I suggest that we remove all of the shower surrounds on all of the bathrooms and reinstall them. Now, I got a guy who will come in and do the drywall work and painting. He’s American. He’s good. He’s not like those Cuban workers. He’ll show up on time and finish the job.” I am now cringing as Mike continues his tirade on Cuban workers and their lack of intelligence and integrity. I want to crawl in a hole and take “Teller” with me. And then Mike hands me his estimate. Now, another reality in Miami is that the nicer your home, the more the job will cost. Apparently when Mike got to our building and realized we were in the penthouse, his price increased with each ascending floor. Somehow, Mike’s $200 estimate has ballooned to $1,700 – not including the cost of his guy who will drywall and paint. I very calmly slide Mike’s estimate back to him and tell him that I only want the one door fixed for $200. Mike shrugs his shoulders and says he will be back in seven days.
Our last task is to find a plumber to install a kitchen garbage disposal. The condo never had one and I am tired of scraping leftover spaghetti and meatballs into the trashcan. This time we decide to skip Home Advisor.com and Angie’s List and go straight to “Yelp.” That’s where Tim finds Viktor: an extremely tall, shaggy-haired, robust Russian whose mere presence takes up the entire condo. At least he shows up outfitted with his own tools and a fluorescent pair of pink socks. His pungent cologne precedes him into our kitchen where he inspects the garbage disposal we purchased. “Is good,” he says. Tim then leads him downstairs to ask his opinion on a drain plug that needs to be installed in one of our bathtubs. We figured this would be an easy job that any decent plumber could fix in a matter of minutes. Viktor looks at the tub and then holds up the plug. He ruffles his head-full of hair, scratches his heavy beard and says, “First, we take down wall. Take out marble. You go to store and get parts. I turn off water. Be back in three days to fix. Then I put plastic sheet over hole in wall. Fixed.” “You want me to get the parts? And you want us to go for three days without water?” Tim asks. “There are people living in other countries without any water! You can’t go three days?” Viktor screams. After that comment I’m not about to bring up the fact that he wants to repair the hole in the wall with a plastic sheet. Tim tells him we’ll get back to him about that job.
I am happy to report that Victor installed our garbage disposal quickly and expertly. Watching him squeeze his bulky body under our sink was a sight to behold and one I will never forget. As Viktor was packing up his tools and stuffing his pink socks back into his boots, he regaled us with his political leanings; his life in Russia and how most of his service calls are from women who “just want sex.” Viktor said he is a “busy man.” As for the tile worker, it might not be the best looking job but miraculously, the shower doesn’t leak and it may even be Feldberg Flood free. Mike the glass guy didn’t return in seven days and after numerous calls and threats he finally returned three weeks later. Miraculously, he was able to fix the banging shower door without having to remove any walls. I think, in the future, if we need to have work done at the condo, it will be less money and a lot less frustration if we just fly down our vendors from home. Or, I need to get really skilled with a butter knife.