3/4/20 – Paradise, California
I pulled out of my shop in Portland mid-day on Tuesday, March 3, 2020. My thought was to drive part of the way that day; but, I felt great and ended up driving through the night stopping at rest stops along I-5 to sleep every few hours as needed. There were no rest stops once I left I-5 so I pulled over into a scenic view spot in the mountains. There was nearly a full moon; I could see the giant trees and the lines of mountain ranges. Even with my seat tilted all the way back and my trusty down sleeping bag over me for some reason I couldn’t sleep. I felt vulnerable out there alone. At a rest area if someone messed with me I could sound the horn and other good people would be around to help. Here there would be no help. What would I do if there were a tap on the window and it wasn’t a forest ranger? I rested my eyes and continued driving.
I arrived in Paradise at 11 a.m. and after calling my customer, Frank, to tell him I was arriving early, I went straight to the job site. Frank was delighted! He came out and went over the exact placement for my solar collector and introduced me around to his crew. His PV installers were curious about my system and asked lots of questions. I told Justin, one of the leads, I had installed a great number of solar electric systems as well, my first one in 1992.
“Wow”, exclaimed Justin, “so you were installing PV before I was born.”
Instead of waiting until the next day, I started right in with my work. Justin and the PV crew were in the last stages of racking a 14 kW system. In an hour I had my standoffs installed and was ready to put my collector in place. I backed my truck up to the house. The collector on top of my pipe rack rested just below the gutter. It was easy for two of us to lift the collector up and over the gutter into the waiting hands of two other guys who dragged it onto the roof. Four of us then carried it across the roof and laid it onto the standoffs, which were perfectly placed for a precise fit.
“Cool,” they observed, and followed with more questions.
I drilled my holes through the roof into the attic. When I went around, there were 4 electricians inside the house running wire overhead in the attic. I didn’t want to be in their way so I left, went into town and checked into the only hotel. The others had burned in the terrible fire of November 8, 2018 when a sudden, and with no warning, fire propelled by 100 mph winds lay siege to the town in a matter of minutes. Frank’s home, the one I was working on, was one of 17,000 buildings that were burned. More than eighty people died. The clerk at my hotel told me she had three houses and seven cars “poof.” Even 16 months later the ubiquitous sight and unmistakable smell of burned trees ignited the memory that something terrible had happened here. Yet so far 25% of the population had returned to rebuild. That’s what Frank was doing and hundreds of others. Construction crews like busy bees were scurrying everywhere I looked.
In my hotel room I found brochures for a taco place and a pizza place. I drove to the address of the taco place. It wasn’t there. I asked someone who reported that it had burned but the business was operating out of a food cart in the parking lot across the street and a few blocks up. I easily found it. The menu included a one-pound burrito for $7.99 or a two pounder for $8.99. Always one to choose value, I went for the two-pounder. When handed the bag with the burrito in it, my hand sank with the weight of the thing. When I took it out and had a look, I could hardly believe my eyes. Like a ravenous wolf I dug in. Halfway through I begged for mercy. That burrito easily whipped me. Fortunately I had a refrigerator back in the room to store that bad boy.
I took a nap waking just before 5 p.m. I reasoned the electricians had probably gone for the day and it would be a good time for me to go back and do the attic pipe run. I went to the job site and sure enough everyone was gone along with a fleet of half-a-dozen vehicles. I had left 100’ of copper pipe on site and I would feel a lot better with the pipe being installed rather than leaning up against the wall in an unsecured garage.
I set about installing the pipe. By 6pm or so it was starting to get dark. I figured I had less than an hour to go so I put on my headlamp and pressed on. By 7 I was all done. I loaded my tools and began backing out of the driveway when I noticed a uniformed figure in my side view mirror. The police lady told me there had been a suspicious neighbor call-in about light inside the building. I explained that I was running pipe. I offered to show her the work I was doing to prove my story. She, and her partner who had flanked himself a few paces behind her, accompanied me back into the garage. I pointed to the insulated copper pipes winding through the overhead trusses. Making light of the situation I said, “See, I was putting copper IN rather than taking it out.”
The officers were satisfied I was telling the truth, apologized for detaining me, and allowed me to go. However, as I reached the end of the driveway the second officer told me to wait. He had noticed I had out of town license plates.
“Do you have a California contractor’s license?” he asked.
“No,” I answered. “I am the manufacturer of the solar water heating system being installed here. My agreement with the owner is that I deliver and assist in installation.”
“Well, you can’t be working here without a California license,” he scolded. “You seem like a nice man and I’m not going to jam you up but if I hear of you doing any more work here you will be subject to thousands of dollars in fines.”
“Ok, officer, thank you,” I humbly submitted as I drove away. I returned to my room for round two with the burrito.