Everything Comes in Trees

Cameron Tucker: Mitchell, where were we sitting when Lily first rolled over?
Mitchell Pritchett: Under this tree.
Cameron Tucker: Where is home base when we play hide and seek?
Mitchell Pritchett: Under this tree.
Cameron Tucker: And where did we sought shelter from that frightening lightning storm?
Mitchell Pritchett: It wasn’t a good idea, but it was under this tree.

Modern Family, “When a Tree Falls” (11/28/2012)

When we moved into the current Parkville Palace one fine Spring morning several years ago, Wife and I were especially taken with a couple of large trees that were in the yard.

One was a gum tree, which resided in the front yard. Frankly, it wasn’t long before the novelty of that tree wore off. The gum tree is one of those jobbies that drops the big spiky balls later in the year. And as the Spring became Summer and the tress all over started putting forth leaves and such, it was clear that this tree was in a bit of distress: there were several branches that weren’t producing leaves. Plus the spiky balls were just making it impossible for me to walk around barefoot out front, and they made the lawn mower sad as the blade would hit them, and the first couple of hits would just ricochet the balls around the inside of the mower before the blade managed to finish them off. When, during that first Winter, the tree actually dropped several branches, we realized that it was probably not long for this world and we should consider having it removed.

Farewell, old friend.The other tree, in the back yard, was a big cedar tree. It was about 50 feet tall and a beautiful old thing that provided just the right amount of shade for the corner of the yard where we had the patio and the pergola installed. We loved the tree, but unfortunately over the last couple of years, we could see that it wasn’t doing well: branches were dying off or falling from the tree altogether; it was starting to lean a little bit, and so on. We started to wonder if that one could be saved, or if it would have to go as well.

Finally we made the call to a couple of places and asked them to come in and give us estimates to have the trees removed. One place gave us a price that was over $2000 for those two trees, plus a dogwood that he’d noticed was also about at the end of its life. The other one, AmeriTree, was more in the realm of $1600 so we went with them. I called them up and the woman who answered the phone said, “OK, I think I have some spots open this week, let me get the calendar.” Before I could continue that there were some date constraints, she’d put me on hold. When she came back she immediately launched into “OK, I can get you down for either Friday, or Saturday—“ at which point I finally interrupted her and told her that she’d put me on hold too quickly, and I needed a date after July 11. (For those of you not in the know, July 11 is the second Saturday in July, the weekend that Wife and I stage our Annual Pig Roast. And if you’re not in the know, why not? Why haven’t you been coming?) We settled on the 13th.

On July 8th, AmeriTree called me to tell me that they see they have me down for the 13th, but a spot has “opened up” on Saturday the 11th, could they come by then? I told her no, we have a lot of guests coming that day, and they were all going to say goodbye to the tree. (Yes, I really said that.)

On July 9th, a guy working on a tree in another yard nearby came by and suggested to Wife that the gum tree probably needed to come down, and could he put in a bid on it? We told him that we’d already committed to a company. Out of curiosity, he asked who we went with. We told him it was AmeriTree. He said, “Okay.” Then, after a beat, he said, “You should be careful; those guys aren’t always so great with the safety side of things.”  We thanked him for his advice and that was pretty much it from him, although we did ask him to take out a smaller tree that AmeriTree hadn’t bid on. He said he’d come over after the job across the street was done, in a day or so.

July 10: we got another call from AmeriTree: “I see you’re down for the 13th, but there’s an opening tomorrow if you can accommodate them.” I told them that no, we STILL can’t accommodate them because, as I’d already explained, we had a lot of people coming to the house that day. This time she took the time to write on the estimate that it couldn’t be changed.

On July 11, we held the Pig Roast and a merry time was had by all, and there were, indeed, toasts to the impending demise of the tree. We even toasted once to the gum tree, but we were pretty drunk by then.

So Monday rolls around, the last of the guests have departed, and I’m getting ready to run an errand when the AmeriTree guys arrive at about 10:30 or so. They look at the gum tree, which is pretty accessible and shouldn’t pose a problem at all, and then we go to the back yard. The guy’s a little worried about the cedar tree, because they’re not sure about getting the pieces to the chipper. I take him into the alley to show him that big trucks, can, indeed, go back there, and he’s a little more confident about their ability to do the job without hassle.

Of course, if that actually happened, then I’d be writing a 140-character Tweet about how guys came and cut down my trees and that’d be it. Instead, I’ve got this story to tell you.

Right before I left, their lead guy said, “OK, before we get started, we’re just gonna go get lunch, all right?” Hey, what can you say, guy’s gotta eat some lunch. I don’t know why you check in and get lunch instead of lunching first, but whatever. I go on my errand, leaving Wife with the tree crew.

It was about an hour later when I got back. The gum tree was completely down already, and some of the workers were raking up the leftover branches for disposal. Wow, says I. That was quick. They’ll make short work of the cedar tree. Then Wife told me that the stumps weren’t going to be ground down that day; that was for another crew and another day that we had to arrange. I asked the crew chief if that was true, and he told me yes, that was always the case. I noted that I wished I’d known about that so we could have planned ahead; we thought everything would be done that day. So I got on the phone with AmeriTree and set up a second visit for the stumps. Nobody had an answer for me with regard to why I wasn’t told this in the first place.

So I sat in my dining room, looking out through the back door and paying my bills online. Wife sat on the small deck we have outside the dining room door, watching the guys work. In fact, she snapped the pic here shortly before they came to the back yard. They were doing a bang-up job of cutting away those lower branches and generally reducing the tree to a big stick before tackling the trunk—or trunks, as you can see: about ten feet up the trunk really split up into about a half-dozen main branches. I got wrapped up in what I was doing, which involved a more-or-less static screen, when Wife popped the door open and asked me: “Do you still have internet?”

“I think so,” I said, then I hit the F5 button to refresh. Nope, the internet had died. How did she know this had happened? That’s when I looked outside and realized that the work had stopped.

To hear Wife tell the story, one of the workers was up high in the tree, making the cuts, while another one or two guys was on the ground, pulling the tree parts this way and that with ropes as a means of guiding the pieces
down in a specific direction. One large piece, however, did a kind of pirouette at the end of the cut and, instead of falling to the left onto the grass (see the grassy area in the photo? There), it fell at about a 90-degree angle to that point, just missing the pergola but neatly hitting the two wires that are strung across my yard. One wire was the power line for the house next to ours; the other is the Comcast cable that provides my internet service. (Shut up, DSL isn’t available in this part of town, and FIOS isn’t available anywhere in Baltimore City.) The power line was pulled away from the neighbor’s house, and now hung about three feet over our yard, but was still connected; about half of the brackets that held the cable to the house had been torn out. Our cable had been torn out at BOTH ends: at the pole and at the house. So while our neighbor still had electrical service, we had no internet.

I got on the phone to AmeriTree to ask them what their protocol was for this sort of thing. She said she’d have to call the crew chief to see what was up. I went out back and asked where  he was, but nobody seemed to know at that moment. When he did turn up a minute later, I told him that the office was supposed to be getting in touch with him. This was the beginning of numerous phone calls, back-and-forthing with the crew and with the AmeriTree office, and a bunch of stuff you don’t really want to hear, but I’ll add these few tidbits:

At one point in the afternoon, around 4:00 I called AmeriTree to ask when Comcast was supposed to come out and fix the cable. She said she didn’t know; all she knew was that it would be sometime the next day and here’s the work order number if I want to call them myself. What about BGE, for the electrical wire? “Well, it’s not a high-power wire, they can probably fix it on their own…” And, in fact, they did that, putting the brackets back in and re-mounting the cable against the house. They did kind of a half-assed job of it, so the cable is no longer lying flush against the house, but they did something, I guess. They also trimmed the hell out of a tree that the cable was passing through. In addition, they took the time to trim my neighbor’s hedges for free AND, because she’d asked for the gum tree wood for her fireplace, they cut that up into smaller, more manageable pieces (still too big for a fireplace but easier to turn into fireplace-ready pieces). In the meantime, Wife is discovering a bunch of other damage they’d done to parts of her garden that we hadn’t expected to see damage on. Our cherry tree (at the far left in the photo) had a bunch of its branches broken, and the crape myrtle’s trunk had been split down the middle. The crew chief knocked $100 off the total cost as an apology and against the possibility that the crape myrtle would have to be replaced; as he’s writing the bill up he said to me, “Sometimes these guys, they want to work really fast and I have to slow them down because they don’t always do things the right way.” This statement flew directly against my next phone call to the office, which involved me being told that their crews are always concerned with doing things safely. She did not, however, have a reply when I repeated what the crew chief had told me. She did note, however, that they wouldn’t have been in business for as long as they were, with an A+ rating (from whom, she didn’t say).

Pay attention to this, AmeriTree: you don’t keep on being in business by resting on the laurels of the previous work; you keep on being in business by delighting the NEW customers you have so that they’ll come back and give you referrals.

A supervisor came out the next day, and Wife and I toured him around the property, showing him everything that had happened and some of the attitudes we bumped up against. He was (sort of) apologetic and offered to replace the crape myrtle if it, in fact, didn’t survive its injuries, and said he’d send out a second crew to fix the power line. (Coincidentally, the Comcast guy arrived at almost the same time he did, so the internet was back up before he left.) But in the end, we weren’t left with any real assurance that the next person down the line wouldn’t experience something like this, or that they held any real remorse for what had happened. So we’re pretty much in a “time will tell” loop at the moment.