What Happened When A Plumber Arrived 6 Hours Late For My Appointment

by Karen Johnson
Boston Globe / Contributor

If you’ve been a grownup for more than 10 minutes, you know what a hassle it is waiting on service people to fix something — whether it’s cable, plumbing, or a broken appliance. You have to find said service person, schedule an appointment, and wait during that “window” of time that he/she will arrive (which, let’s be honest, is often a mere suggestion).

I’ve certainly been in that frustrating situation many times. But a recent interaction made me look at it in a whole new light.

A few weeks ago we needed to have some repair work done. We had purchased a new dishwasher but it wasn’t compatible with our house’s old pipes. The appointment was scheduled, then confirmed. 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. I was excited because I’d been sans dishwasher for a week and couldn’t wait to play with my new appliance.

At around 4:30 p.m., I got the dreaded call. The plumber was running late. The new window was now from 6-8 p.m. Eh, no biggie. I made the kids dinner, went about the rest of my day, and eagerly anticipated the ringing of my doorbell so I could stop washing every single effing fork by hand.

Well, turns out the “6-8” window was actually 11 p.m. ELEVEN O’CLOCK AT NIGHT is when he finally showed up to fix our damn pipe. So yeah, I was pissed. And yeah, I was about to go off on a “I am not paying this bill after you showed up 6 fucking hours late!” rant.

But here’s why I didn’t.

The plumber rushed in, clearly stressed out about being so late. He explained that he’d been stuck fixing a busted pipe in an inner-city housing apartment complex, about an hour away. And that he STILL had one more job after leaving my house because he was trying like hell to work overtime so his boss would let him have the next day (July 4th) off to see his daughter—whom he hadn’t seen all week.

This guy wasn’t late because he took an extended lunch (or dinner) break. Or out of laziness. Or irresponsibility. He was late because he’d been fixing pipes—pipes that are essential, not that run to a dishwasher. If this plumber had come to my house first, children may have gone without running water so I could get a dishwasher installed. And he was late because he had picked extra shifts to support his family and hopefully score some good daddy-daughter time too.

All of a sudden, hearing his story, I thought of my own dad. A man who drove a truck and left for work every day at 3 a.m. for most of my childhood. Who worked nights when available because they paid overtime. And who also built decks on the weekends as a side job so my mom, sister, and I had everything we needed.

I wondered in that moment how many times he was drop-dead exhausted and had a bitchy privileged person go off on him for being late. And I thought of myself, as a little girl, spending the 4th of July with him, lighting sparklers, playing on the slip-and-slide, and eating popsicles and cookies all day. I wondered how much he had to work extra to make special days like that happen. And I felt incredibly grateful for those memories.

So yeah, I was angry that night. I was inconvenienced. I didn’t even want to be awake at 11 p.m., never mind talking to a stranger in my house and writing out a $200 check. But instead of flipping my shit on this guy who was far more tired than me, here’s how I responded.

I said thank you. And I gave him a case of beer out of our fridge to take home and enjoy on his holiday.

And next time I’m about to let my inner bitch fly when the cable guy or the electrician is late, I’m going to take a breath and think about what it might be like in their shoes.

I hope that plumber did get his day with his daughter. I hope they had the same joyous July 4th that I had with my kids. I hope she ran by him in a fit of giggles, splashing through a sprinkler or jumping in a pool, and he saw the joy on her face. I hope she sat on his lap enjoying a hot dog and made memories with her dad that she’ll remember in 30 years, just like I do.

Because here’s the thing—our collective humanity depends on this. It depends on us being kind to each other. Being grateful. And showing our kids how to treat one another. Especially if someone is working hard and just trying to be a good dad.

So next time you have to wait on your food for a few extra minutes, please be kind to your waiter. More than likely it’s not their fault that the kitchen is backed up. Or if you are stuck in traffic, once you finally pass the construction workers, shoot them a thank you wave for fixing your roads in the sweltering summer heat. And most importantly, please teach your kids to be kind as well. Let them see you show compassion and patience, and let them see you give others some grace.

I mean, how much better would our world be if we were kind to each other instead of acting like dicks?