If you‘ve ever enjoyed the beauty of a green lawn in front of your house, this story will resonate with you. For twelve years, I had been doing battle with moles, voles and a legion of squirrels and chipmunks. Squirrels came with the tall oak trees in front of the house. I had accepted them, as well as the tiny striped chipmunks that added a lively touch to the suburban landscape. The moles and voles were another story —the enemies with their mounds of yellow-brown dirt placed strategically about the grass. They were the Darth Vaders of our lawn!
Then, one morning, I opened the front door and discovered small yellow, red and orange flags along with vivid neon stripes painted across the lawn! This multi-color parade wrapped around the corner through the ivy and finished with a flourish at the driveway. Just the decorative accents I had always wanted! More ominous was the realization that these markings connoted something very sinister for the future. The words, “Hand Dig Only” jumped out from each plastic pendant. Our visitors had been the local electric, telephone and gas companies. Each had left a strong warning: “CAUTION Buried Electric Lines or Telephone Facilities or Gas Lines” Then “Questions?” and a telephone number.
Of course, I called one of the numbers. And so the saga began. First, I chose the Electric Company. “Questions: 1(800) 272-1000. A recording told me to wait and I did while listening to music that was not too unpleasant for early in the morning. Then, a voice answered and I was encouraged. Progress. But my heart leapt too quickly. She told me that she could not answer my questions as to what the little pennants and neon stripes meant on my lawn. She would connect me with customer service. “Fine,” said I.
Customer service turned out to be a recording— the flags and lines were for my information and protection when “excavation was going on in the area.” That comment raised my apprehension level many notches higher. There was no excavation within a half mile at present. Where and when was the excavation to occur, I wondered. On our lawn with its road map of lines and flags?
I waited until 9:00 to call again, hoping that I would reach a different person with a more detailed response. The woman who answered told me that number was not the Electric Company after all. It was New Jersey One Call. She said she had no information as to what the lines and arrows and flags meant. Great! By then, I needed another cup of camomile tea to recover my equilibrium.
An hour later, I found a white card with bold red lettering hanging from our front door knob. “Construction Notice (a dreaded term!) from KLINE Construction Company. The notice told me that KLINE had “contracted with your local utility to upgrade the underground (help!) portion of its systems. Our upgrade construction crews will be working in your area for the next several weeks…The effort may include excavation in the utility easement (right-of-way) on your property. (Worst fears confirmed!) Please be assured that all excavated areas will be effectively restored in a timely manner.” The repeated use of “excavation” gave me the willies. “Upgrade” and “restored” didn’t help.
The entire explanation was an attempt to reassure me that my seeded, sodded, fertilized, limed, de-grubbed, aerated, thatched, re-seeded, sprinkled ad infinitum lawn was going to look good as new. Do I have tell you that I was not reassured. To tell the truth, all the attention this lawn had received for the past years would pay for a trip to Italy. No matter. There was a principle involved here. I hated the sight of those lurid stripes across the front of our property. As well as their matching plastic flags. How dare they just move along with their paint brushes without even ringing the door bell!
Next, I called KLINE Construction. A most cordial man put me on hold, returned and said he would look up our address on his computer. When he came back, he had no record of our property. That answer did not inspire confidence. He tried again and this time, not only did he find our address, but he gave me the best of all news. “The work will not be done on the Linwood side of Burroughs Avenue. It will be done on the Northfield side.” Now, I guess I should have been altruistic and concerned about my neighbors’ grass across the street. They had built their home several years before and put down a new lawn. But, I must admit my feeling was one of great relief. Our lawn had been nurtured and coddled for over a decade.
I didn’t ask him why the flags and neon lines were all over our lawn. I was afraid to pursue the subject. I sensed that discretion was the better part of valor. I did ask if I could take down the flags. He advised against doing that and I was so relieved that I decided to follow his advice. I trusted that there was some logic in their system even if I didn’t understand it. About a week later, the big yellow earth-movers and other assorted machines lumbered down Burroughs Avenue. I watched as excavating took place across the street in Northfield. Then, I carefully removed every flag from our lawn. We had to wait for the grass to grow tall enough to cut the neon stripes from our sight forever!