Before I joined a drainage crew in my mid-twenties I dreamed of being a comedian. My closest friends believed I would become the next greatest TV host because I would always crack jokes and, as they said, had the perfect deep broadcasting voice. I kind of disappointed them when I became a full time perimeter drainage crewman. This story is about how I turned that disappointment into pride by keeping my comedian dream alive in the drainage business.
When I was twenty-six I went to the family thanksgiving dinner at grandma’s house like we do every year, and like every year grandma likes to ask each family member how they have been and what they’ve been up to. My dad has a unique bicycle repair and fixing business but when it came to his turn he said the same thing he says at every dinner, in his usual emotionless voice: “I fixed a few bicycles today.” I, of course, was sitting beside him and grandma’s eyeballs landed on me next. The last thing she remembered was that I was trying my hardest to get my first comedian gig after practicing in the mirror, or at least that’s what I thought. It was heart-wrenching to see the happiness on her face when I told her I got a full time job as a drainage systems installer for a Victoria drainage company. I was expecting her to be sad that I was no longer following my dream. Instead, she laughed and said, “It’s about time you got a job. I knew you’d never fix bicycles like your father.”
Fixing bicycles? That was what she thought I was going to do with my life? I wanted to get mad but I knew that would be silly. Instead I cracked a joke about how I’d try to convince my whole drain system company to start riding bicycles to their work sites to give my dad more business and grandma loved it. She was actually quite interested about drain services because she had her drains blocked recently. I became the focus of thanksgiving that night as I told my whole family the best flood prevention methods and why it’s important to get frequent drain maintenance. “Why is it so important?” Grandma asked.
Smiling grimly, I replied, “Calling drain cleaners for frequent drainage cleaning prevents crocodiles and snakes from eating your cats.”
Grandma coughed on her turkey while laughing and finally her eyes landed on my sister, who then went on about her dream of being a princess (she was 7). I’ll never forget that thanksgiving dinner because for me it was the beginning of my new career. Before then I wasn’t sure if being a perimeter drainage serviceman was right for me but now I knew that I could install drains and be funny at the same time.
That was over fifty years ago and know I’m one of the wealthiest drainage contractors on Vancouver Island (unofficially retired). But nobody calls me a drainage contractor. My family and clientele could call me so many things like a drainage expert, a drainage systems installer, a self-employed contractor, a sexy business owner, but NO! I’m known as “that comedian who unclogged my drain”, “that funny guy who answered the phone” or “the comedian of the family who’s also a drainage contractor”.
My friends weren’t exactly right when they said I’d become the next greatest TV host but at least I fulfilled my dream of becoming a comedian. To this day I still haven’t found my first comedian gig but over the years I’ve gathered and made up a lot of drainage jokes. Unfortunately the wider audience doesn’t find drainage as funny as I do. I could tell them about all the funny stuff I used to see doing residential drainage in Vancouver, doing drain services for hippies on Salt Spring Island, but they’d rather hear about American football players or TV superstars. At least you’ll get to hear of some of the funny things I’ve seen and done.
When you roll up to a house in your service vehicle and smell weed, see weed and see hippies all lined up in a row to smoke weed you know you’re servicing a weed dealer. On Salt Spring Island thirty years ago I came to such a house to unclog a drainage system or, as they said it over the phone, “unclog our pipes … hahaha … no our pipes are fine I mean unclog our water pipes. Yeah, water pipes. Our other pipes are *cough* working just fine.”
That was before the days of owning my own business so of course I unfortunately had to service these hippies. I began my work of first inspecting the drains to see what was wrong before I pulled all my tools out and right away, within five minutes, I found what had been blocking the pipes and it was a big bag of weed! I brought it to the homeowner and he said, “Oh damn I was trying to remember where I hid that thing.” He then happily paid in full the amount that had been on my boss’s quote and I drove off with enough time in my morning to do a second job before lunch. Perhaps I would’ve cracked more jokes that day if I wasn’t hungover. I bet those hippies would’ve loved my drainage jokes now that I think of it.
Perhaps the funniest moment in my whole career had been the moment when, being laid off, I went about applying for work at various drainage companies and came across this little old lady in Oak Bay who, out of pure pleasure, had started her own drainage company at the age of seventy-four! It all started because she, having a plumber for a husband, had learned everything about the drains in her own house and so willingly did free drainage services for all her elderly friends. Of course, her friends being as kind as they were, refused to let her do it for free and even suggested that she, because she loves doing it so much, offer her drain services in a local listing.
This sweet lady ended up hiring me for doing drain repairs. My time with her was brief because, due to health issues, she had to stop what she was doing but she didn’t want her dear friends to lose out so she handed over her drainage business to me. It was just a simple thing, pretty much a phone number and a logo in a few listings–drainage Victoria BC–nothing more, but I managed to take everything that little funny lady gave me and turn it into one of the most lucrative perimeter drainage companies on Vancouver Island. I already knew how to be funny but that old lady taught me the importance of providing services out of love. For a while after that even I didn’t consider myself in the drainage industry; I was just in the industry of being funny and helping people out.
If I were to go back and get a dollar for every time I made someone laugh I’d be the richest man in the world today. I wanted to share my story on this blog because I know there’re so many young men and women in trade school wishing they could be the next Jackie Chan or the next Tom Cruise but, guess what, you can! And you can do it while also being a tradesman or a tradeswoman. The worst case scenario is that you’ll make a lot of money, so make grandma happy and get a job!