On Local Community

I hated having to find a contractor when I first moved across the country to Arkansas. It wasn’t the first time I moved across the country and I know how it works. You pack up your stuff, label them on the box, put the new address into GPS and start driving.

I guess I don’t need to mention Arkansas is different than L.A., in the most obvious ways.

Arkansas does not have the beach, the sunshine, boba teas, acai bowls, or Ahi Pokes. L.A. has Trader Joes & In & Outs, and Arkansas has Walmart & Chick-fil-a. Even the smallest thing like finding a vet was difficult. My L.A. greyhound vet always told me, greyhounds process anesthesia differently, and they will not put her under while cleaning her teeth. Arkansas vet told me they MUST put my dog under regardless of breed when they clean her teeth. I still absolutely hate this.

When I first moved here, it was exhausting having to find a new grocery store that sells ribs and will cut them for you. People here don’t understand that Asians like having shorter pork ribs (so you can fit these ribs in a pot, duh!). I had to find a new dog sitter, a new car cleaner, a new mechanic, a new vet, a new apartment, a new doctor, a new dentist. In L.A., those things are easy. You just go on google or yelp and find the highest rated business nearest to you. Thousands of reviews detailed to the last review left only 5 minutes ago. If you ever felt like their service was not up to par, a 3-star could get everything fixed real quick. Arkansas was like a different country, one that was left behind by the world. Yelp only has McDonalds, Wendy’s, and Chick-fil-a. Google reviews were non-existing. People don’t use Meetup; they use Facebook. At the beginning, even my apartment, built 2 years ago, was NOT on google map. Imagine that. I had to put a pin and tag this pasture on google as “home” to get directions.  

Last month, I started renting my house on Airbnb while living in a rental. The day the first guest was arriving, I went over to the house in the morning to turn on the AC for her. And that was the first time this year I turned on the AC. I turned it on and left. A couple hours later around noon, I checked the thermostat temperature on my phone app. I realize it had gone up instead of down. My first guess was the thermostat must not be updating since I am not at the house. Well, you guessed it. There was nothing wrong with my thermostat; my AC was broken, dead, in the middle of a heat wave. 

That week the temperature was record high in Arkansas; temperature went up to 105 F at one point during the day. My airbnb guest surely isn’t going to pay $150 a night to be stewing in their own sweat. I called one of the AC companies from google search of nearby AC professionals, and the receiptionist immediately stopped me as soon as I said I needed someone to come and look at the AC. “We are at least a week and half out,” She told me. “Everyone is booked solid since it is so hot.” I took a deep breath trying to calm down and scrolled through my phone for other AC professional contacts in my phone.

Then I realized that there was an AC guy, David, I used for the barn. He came and connected the mini-split for the barn earlier this year. Someone from a Facebook group of local moms had recommended him (the group’s name is “Bentonville Moms in the know”, which I quite enjoy the blatant cheesiness). So I gave him a call but his receiptionist told me the same thing, everyone is swamped, but she gave me a list of other AC guys around the area to call and try my luck, and promised to put me on the waitlist for David. 

About 30 minutes later, after being rejected by probably the entire AC professionals in town, sitting in my living room, I finally broke down and started balling in tears. That’s when David called back. He said he remembered me, remembered coming to connect my barn, and he will be finishing up his work at 5pm but he understand it is urgent so he will come over on his way home to take a look. I was so thankful. It feels like someone has got my back, and wouldn’t leave me completely alone, stranded in this humid house without AC. 

David came as promised, a little after 5pm, he called and told me he was on his way to assure he was coming. When he showed up at the door, I could see there were little salt marks on his face from the dried up sweat. I can imagine he probably just got down from someone else’s attic and drove to my house. David smiled a little, took his glasses off and wiped his forehead with a hankerchift, and put his glasses back on. “Trouble with the AC, I see?” He walked in and put down his tool belt by the AC & Furnace and started working. 

I have dealt with my fair share of contractors while renovating my first house. The industry is male-dominated and with my look and my height, I felt contractors would try to upcharge because they think “this little girl doesn’t know what’s going on but she will pay us. Let’s charge her extra.” Perhaps it is cinicism, maybe there are some truth to it. Or maybe it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. I don’t know. But I’ve always been extremely cautious with contractors.

David told me that the coil for the AC was broken. I knew he was right because last year, the same thing happened but the prior AC guy pumped some freon in, and told me the leak was fixed. David asked if I knew the AC was under warranty. I said, yes I registered it myself. He was very relieved. He said, “I ALWAYS register for my customers because it saves them tons of money when parts break like this.” He said, “don’t worry, I’ll pump some freon to get you going for now and that will last you a good few weeks. And I’ll order the parts, we can schedule some time when you don’t have Airbnb guests, and fix this. My estimate of the whole thing including my labor would be $xxx.” And actually, his final numbers (he gets paid by the hour) was a little less than his estimates but almost spot on.

The entire time David was working, he hummed a very quiet and joyful tune. The fact that he wasn’t stressed made me feel like there’s hope, and that he would be able to fix this in no time and life would go back to normal again. Sometimes he stops to push his glasses back up his nose. He would walk in and out of the house frequently to get yet another gadget I can’t name, but he always closes the door behind him, to make sure he doesn’t let cool air out (not that there was much cool air to start with). He would wipe his shoes on the door mat every single time he comes in, and at the end, he took a papertowel from his truck, and wiped the dust off where he was working.

That’s one of the first times I felt Arkansas wasn’t so bad. It wasn’t so bad that Arkansas is 10 years behind the time. Because behind L.A.’s convenience, best services, best reviews, and most innovative products, much of human connections have been long lost. There is nobody like David in L.A. Everyone is out for themselves and if you want something you MUST pay. I didn’t value the community and connections when I was in L.A. because I never understood fully what it was like to have neighbors you can rely on to watch over your house, to have contractors who become friends, and friends to look after your dog when you go out of town. I was very self-sufficient in L.A., but also alone. I had to be. I have no one to rely on. Strangely in Arkansas, I can trust almost complete strangers and become friends with them. 

This is when I realized I would probably never move back to L.A. I was building a career back then in L.A., but now I am building a life.