The flies, mosquitoes, and other airborne insects were buzzing around me like I was a horse that had just rolled in manure. I was wearing a bug repellent loop around my neck, but it didn't seem to be helping. I cursed U.S. West Telephone Company and continued my attempt to dig a trench. The trench was for my telephone line -- but let me digress...

It all began because the culvert pipe under my driveway entrance had been filling with dirt every year, and I had to go to major trouble to clear it. However it wasn't enough trouble to cause me to replace the pipe until I purchased a new, longer horse trailer. The driveway entrance was not wide enough to make the turn pulling the trailer. Now I had two good reasons to replace the culvert pipe. I started calling excavators.

The first excavator told me to call him in six weeks and he would try to fit me in his schedule if I had not found someone. The second excavator said he would be up in a few days to take a look. I never heard from him again. I finally found a guy named "Chuck" who had a backhoe/front-end loader who would do it. He didn't show up the first two times he said he would, but after three weeks he appeared on his backhoe and began excavating the old culvert pipe. About 30 minutes into the project I heard his backhoe go quiet and I went to take a look. At $85 an hour you want to hear something.

Chuck, Nina, and Clare staring at my broken cable.

Chuck was standing in the road holding up a 3' length of black cable. He said, "Lew, what's this?" It was the underground phone cable to my house. He apologized for severing my link to the world, and we decided that he should continue his excavating since the damage had already been done. When the culvert pipe was finally extracted, we saw a long, wide gash where the original cable installer had cut it with his cable installer machine. That is why my pipe had been filling up with dirt every year. Four hundred dollars later I had a new and longer culvert pipe installed and my driveway entrance was widened. I headed to town for a phone to call U.S. West.

In the back of my mind I had a faint recollection that US West had either merged or been acquired by Quest. My first phone call confirmed this when I ended up talking to a Qwest representative. She asked me for my phone number with area code and I gave it to her. "You are not currently a Qwest customer," she announced.

"Yes I am," I replied. "I have been a US West customer for five years.

"We have no record of you being a customer," she replied.

"You have been billing me and taking my money every month," I said, with some annoyance.

"You will have to fax us your last bill," she instructed. I felt like telling her to "bite me," but I did need my phone service restored.

"Perhaps I should wait and see if I ever get billed again," I responded, thinking that I just might have a shot at free phone service. I hung up. There was no way I was going to fax them my phone bill. I called back, but this time punched a different series of touch-tone numbers to talk with the "questions about billing" representatives. There I received the same answer -- I was not a customer of theirs. I explained that I had been a US West customer until Qwest took over a week ago. She said my account had probably been transferred to Touch America, and gave me their phone number.

A nice woman at Touch America told me that I was not a customer of theirs, but she would be glad to sign me up for their long distance service. I told her that it wouldn't do me much good if I couldn't get my cable repaired. She then initiated a conference call between herself, Qwest, and me. The outcome of the conference call was that I was put in contact with a maintenance and repair center. I'm not sure who's maintenance and repair center it was, but the man took down my address and problem, and said there would be a repairman out within 24 hours.

At noon the next day, I spotted a truck coming up my mountain road that looked like it might be a phone company truck. I met the guy at my gate and explained the situation. He said Colorado had passed a new law that allowed large fines when cables were cut and that my contractor should have called and had the cable located before digging. That made sense to me, but I wasn't going to get Chuck in trouble. I tried to defend Chuck by pointing out the fact that the original installation had damaged my culvert pipe, which was why we had to replace it, and there was no way to replace it without cutting the cable. I also pointed out that the cable was less than 6" below the surface, running up the middle of my driveway. I might as well have accused him of cheating on his wife.

At the end of our discussion, I was left with three options. 1) I could have him come back and bury a new cable 500 feet up to the house at a cost of $100 per hour. 2) I could locate both cut ends, which were now buried somewhere in the road and drive way, and dig a trench between them so that he could splice them. 3) I could locate and dig up the broken cable end that ran to my house and dig a trench from it to phone box on the road. Option three was the least expensive, offered a compromise in degradation of the line quality, and digging in my driveway was easier than in the road.

Digging anywhere up in the Rocky Mountains is not easy, and after an hour, I had a trench dug that was two feet long and 8" deep. He said it was required to be 18" deep. I only had approximately 60 feet to go to reach the box. At that rate, I figured it would take me an hour a foot to dig an 18" deep trench. It was Friday and I didn't have that much time before he returned on Monday. I decided to go to town and see if I could rent a ditch witch.

Bob, at the rental place, had a ditch witch. I'd never seen one up close, but it appeared to be at least a 600 pound piece of equipment and there was no way I could get it in my truck. $140 a day was the rental price, and that didn't include the trailer I would have to rent to transport it. "Do you have rocks?" Bob asked.

"Does a bear shit in the woods?" I replied. "This is the Rockies!"

"It won't work in rocks," Bob informed me.

"You must not rent it often," I remarked.

I went to the hardware store and purchased some phone cable and an ax / adz combination for $22. At least I would have something to show for my money if it didn't work. I spliced a temporary cable and got my phone service back. Now I was back at the scene of the crime, digging with my new adz. It is going faster, but so is my heart. I can only dig so long at 9000' elevation without giving myself a heart attack, but the bugs will probably get me first. I still don't know who is providing my phone service, and I'm not going to ask again. I'll just wait and see if I get another bill. "Qwest - Bite me!"

• • •

Post Script: I dug the last of the trench Monday morning. The phone repairman didn't show up. On Monday night a downpour filled up the trench with mud. On Tuesday I dug it out. On Wednesday I called the Qwest and complained. OnThursday the repairman showed up and spliced in a new cable. Now I'm waiting to see if I get a bill.