The heat index was 107 degrees. Thatâ€™s hot, even for August in the Carolinas. Alton the tree guy was cutting branches from the live oaks, and he looked ready for a break when I brought out some ice water.
He sat on the bumper of his truck and took a long slug before wiping the sweat off his face.
So I asked him, was he looking forward to hurricane season and some extra tree work afterward. He took another long drink before saying anything.
â€œTell you what happens. Thereâ€™s a hurricane here and before the wind dies down â€“ these guys show up from Arkansas, Alabama, Louisiana with their rigs.
â€œAnd they start hitting all the neighborhoods like this. I give you a quote for, say, two fifty, and this guyâ€™s right behind me saying â€˜Iâ€™ll clear them trees for a hunnerd.â€™
â€œThis guyâ€™s talking at you and talking at you and thereâ€™s a bunch of guys setting in the back of his truck drinking Bud Light and eating pork rinds. Just setting there waiting.
â€œThen while heâ€™s cutting your trees and you think youâ€™re saving a buck, his guys are clearing out your garage, your truck, your toolbox. You donâ€™t even know it â€˜til they done gone and you never see â€˜em or your tools again.
â€œI donâ€™t say nothing when they come in. Them guysâ€™d shut me down in a day if I talked, and it wouldnâ€™t be pretty how they done it.
â€œI just hope the folks what used me last year and the year before remember me and donâ€™t go with them other guys.
â€œI been here forever, and I ainâ€™t going nowhere. Iâ€™ll be here tomorrow. But them guys? They be gone just as fast they clean you out.
â€œNah, I donâ€™t like the hurricane business none.â€
He spat on the ground and started in on the BP oil spill. It was the middle of August and the well was still spewing oil.
â€œNow that BP thing coulda been fixed in five, mebbe six days.â€ He talked fast â€“ and with a lot of hand motions â€“ about how youâ€™d drill into a whosis and tap off the whatsis and it seemed to make sense.
Who knows? The guy had two big trucks, a cherry picker, three different sized front-end loaders, and tools spread out all down the street. He was a genius at maneuvering around branches and dropping limbs to the ground without breaking a sweat or the neighborâ€™s fence. He might have been blowing more than hot air.
Still, hereâ€™s when he really started talking sense: â€œYou gotta make it about the money, yâ€™know? Make it worth it to someone to fix the thing. Then someoneâ€™d figure out right quick how to plug the damn well.
â€œTell ya, you got a tree up on top of, I donâ€™t care where â€“ the Empire State Building â€“ and you wanna pay.â€ He pointed to his son Dale. â€œHim and meâ€™ll figure out a way to get up there and cut the damn tree.â€
He held out his hand and rubbed his thumb across his fingertips.
â€œMake it about the money.
â€œWe got a problem with beavers up at our farms and so the guy from the county comes out and asks me do I got any idea how to get rid of them beavers. I tell him, put a bounty on â€˜em.
â€œPut a bounty on â€˜em â€“ ten, fifteen, twenty dollars a head â€“ donâ€™t matter how much. Dale here and ten of his buddiesâ€™ll be out there in a minute, and them beaversâ€™ll be gone by morning.
â€œItâ€™ll sound like World War II out there for a while, but by dawn next day them beaversâ€™ll be gone.
â€œI guarantee it.â€
He hitched up his pants and got back to work.