“A clogged sink waits for no one”—a venerable saying that pertains equally to cold showers and dripping pipes. When encountering such inconveniences, most of us turn to plumbing experts, and Covid-19 has not diminished our need for their help.
Joel Langdon is such a professional. He can diagnose and repair the most mundane problems, but equally can take on more complicated issues that require not only patience and expertise but, occasionally, creativity. He takes great pride in his work. He has a phenomenal memory and remembers to ask people, when he happens to run into them, how their water heater is doing, years after he completed the job. He remembers every truck he ever bought and how much he paid.
For the sake of transparency: He once fashioned a tiny part for an on-demand water heater for me when he was outraged that the broken piece could only be purchased encased in a $500 component. It’s still working after many years. He has never advertised, relying on word-of-mouth recommendations. I guess this is one.
Joel comes from a talented family. He and his parents and his younger sister, Margaret, moved to West Marin from Berkeley in 1976 when he was around 9 years old. Both parents—his father, Jon, a contractor-builder, and his mother, Jan, a talented weaver—soon became rooted in the community. The two later divorced; recently, Jon relocated to Port Townsend, Wash. Jan remained in West Marin and died last year. Joel has been deeply affected by her death.
Joel attended local schools and, after graduating from Tomales High, took a few automotive classes at College of Marin. At one time he enjoyed drag racing. But he soon began working for his father and learned the construction trade from the bottom up—first by doing humble jobs like hauling lumber, and later learning skilled work like carpentry and plumbing, and eventually building entire houses. Once he and the crew built a kit house that required the strong backs of several men to set it up. It still stands somewhere near Drakes View Drive.
He also adopted his father’s principles: trying do the best for his clients while keeping the costs down. Joel has extended his ethics to include environmental concerns. He visibly winces when confronted with the hyper-packaging that sometimes comes with the parts and equipment he orders. He does his best to recycle what he can.
As he grew older, the years of strenuous labor took their toll. Joel recognized that plumbing was easier on his body; plus, he really enjoyed the work. So began his long and successful career in plumbing, earning his license in 2001.
Covid-19 has changed little about how Joel goes about his work. He wears a mask and wipes down his equipment, including his huge white Isuzu truck, and is careful to socially distance himself from the clients he visits. Business is booming because he not only serves his regulars, who are spending more time at home, but he has also taken on new clients with second homes who have decided to sit out the pandemic in West Marin. He says all his clients are “very respectful” of Covid-19 protocols. On only one occasion did he feel unsafe, when someone who wanted to point out a problem came too close to his personal space.
As it has for most of us, the pandemic has greatly affected his personal life. Joel is a single man, and he was formerly a regular at the Old Western Saloon, where he would unwind at the end of the day with his buds, playing pool and liar’s dice, tossing back a few whiskeys with a beer chaser, and chatting with the ladies. Now he saves a lot of money by heading to the home he fortuitously bought in 1996. “I was so lucky,” he says, even given the huge mortgage he paid at the beginning that necessitated a roommate. He often jumps on his spiffy mountain bike and lets off steam with a vigorous ride around Inverness, followed by a hot shower and a quiet evening cooking dinner, watching Netflix, making repairs around the house and playing with his cat. Interestingly, for such a gregarious guy, he doesn’t miss his former social life and seems quite content.
He is still friends with his former girlfriend, Jessica Walker, who was an important West Marin person for many years and who now lives in Utah. Yes, he is an eligible bachelor, but all in all, life is good for Joel Langdon. He’s a happy guy.
Ellen Shehadeh has written for the Light, the West Marin Citizen, the Pacific Sun and the North Bay Bohemian, and interviewed artists and authors on KWMR, for 14 years. She lives in Inverness.