Your grass is as high as an elephant's eye. Small animals disappear into the backyard veld, never to emerge. The neighbors are beginning to talk.
Dragging the mower out from behind the snow shovels, you gas it up, pull the rope and -- nothing. What to do?
In a world of self-serve gas, cash machines, U-Haul trucks and press-two-for-information telephone operators, it's nice to know there are people who will come to you.
In Montgomery County, that's The Mowerman.
Chris Suser has been traveling eastern Montgomery County for eight years, keeping mowers safe from well-meaning but inept tinkerers.
And this is his season for being.
The phones ring day and night at The Mowerman's office; if last year is any indication, May will bring 60 to 100 calls a day.
"It's busy but not crazy yet," says Suser, a Laurel resident. "It's like everyone turning on their air conditioners on the first 90-degree day and no one has done what the manufacturer told them to do."
The usual culprits are bad gas, a dirty air filter or no oil.
Suser says he tries to talk the panicky callers -- "who are getting peer pressure" -- through basic repairs, but when that fails he or one of his two full-time mechanics hits the road.
Beginning a rescue mission one recent day, Suser climbs over the spare parts, the maps, the latex work gloves ("I really hate getting my hands dirty") and coaxes his well-worn Mazda pickup truck into gear.
In front of a home in Olney sits an underachieving self-propelled mower. Engine OK, wheels frozen.
"We'll start with the easy stuff," Suser tells mower owner Philip Plante, who has taken the day off to cut his one-third acre.
A little grease and WD-40 -- well, a lot -- and Suser gets rusted parts moving again. Alas, it's not that simple; the transmission is shot.
After Plante decides to have it repaired rather than buy a new mower, Suser makes an appointment to do the work several days later. The cost is $135 vs. $250 for a new machine.
House calls are making a comeback in suburbia.
John P. Robinson, who heads the America's Use of Time Project at the University of Maryland, offers this theory: "Maybe people are lazy. But maybe it's because people have more income."
A Bethesda man made money last Christmas by bringing a truckload of evergreens curbside -- by appointment, of course -- so families could find the perfect tree. He even wrestled the winning tree into the stand and plunked it in the corner of the buyer's choice.
In Cape St. Claire, the Arundel Grill Doctor does for gas grills what Suser does for mowers.
From patios to back porches, Mark Wilson helps people whose grills aren't grilling. A house call costs $25, parts and labor not included.
Suser charges $55 for tuning up a standard mower, about $105 for a riding model.
That's just fine with the man at the second stop of the day, where Suser is under the hood of a bright red Toro riding mower.
"The book says you should use a dealer, but they're backed up three weeks," says Bill Rohr as he stands over Suser, waving the owner's manual.
Suser finds the problem, which is covered by the warranty, and schedules an appointment to replace the defective part.
"Very few places would undertake this on the spot," says Rohr, who lives in Montgomery near the Howard County line. "A dealer would want $50 to haul the tractor to the shop, and then I'd just have to sit around, waiting."
Suser, 31, became The Mowerman right after graduating from the University of Maryland.
"I didn't know how to fix these, but I thought I did," he recalls. "I didn't have much business so I stuck with a problem until I fixed it."
His clientele has grown at least 25 percent in each of the past four years. Suser hopes to expand into Howard soon, then, perhaps, found a nationwide chain of Mowermen.
And who pushes the mower at The Mowerman's house?
"My wife," he says with a chuckle. "Otherwise it wouldn't get done.
Pub Date: 4/24/97