An excerpt from Esquire:
You ask yourself, "What is a pipe? What purpose does it serve?" So muses Tom McMahon, master plumber of Croton-on-Hudson, New York, instructing a new disciple at the dawn of a new day. His beard is white, his head smooth as an egg, his face sweet and mournful as an old dog. He's sixty years old, and he's been fixing things all his life. He fixed cars in high school and the Army decorated him for fixing things in Korea, then he came home and got a job fixing forklifts at the GM plant down in Tarrytown and ended up as night-shift maintenance supervisor at the paint shop, striking out on his own back in 1988. He's the kind of master craftsman — if you're lucky, there's one in your town — who gets hired for the tough jobs, like replumbing an old hotel into dozens of independent heat zones or re-creating the giant pipes of the steam era for a local millionaire's private steam museum. So he's been thinking about this question his entire life.
"The pipe makes civilization possible," he says.
By separating the waste from the potable water, he explains, the pipe allows people to live together in large groups without dying of dysentery. And the Latin word for lead, which is what the Romans used for pipes, is plumbum. So the plumber, when you think about it, is the foundation for a whole host of miracles. "Put it this way, my daughter, working for ten dollars or twelve dollars an hour in a nursing home, working on her associate's degree, she can walk through the door of her apartment and command it to be light and dark. She can command it to be hot or cold. She can go into the kitchen and command sanitary water to come forth at whatever temperature she likes and dismiss it at her pleasure. She can go into this unit and you can keep food cold for days. You go to this unit and you can command your food to be hot. A king! with all his troops! a hundred years ago couldn't do that."
Finding stuff like this is why I Google my name every day.