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Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Loving It, Not Loving It

Being part of a smaller utility is going to suit me very well for the most part.

I've been riding with service crews every other or third day or so since starting here. It is so refreshing to put on the old FR clothes and work boots, and get some sun. Got a new hardhat, decorated it with a little bling, and it's been all business since.

My new company has a good reputation, and works hard to maintain it. Last week on Truck 586 with Timo, we got called off the job we were en route to for a report of flickering lights. It happened to be that we were really close. The guy who answered the door and met the two power company guys in denim and hardhats was impressed. "I only had time to take the garbage out after calling, and here you are!" Nice. Ninety minutes and a spliced neutral wire later, we moved on. Sun, air, happy customers, lunch at the park sitting on the tailboard. I'm loving it.

On Monday I was running with Pete on 577. Pete has been around since Hector was a pup, as Mom likes to say. We were getting run back and forth via the state highway from one end of the service area to the other and back, over and over for petty little things. At one point we drove right past the lovely Mrs. Grumpy Dispatcher as she was picking kids up from school. Working the system where I live. I'm loving it.

Near the end of the day, Pete's MDT chirped with three more jobs. All credit shutoffs. If you don't pay your bill, you eventually get to this point. Now, it doesn't come to this unless you've missed your bill for about three months, have ignored calls from the company to set up a plan, or failed to meet the terms of your payback. The company does not want to shut people off, but electricity is not free. Finally, the day before the shutoff visit, a final phone call is made, and a door-hanger left at the property. So there are no plausible surprises on the customer's part when the service truck arrives.

We arrived at the first home, and the middle-aged woman who answered the door remained mostly hidden behind it. It was a rather nice upper middle class home in a quiet neighborhood. Pete advised why we were there and asked if she could make any kind of payment by phone to make the credit people happy. She said she'd try, and Pete said we'd give her 10 minutes. We waited in the truck, and just about the time we figured the jig was up, the dispatchers called to report that the credit people were happy, and waved us off. We left without talking to her again.

The second home was in a trailer park. In front was a pretty nice Jeep Grand Cherokee, and in the carport was a Lexus. To their credit, the Lexus was marked as for sale. The tatooed and pierced young man who answered the door claimed he had met the terms of the credit people, but that is not an argument we can engage in. Pete called the credit people himself to check, and they disagreed. Pete let the young man know what was what and gave him ten minutes. Once again, the call came to wave off.

Finally we arrived at a well-worn small apartment building. This ticket was marked that meter access was difficult, we would need to go through the apartment to the rear, or climb some fences if no one was home. A quiet young lady answered the door, holding a child perhaps a year old. She was alone. She didn't even argue, she just waved us through, seeming resigned. As we stood on the back deck and Pete opened the meter box, I looked into the sparsely-appointed apartment and saw the small stack of children's movie DVDs on the TV. For a single parent, sometimes you need a DVD distraction to get a few things done, and that option was about to go away. I wondered if she had family or friends, where she would go, if there was a man away at work or not, what would happen to the food in the fridge - if there was any.

Damn. This absolutely sucks.

I was feeling pretty low in the truck after we left. Pete told me how some people game the system by changing to relatives names to escape the bills, or string credit along, or ask for help over and over knowing they'll get it and then planning to use it as a permanent help instead of a crutch. He told me how at first he wanted to throw down the occasional $100 for those who seemed to really need it, but how the crusty guys when he started told of how people learned to look needy and played them for help. Anyway, it has been against company policy to do that for a long time, now.

I'm used to "macro" operations - that is, a very high view where I deal with dropped feeders and stations affecting a minimum of a few hundred up to several thousand customers at a time. Now, I am in charge of a group dealing with "micro" operations, where along with the usual feeder and station trips, I will regularly be meeting with customers face-to-face for special situations. For the guy who barely got his garbage taken out, that's cool, but for the lonely single mother resigned to getting her power shut off.... I'm not loving it. And in my position there is absolutely nothing I can do about it.

I'll like it here. It isn't perfect, but it's pretty close. Thanks for reading and stay safe out there.

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