My wife and I live in the greater Boston area in Massachusetts. Unlike other far less fortunate places on the US East Coast, we escaped the worst of Hurricane Sandy’s wrath, and were spared any damage or danger from flooding and high winds. We didn’t even lose our electrical power during the height of the storm here.
Although around 4 pm yesterday, it seemed certain that we would lose power when the strong sustained high winds and even bigger gusts of wind knocked down a very large tree in the yard of the house that was only three houses away from us, and shortly after that, I heard an electrical transformer explode in another part of town. Our lights flickered a few times, but then stayed on, and by around 10 pm last night the winds had died down and the rain had stopped, and my wife and I still had electrical power, so we were very happy!
But at 11:30 pm last night, while Jean and I were watching TV, suddenly our power went down and out. We sat there in the instant and very unexpected darkness of our living room, exchanging wry comments about the irony of our situation. We didn’t lose power while the storm was here and doing it’s worst, only to lose power after the storm was gone and all was calm, quiet and peaceful, and now also very dark inside our home.
We entertained each other with various stories from long ago, about experiences we had shared in the early years of our relationship, and also some stories from even longer ago before we met, about our wild and crazy college days. (well, maybe wild and crazy for us, if not for others.)
This killed about an hour and a half, while we were both hoping our power would come back on, but that didn’t happen, so we went to bed, but not to sleep, since we have a license to do stuff that married people do… And hey, no judgement here in that comment for those who don’t have a license, because we were doing it long before we had a license, and we got married just because we wanted an excuse to blow lots of money on a long Honeymoon in Hawaii. Actually, we got married for reasons far deeper and more profound than that, but that’s another story for another time.
But after a very satisfying session of lighting each other up in bed and then afterglowing together, we still didn’t have the lights on in our house. But at least it was kind of a novelty for us to do it with the lights out, instead of almost always doing it with the lights on, because we both like to do things the opposite way that our parents did, back in their time. Actually, neither one of us know and we don’t want to know what our parents did in bed, so now I’m going to stop thinking about it, and stop writing about it here. You’re welcome. Lol ;-)
By now it was 2:30 am and my wife was sleeping peacefully, but I was wide awake and restless… Because our house was still dark and without power, and I remembered a letter that I got several months ago from our electric utility company announcing that they had been bought out by and merged with another much larger electric utility company called National Grid.
I remembered how when I read the letter announcing the merger, that I was not happy – because National Grid has a bad reputation in the state of Massachusetts. After Hurricane Irene in August of 2011, and then again after a severe storm last October, between the two storms combined, National Grid’s slow response caused nearly a million Massachusetts customers without power to wait for an excessively long time to have their power restored, with many people having to wait for more than a week before their electrical power came back on.
The resulting public outcry was large and loud enough that Mass Attorney General Martha Coakley sought a $16 million fine against the company – the largest penalty ever recommended against a utility in Massachusetts.
But my wife and I were unaffected by all this last year, because we were not National Grid customers at the time. Until I got that letter announcing that National Grid had bought out our electric utility company and merged with it. I remembered thinking, ‘Well now that’s just typical – a utility company that did a terrible job here in Mass last year, is now going to take over my utility company NStar Electric, which did a great job last year, and I guess the BS just never stops!’
So with these dark and angry thoughts in my mind, as I sat in my dark house at 2:30 am, during an increasingly long blackout that inexplicably started long after the storm had stopped, I got motivated to get up and go outside for a walk – because I thought that I was starting to smell some National Grid bullshit, and I was gonna go out and look for it.
Within less than two minutes of leaving the house, I noticed that the street that intersected with ours, was brightly lit with street lights. Apparently our blackout was very local. Heading the opposite direction on the street, and away from where I saw that the street lights were on, in another two minutes I came to an intersection with the street that runs behind our street and parallel to it.
Standing at the intersection, I immediately noticed the cause of our problem, when I saw a very large tree that had fallen down across the street in front of me, and pulled down all the power lines on the other side of the street. There was yellow caution tape and orange road work barrels blocking access to the street, and I could see that the downed power lines were not live, because the power had been shut down.
But I also noticed something else, which was a utility van parked with the engine running and the headlights on, about 20 yards past the downed tree, but no sign of any workers, or any activity at all. This was curious to me… So I headed back to my street and walked past my house to three houses down, and then crossed through one front yard and the two backyards behind it, then past another front yard out to the street and close to the mysterious utility van parked with the engine running and head lights on.
I walked right up to the drivers side window of the National Grid van, but I couldn’t see anyone behind the wheel, because the window was darkly tinted one way so that nothing could be seen through it from outside, but the outside could be seen from inside. “Hi, how are ya doing?” I called out to the dark tinted window, but got only silence in return.
So I stood there at the drivers side window and waited, since I was sure someone was there sitting behind the wheel. It made no sense for the workers to leave their van with the engine running, on a dark residential street at 3:00 am, where there was no place with any good reason for them to leave their van and go to. So I was sure they were in there, but maybe just not in the mood to talk to me, as my bullshit antenna was now picking up even stronger bullshit signals.
Which just made me all the more determined to stand there right in front of that blacked out drivers side window for the next ten minutes, until I pulled out my cell phone to make a call, and then that window rolled down almost immediately.
“What’s up?” said the National Grid worker behind the wheel, in a less than friendly tone of voice.
“I just wondered what you guys are doing out here at 3 in the morning, just sitting in a parked utility van. Are you waiting for someone else to come and help you?” I answered, my tone of voice subtly similar to that of a prosecutor questioning a witness for the defense.
“We have to guard these downed power lines so that no one gets hurt.” spoke up the guy on the passenger side, in a sullen tone of voice similar to that of his buddy behind the wheel.
“Now that’s interesting…” I said. “If that’s what you’re doing, then how come you don’t have your van parked at the opposite end of the street, and much closer to where the downed wires are? Instead of using only caution tape and barrels much closer to the downed power lines, so that anyone who really wants to, can just walk right on in?”
“Someone else did that.” answered the guy behind the wheel, now sounding slightly more hostile. “We’re here right where we’re supposed to be, cause that’s where they told us to be.”
I chuckled as I answered “Sounds like a World War II movie I saw, when the German guy said “I was only following orders.” Both workers now glared back at me with open hostility, but before they could speak, I quickly added “Well I guess it doesn’t really matter anyway, cause those downed power lines you are guarding aren’t live anyway, since the power to them has been shut down.”
“You can never know that for sure, so we don’t take chances.” growled the guy on the passenger side.
“So I guess you guard the wrong end of the street farther away from the power lines, when you don’t take chances… But that’s okay, cause you’re only following orders, and I understand that.” I shot back, my voice now openly sarcastic and edged with contempt.
“What’s it to ya, pal?” snarled the driver. “Why don’t you just let us do our job, huh? We got downed trees and downed lines all over the map right now, and we got guys working all night trying to get the lights back on, so you got a problem with us for that?” His reddened eyes almost glowed in the dark with his overheated anger as he glared back at me – but now he wasn’t the only one who was getting pissed off!
“What’s it to ME?!” I shouted in his face, my own eyes now blazing! “You wanna know what’s it to ME?! Now there’s a REAL question and let me tell you ALL about the answer! I’m the guy who works my tail off every day so I can pay the electric bill every fucking month, while you and your buddy sit here on your dead asses doing nothing! Except for guarding dead power lines while pissing and moaning about what heroes you are, because you’ve got guys working all night to turn the lights back on, while you sit here doing NOTHING to help them!”
The driver started to say something angry back, but I stopped him by yelling “SHUT UP!!! Cause I’m not finished talking here, and you’ll get your turn when I’m done! You wanna know what else it is to me?! I need a fucking respirator to sleep that runs on AC and the back up battery is dead, so I can’t use it tonight, and if I go to sleep without using it, I could asphyxiate and die! (this is not actually true) Which is why I’m wandering around in the street at 3 am right now, and now I got a real question for you, so listen very carefully…”
I stopped yelling, and used a deadly calm but low and menacing monotone instead, as I continued… “I live on Endicott Street running parallel to this street on the other side of these houses here, and last year when a tree branch took out some power lines on this same street, NStar Electric shut down the power, but we never lost power on Endicott Street, which is my street. So why is that different this time? Did somebody shut off an extra distribution switch by mistake? Do you know for absolute certain right now, that my street is on the same part of the grid as this street is? Because I know that it wasn’t on the same grid last year. And if you don’t know for certain what the answer is, then I think you’d better call someone who does. Because my life and your jobs could depend upon getting the right answer.”
Without another word spoken, the guy in the passenger seat got out his cell phone and made a call. Ten minutes later, he ended the call and then said to me in a voice still sullen but no longer openly hostile, “Your lights are back on now on your street, pal. So go home, go to bed and have a nice life.”
What he said seemed like a very good idea to me – so without another word, I turned around and walked back home. I could have said “Thank you” but I wasn’t feeling very grateful after dealing with those guys.
My wife was waiting for me at the front door as I walked in. “Chris!” she exclaimed, “Where have you been? The lights came back on in the bedroom and woke me up, but you were gone…”
I gave her a little grin and said “I know the lights came back on, and I was gone, because I went out and found the problem, and then I fixed it.” She rolled her eyes, and then looked back at me with an expression of mildly amused exasperation, as she replied “Uh huh. I’m sure that must be just exactly what happened. Now get your wise ass back to bed!”
I smiled broadly back at her, as I replied “Well it’s true that my ass is very wise, and you should never doubt it. But now my ass is tired, so getting it back to bed works fine for me.” She smiled back at me and replied “Then stop talking and just do it. And then tomorrow you can tell me where you wandered off to, and what you were really up to, Chris.”
“Okay” I answered her playfully. “And I have a feeling that when I do, you’re gonna find it quite surprising.”
“Only if it’s true!” she shot back. “Now get to bed!”
I laughed gently as I followed her back to the bedroom, while silently amused by her comeback. ‘Only if it’s true, huh? This should be fun!’ :-)