Friday, September 22, 2006

Personal to Xcel Energy 

Not that you're ever personal, and that's the problem.

I arrived home 30 minutes ago to find no electricity at my home. Mrs. and Littlest are out, pets are inside, and all I have to get into the house is the garage door opener, which is currently about as useful as a speedbump on a Republican website. Mrs. has recently changed the lock, and I have not gotten the new key. And since she was just running to the store when the power went out, she left behind her cellphone so I can't call her. (I have since found them.)

So I call your emergency line. You might wonder how I know this number, given I am standing outside my house in the rain: I know because I had to do this two weeks ago, so your emergency number is in my recent # list on my cellphone. If you think this is a good thing, that's a problem too, but we'll get back to that.

And just like last time, I get an automated voice system that directs me how to report an electrical outage. Same voice, not quite mechanical, not quite human -- though it is really trying to be, saying "OK" in the same cheery way over and over every time I hit another number for another option. I half expect cheese to come out of my cellphone.

So this pretend-real voice dropped into my phone out of some cheesy horror movie says "we have recorded your power outage report and can tell you your power will be restored at " and here there is this very slight pause as it switches to read a damn timestamp and says "9:52pm. Would you like to report another power outage?"


That's there because that's all this number knows how to do. It does not ever give the option of talking to a live person, on this or any other continent. It is a reporting system designed for your benefit, not your customers'. And of course, because I live in a city, I can't choose to hire a different electricity provider, a fact you know.

And 9:52?? Precisely? How can that be anything other than a timestamp? "Oh don't jump to conclusions," you say, except that I do jump to conclusions after experiencing the EXACT same thing a mere 12 days ago -- you do recall that I said your electrical outage reporting number was in my recent dialed numbers on the cell, yes? -- and being a scientific sort I tested the theory again with my neighbor's phone, in which case it said the problem would be solved by 9:55. 52 or 55? Which is it?

There's a place people like you go. I can tell you that you will be there in exactly four...

(P.S. Those of you hoping I would liveblog Almanac tonight ... well, you try asking the people in the bar to change the channel to PBS.)

UPDATE: 11:20pm -- electricity reappears in the shire. Littlest wakes up from a deep sleep, smiles and walks to the laptop. Order is restored, and this is all a hobbit wants. Meanwhile, the father shakes his fist to the night sky: "9:52 my eye."