Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Government Bureaucrats 2, Private Sector 0

A lot has happened on the Verizon front since we last placed a call to Verizon lawyer Lynne Anne Sousa, Esq., J.D., B.A., C.Y.A.

After I got off the phone with Sousa, I took a little walk. First I climbed over my back fence to get a better look at the pole. This involves scaling a stone wall and tottering on a rickety chain-link fence, which is why I hadn't done this before. Turns out that the "comically long and spindly pipe thing" was not a pipe at all -- it was an optical illusion. It was actually the cables coming from the pole and leading out to another pole on Orchard Hill Rd., which runs behind our house on Tower Street.

Our backyard neighbor, whose house sits on a ledge about 20 feet above the foundation of our place, had propped up the cables with a 2x4 so that they wouldn't drag on the ground. I had never met our backyard neighbor, so thought this would be a good opportunity to do so.

I rang the doorbell and an older woman answered.

I explained who I was and she called for her husband. A guy resembling a slimmed-down Tip O'Neill showed up. "Come on and have a seat," he said, motioning to his front stoop. He said his name was Frank C.

We sat down and had a great talk. Found out that a tree on his property fell on the cables back on August 14 -- that's what pulled the pole away from our house, which in turn ripped the cables and two clapboards off. He said he called Verizon immediately, and "the woman there couldn't have cared less. She said that they'd send someone out. I said, 'OK, whatever.' I've still got phone service at this point, after all."

"Right," I said. "We do too. Cable is fine as well. Apparently that makes it tougher to get quick action."

"Guess so. Anyway, last Friday, some old-timer showed up and said that someone had called the mayor."

"That was me," I said.

"Well, it worked, because this guy was all apologetic: 'I had no idea' et cetera. And then, later that day, a guy named Lucas came out with a crew and got rid of the branch that was hanging on the cables." I remembered the chain saws I heard last Friday. Score one for the Mayor's 24-Hour Help Line!

Government Bureaucrats 1, Private Sector 0.

"So did they say anything about righting the pole or repairing my house?"

"Nope," Frank said.

We got off onto other topics. Frank gave me the history of the street, how all the houses were built in the early 1930s and the older homeowners like him were dying off or moving away now. He said he was a union construction worker.

"You know, this trouble we're having with Verizon has a lot to do with outsourcing and deregulation," I said.

"Yep," Frank said. "The old New England Telephone would have been out here in a flash. I remember Boston Edison -- they would actually come out to replace a blown fuse." Wow, I thought. Maybe not the best example to use when reminiscing about the good old days of union jobs. But on the other hand, why shouldn't we expect that kind of service? Anyway...

"Right, and the utilities were tightly regulated," I said. "They made a steady profit but couldn't raise rates willy-nilly and they had far better service. This so-called 'construction crew' that Verizon has been promising me for two weeks is outsourced, most likely non-union."

"Scalliwags!" Frank said.

"Yeah! But these outsourced crews get paid probably next to nothing. Professionalism has to suffer."

"Yep, those utilities are terrible nowadays," Frank said. "They string their cables everywhere -- and they're all too low! They let their poles lean -- they just wait until they fall down to fix them." Frank was right. Earlier this year, in Newton, a suburb of Boston, a truck hit a low-slung NStar cable and pulled down six (6) utility poles, knocking out power to the whole neighborhood for days (Hat tip to Helen for pointing out a Boston Globe op-ed on this problem of hazardous low-hanging wires everywhere).

Just as we were really getting going on cursing out the utilities, it started to rain, so I clambered back over the fence and went back inside.

Waiting for me was a message from Marilyn Ryan from the Massachusetts Department of Telecommunications and Energy. She got my email complaint and said that she called Verizon. I called her up, described the situation in more detail, and we had a good talk. We agreed that I would call her again on Tuesday to check in again.

Fast forward to Tuesday morning, about 10:30. A Comcast technician shows up in response to my call on Sunday. I figured that if I got Comcast on the case, that might put some pressure on Verizon to right the pole, since that would be a prerequisite to re-attaching the cables. The Comcast guy and I walk back around to the backyard, and (cue heavenly chorus) there are four guys in Verizon hardhats who are righting the pole!

The foreman-looking guy sees us and says, "Are you the guys who are here to fix the drops?" Apparently "drops" is the term for the cable connection to the house. The Comcast guy nods and before I could answer the foreman says, "Yeah, they need to be re-attached. The lady here in this house has complained."

It's all I can do to keep keep from laughing as I raise my coffee mug and say, "I'm the lady."

"Oh...You're the lady," the foreman said. The youngest guy on the Verizon crew, shoveling behind the foreman, thinks this is pretty funny.

I wait a moment, squint meaningfully at the hanging clapboards, and then walk over to the crew. "You guys want some coffee?" I asked.

"Oh, no, no, no, we're fine, thanks anyway," they all said.

"Okay," I say, before strolling back around to the front of the house.

Apparently, the call from the Mass. Department of Telecommunications and Energy did the trick. I can't say that's what it was for certain, but the call was made on Monday afternoon, and the Verizon crew showed up on Tuesday morning. It's the conclusion I'll draw.

So: Government Bureaucrats 2, Private Sector 0. The Private Sector should be glad I don't dock them a point for the Verizon foreman's "Some lady" comment but it turned out to be funny so I'll let it go.

An hour or so later, I hear the dulcet tones of workmen hammering on my house! Could it be -- they're repairing my clapboards? I dare not look lest it turn out to be a giant woodpecker...

But the suspense is killing me. I go to the back yard and, YES! The anchors are re-attached! The clapboards are expertly repaired! Galvanized nails even!

I race inside to check the dial tone. A bit of static...hmm. But, no problem. I call the Verizon repair robot and tell her about all about it. She's got a sympathetic robotic ear, and says someone will come look at it on Thursday, sometime between the hours of 8:00 am and 8:00 pm. Luckily, I'm getting my hair done on Friday, and my canasta club is on Wednesday, so Thursday will work out fine.

I hope this closes the book on this particular episode. Famous last words...


Eve's Apple said...

I was in Newton right after the truck that "hit a low-slung NStar cable and pulled down six (6) utility poles, knocking out power to the whole neighborhood for days" incident. I was with my Board president trying to get dinner before a board meeting. Interesting side note: the only business open in Newton Center was Starbucks. Coincidence or conspiracy?

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much Chris for posting the ending to your story. I understand better now why things are the way they are :o)

I'm guessing the Massachusetts Department of Telecommunications and Energy would be of no help with the ruts left but I'm sure putting that in my files for future reference...hoping I never need it. Anna C

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