I wasn’t in the house when they cut the electricity yesterday, but I’m told it was swift and merciless.
A utility truck from Progress Energy, our power company, pulled up to the curb, a technician opened our meter, flipped a switch, and then scurried back into her truck.
And just like that, we were powerless at 11:45 a.m. on a blazing hot Central Florida summer morning. Within half an hour, the temperature in our house, which doubles as my office, hit 82 degrees.
Before she made a quick exit, the technician told Kari she couldn’t turn the power back on without an order.
And that’s all she did, she said. Fill orders. We’d have to call the 800-number if we wanted our electricity back.
Never mind that Kari dashed into the house and retrieved our most recent utility bill, which showed we paid for our electricity. In fact, we’d paid every utility bill on time since moving into the house nine years ago.
And never mind, too, that she’d demonstrated pretty conclusively that this was Progress Energy’s mistake.
Orders are orders, the technician stammered. And then she was gone.
For anyone thinking, “Come on, just open a window, make a call, and wait your turn,” you’ve obviously never experienced Central Florida in the summer. The heat is torture. Long-time residents describe it as a hot, wet blanket: humidity in the high 90 percentage and oven-like temperatures.
By the time I returned from running a few errands and found my family inside a powerless home, temperatures were approaching the mid-80s indoors. My office felt like one of those steam rooms with the warning signs posted that caution pregnant women and people with heart conditions to stay out.
But here we were, trapped.
Indifferent and patronizing
I dialed Progress Energy, spent close to half an hour on hold, and finally reached a customer service representative who agreed to investigate my arbitrary disconnection from the power grid. It turns out someone else who was moving to our neighborhood and wanted to set up new service had given Progress my address in error, and the company simply took their word for it. They closed my account and opened another one at my own address under a different name.
“I don’t understand,” I said. “I’ve paid my bills. I’ve been at this address for almost a decade. How can you do that?”
The representative — her tone of voice alternating between indifferent and patronizing — explained that under Florida law, it had to be done this way. The rights of the people who ordered new service superseded my right to power.
“But why not call me to find out if I want the power to my own home disconnected,” I asked, trying to stay polite.
“That would be impractical,” she said.
“But that’s not a law,” I replied. “That’s a policy.”
I should have kept my opinions to myself.
Customer service agents can quietly inflict misery on customers by moving them to the end of the line. Even though I was assured that my case had “priority” over the other disconnected customers — the ones who hadn’t paid their bills — I began to have my doubts as it neared 3 p.m., and temperatures in the house pushed 90 degrees.