Last night was supposed to be family movie night. On the Siren’s recommendation, we were planning to watch The Court Jester starring Danny Kaye—“The pellet with the poison’s in the flagon with the dragon, but the chalice from the palace has the brew that is true.”—but at around four in the afternoon a big storm blew through, lightning struck close by, and our power went out.
After the storm passed I called Central Hudson’s "automated answering service" to report the outage to their robots, then went out to look for downed lines and to see if any of our neighbors’d lost power too. Turned out that only our block was affected. The rest of the village was still online. So I figured it was just a case of a blown transformer and the power company would get it fixed in no time.
Two hours later I began to wonder. So I called back and stayed on the line until the robots were done talking and a live human being picked up.
Here is a transcript of my conversation with the customer service rep and her supervisor. It’s not a word for word transcript. It’s more of an impressionistic rendering. I’m reporting the conversation as I heard it, which I think gives you a more truthful picture of their attitudes than their actual words would.
Me: Hello. My name is Mannion. I live over here in Petticoat Junction. I’d like to report a power outage.
Customer service rep: What are you telling me for?
Rep (sighing heavily): Ok, where did you say you live?
Me: 123 Primrose Lane, Petticoat Junction.
(Rep taps something into her computer.)
Rep: Your power’s out.
Me: Yes, that’s why I called.
Rep: Don’t get snippy with me.
Me: I wasn’t.
Rep: I don’t have to take this from you.
Me: You don't have to take anything from me. I'm not being snippy. I'm being curious. I was wondering if you can answer a question.
Rep: Which is?
Me: Well, our power's out...
Rep: I think we've already established that.
Me: I know we did. I'm sorry. But what I was wondering...
Rep: Can you hurry it up? I'm due to go on break.
Me: All I wanted to know was when the power will be back on.
Rep: How the hell am I supposed to know that?
Me: The company doesn’t tell you?
Rep: Why should they?
Me: So you can answer this very predictable question from customers without power?
Rep: I’m sure somebody’s working on it.
Me: How sure?
Rep: Look, Mr Snippy, we had a storm tonight.
Me: Yes, I know. The lightning and thunder and torrential downpour clued me in.
Rep: That’s why your power’s out.
Me: I figured.
Rep: A lot of people are without power.
Me: I’m sorry to hear that. Do you know when any of them will get their power back?
Rep: Why do you persist in asking me these stupid questions?
Me (sighs): You mean you have no way of telling if there’s a repair crew on its way over here?
Rep: There are repair crews out all over our coverage area.
Me: But how about this part of your coverage area, the part I’m in? Is there a repair crew over here?
Rep: I don’t know. I don’t particularly care. I don’t even see why it’s any of your business where our repair crews are. Frankly, I’m this close to just hanging up on you.
Me: Is there anybody there who might be interested in answering my question?
Rep: I doubt it.
Me: Can I talk to a supervisor?
Rep: You can, I suppose. But he’ll just tell you to go take a flying leap.
Me: I’ll take my chances.
Rep: Fine. I’ll get him. Hold on. Jeez. Some people.
(Three minute wait.)
Supervisor: Hello, asshole.
Me: Excuse me?
Supervisor: I said, hello, asshole. I figure you must be an asshole because only assholes ever ask to talk to a supervisor.
Me: I’m not being an asshole. I’m just trying to get an answer to a simple question.
Supervisor: Right. Sure. Go ahead. Ask your "simple" question. But I’ll bet it’s not a "simple" question. I'll bet it's a stupid question and it’s just going to contribute to making my night a living hell, which it already is.
Me: I’m just trying to find out when you think my power’s going to be back on. It’s hot here. We have an electric stove. I’d rather not sit here all night sweating and starving if I don’t have to. If you tell me the power’s going to be out for a while my family and I are going to go out to a nice air conditioned restaurant.
Supervisor: Do you have a point? Or are you going to keep me on the line all night boring me to death with information about your stupid, spoiled family who can’t stand a little sweat or eat a sandwich?
Me: Can you just give me an estimate as to when we’ll have power?
Supervisor: If it will shut you up.
Me: It will, honest.
Supervisor: Where do you live?
Me: 123 Primrose Lane, Petticoat Junction.
Me: What did I say?
Supervisor: You live in the middle of goddamn nowehere!
Me: Not really, we’re only three miles from Hooterville.
Supervisor: We have power outages all over our coverage area!
Me: I know that.
Supervisor: We had a storm!
Me: I heard.
Supervisor: Do you know that the power often goes out during storms?
Me: Yes. Believe it or not, I’ve lived through other power outages. I understand that they happen. All I want to know is when this one will be over.
Supervisor: There are people who live in real towns who are without power tonight.
Me: I’m sure.
Supervisor: People who live in the same neighborhoods as all our executives and vice-presidents. And you’re calling me from fucking Petticoat Junction asking when your power’s going to be back on?
Me: Yes, I know. I’m sorry. It was silly of me to think you might want to help out a customer.
Supervisor: I’d help you, maybe, if you were a real customer.
Me: I’m not a real customer? You send us a real bill every month. We pay you in real money.
Supervisor: If you wanted to live someplace with reliable service coverage you shouldn’t have moved to the freaking boondocks.
Me: This isn’t the boondocks. We have roads and sewers and convenience stores and pizza places that deliver. There’s one up the block, in fact, and they have power!
Supervisor: Well, aren’t they lucky.
Me: As it happens, we were going to order a pizza from them tonight. Tonight was supposed to be our family movie night. We were going to order a pizza and watch The Court Jester starring Danny Kaye.
Supervisor: There you go, boring me yammering about your stupid family again.
Me: All I want to know is if we can still plan on doing that. It’s only six o’clock. If the power’s going to be back by eight or even nine we can still have our family movie night.
Me: Can’t you just tell me? Is there a repair crew on the way over?
Supervisor: We have repair crews. That’s what they do. Repair stuff. So probably they’re out right now, doing their job, repairing stuff.
Me: My stuff?
Supervisor: You are really one selfish, self-centered total waste of a human being, aren’t you? There are lots of other people without power. Don’t you care about any of them?
Me: I do. I do care. When will they get their power back, before or after me?
Supervisor: Go to hell.
Me: Same to you fella.
Me: I’m sorry. I’m a little testy. It’s hot. The air conditioning isn’t working. We don’t have power here.
Supervisor: The power is out in a lot of places, moron. I already explained that to you, didn’t I?
Me: So you can’t tell me when it’ll be back on.
Supervisor: When what will be back on?
Me: The power!
Supervisor: We have crews working on it now.
Me: I know that!
Supervisor: If you know it, why are you bothering me with your stupid questions? Don’t you have a life?
Me: I have a life. I want to know when I can get on with it. When will my power be back on?
Supervisor: How the hell do I know?
Me: Isn't that part of your job to know?
Supervisor: Maybe it is, maybe it isn't. What my job is is none of your goddamn business.
Me: I don't care about your job. All I care about it is when my power's going to be back on.
Supervisor: There you go again, thinking only of yourself.
Me: I'm not thinking only of myself. I'm thinking of my neighbors too. They don't have power either. Do you know when they might have power again?
Supervisor: I'm sure they'll get it back eventually.
Me: How many hours in an eventually?
Supervisor: Some. Many. One. None. Who knows? The power will be back on when it's back on.
Me: Can’t you just give me a rough estimate?
Supervisor: You want an estimate?
Supervisor: A rough estimate?
Me: Ball park.
Supervisor: Ball park?
Me: If you don’t mind.
Supervisor: Fine. (Taps on his keyboard.) Sometime tonight.
Me: That’s not ball park. That’s the entire neighborhood around the ballpark plus three extra blocks on either side.
Supervisor: Best I can do.
Me: Best you can do or best you feel like doing?
Me: Fuck you too.
Supervisor: Are we done here?
Me: Sounds like it to me.
Supervisor: Fine. I’m glad we could be of service. Thank you for choosing Central Hudson for all your power needs.
Me: I didn’t choose you. You’re the local monopoly. My only other choice was building my own windmill and dynamo in the back yard.
Supervisor: Good night, sir. Thanks again for calling.
Me: Good night.
Supervisor: Aren’t you going to thank me for helping you?
Me: You didn’t help me.
Supervisor: I knew you were an asshole when I took the call. I should have gone on break.
Me: I’m sure you’ll do that now.
Supervisor: Damn right I will.
Supervisor: Thank you.
Supervisor: A pleasure talking to you.
Me: Wish I could say the same.
Me: I doubt that.
Supervisor: Will you hang up already? I’ve got other customers I’ve got to go be unhelpful to.
Supervisor: Geez. Some people.
We went out to dinner. The power came on at midnight. We'll have family movie night tonight. This afternoon I'm going to work building that windmill and dynamo in the backyard.