Thursday, May 14, 2009

A Personal Power Outage

Late last night, as I was watching the season finale of LOST, about half of the lights and outlets in the house went out. I didn't think too much of it at first, because frankly, I was too immersed in watching Jack and Sayid conspiring to blow up the island with a nuclear bomb... but I digress.

When Robin came upstairs and told me the garage door wouldn't open, and the washing machine was stuck in the spin cycle, and none of the bathroom lights worked, I realized we had an issue, so I went downstairs to the circuit box and looked inside. There was, indeed, a breaker that had flipped, so I turned it back on and... nothing. Damn.

Next stop - the computer. Fortunately, it was plugged into an outlet that still worked, so I googled "circuit breaker repair" to see if this was something I could do myself. The verdict came back that yes, I COULD replace a circuit breaker - if I semi-knew what I was doing. Now, I am semi-handy with a screwdriver. I used to work in construction, and I have replaced ice makers and garbage disposals, but electricity scares me. The last thing I want is for one of the kids to come home and think Dad made hamburgers for lunch, then come downstairs and see me charred and broiled on the basement floor!

After determining we needed a professional, Mrs. Matthews quickly volunteered that one of her kindergarten's students' Moms' sister-in-law's husbands was an electrician, and that we knew these people through one of our former neighbors when we lived in our last house five years ago. Maybe they'd be good!

I sincerely doubted this "six degrees of electricity" game would yield us any kind of monetary break, but I didn't have any better connections, so at 6:20 this morning, I dialed the office number that the electrician had posted on his website. A woman answered, and was largely unimpressed by the "Who's Who in Montgomery County" explanation that I offered. She was, however, able to get her brother-in-law to stop by less than an hour later.

The doorbell rang (hey, the doorbell works!) at 7:15, and within 10 minutes, the friendly electrician had diagnosed the problem. There was nothing wrong with the wiring in our house... the problem came from outside - Somewhere, the local power company, Pepco, must have blown a fuse, because only half of the electricity that should be coming into my house is actually coming in.

I was thankful for the diagnosis, but not the bill. The ten-minute service call, in which nothing was repaired, cost me ten bucks a minute. Sigh. I don't begrudge the electrician, and in fact, I'm thankful because they did a great job of getting to me quickly. But that doesn't ease the pain that I dropped a hundred bucks for something that ultimately was the power company's fault.

I called Pepco and received automated service over the phone. Some disembodied entity will be fixing the problem sometime today. And while this repair will not (I hope) cost me any additional money, I do not expect to receive any apologies or offers to cover the cost of diagnosing the problem to begin with.

I guess you really DO get what you pay for! (grumble, grumble, grumble...)

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