The Day from Hell

Last Monday was a Day from Hell which stretched into the Week from Hell, and so much of it is blamed on “Corporate America” and so much of it was preventable – not easily, perhaps, but it’s not like they didn’t see it coming. Even more chilling, it’s going to happen again.

Every year about this time, we have Spring storms. On Sunday afternoon, we had a Texas-sized Spring storm. Trees down all over the place, a crane fell on a building, you name it. It was pretty bad, even by our usual Spring storm standards. Also, it was fairly predictable that it would happen eventually.

So, just like every year when we have a Spring storm, the power went out. This is because all of our power lines are overhead and nobody trims back the trees which are going to fall during a Spring storm. Therefore, power lines come down.

Oncor

Also, just like every year, Oncor sends out a note “Power will be back tonight”, then moves it to “tomorrow” and then eventually just sets their voicemail to a self-congratulatory message about how hard their crews are working under such stressful conditions (it was beautiful out on Monday, the day after the storm, not that I could enjoy it), and how people from other States are coming in to help restore their patient customers’ power.

Here’s a thought, dumbasses – how about trying prevention, since your damn cure always takes days?

I hate Oncor. This is probably not a secret. When Texas deregulated electricity a few years ago, what they really did was create another set of middlemen that do the billing. They buy electricity in bulk and sell it to the consumer. Whoever can lower their costs, say, by having no customer service whatsoever or selling at various prices under different names, can provide the lowest price.

However, Oncor owns the lines, the generators and all the other components that fail every damn year during Spring storms. So, every “electric company” in my area of the State has a sign on their website that says, “Oh, yeah, when you have no power, don’t call us, call Oncor.”

Oncor is what happens when you have a monopoly. They just cash the checks and don’t really consider making real improvements to the infrastructure because that costs money. They just make repairs as needed, at whatever speed they can manage.

I was just in the Caribbean, on the island of St Maarten, which had been virtually wiped out by hurricanes a couple of years ago, and as they’re rebuilding their completely destroyed infrastructure, they’re burying their electrical wires, to help withstand a storm.

There’s a thought. If the lines were underground, trees would have a more difficult time falling on them. Dallas has their streets torn up constantly anyway, why not bury the damn power lines?

The real issue is that some bean counter at Oncor is looking at the statistics, and we had power 362 of the past 365 days (mostly.) So, we had a 99% uptime. That’s really good.

Here’s the problem – all those downtime statistics don’t recognize whether the downtime was all at once. If we had an hour here or there all year, that’s one thing. 72 hours in a row is when all the food goes bad, the dogs become more psychotic, and I end up in a hotel.

So, Oncor disappointed me, but didn’t surprise me.

The irony is that Oncor has their own weather people. Apparently, they can’t predict any bad weather, but they can recognize it after it hits. I can do that without a degree in meteorology – if you want to know if there was a Spring storm, look out and see if all the houses are dark in the middle of the afternoon. If you wait until evening, it’s even easier to diagnose.

Here’s why power is important to me. There are basically three things I do at home, besides cater to the dogs and appear to obey my wife. I eat, I work and I sleep. With Oncor’s courageous three to four-day repair cycle for a very predictable, almost annual occurrence, I can’t eat (we’ll be throwing out all the food in the refrigerator and the freezer), I can’t work (I need WiFi, which needs power – even though I’m pretty sure the phones are working because their lines are underground) and I can’t sleep (I use a C-PAP for my sleep apnea, and without it, I wake up constantly during the night. I spent Sunday night constantly dreaming I was drowning. It was not pleasant.)

So, I’m a wee bit bitchy as I’m starting to write this on Monday night, because the only way for me to get a decent night’s sleep – and get some work done in the morning, was to break down and get a hotel room. I am now at a work staycation, two miles from home, at $200 per night. The Spousal Unit is home with the dogs, who are freaking out about being in the dark all day.

I got the hotel room because a couple of other companies failed me. One I hadn’t dealt with in years, and one I deal with constantly.

Amazon

First, the one I deal with all the time – Amazon. How do you get around a dumbass power company? You purchase another independent power source. Amazon had a battery backup that other people used for their CPAPs, so that would be perfect. Sure, it’s $250 that Oncor should pay, but it would be delivered by Monday evening.

Wrong. Somewhere between hitting Enter and the first delivery update, the delivery day got changed to Friday. By Friday, even Oncor should have the power restored. (It actually arrived on Wednesday.)

So, great try, Amazon, but when I order something for same-day delivery, there’s a reason.

REI

When Amazon said “delivery on Friday”, it meant I could spend another sleepless night at home or find a generator or battery locally. We called everybody we could think about – and nobody had one, but then I remembered someone had mentioned “camping with my C-PAP”, so we went to REI. The one by our house was sold out (obviously, since I was not alone in this thought), but they found us one in Plano (which wasn’t affected by the storm), so we drove the 25 miles to the Plano store to pick it up.

We had selected this unit from the small list of units available specifically because it could be charged in the car – it has a 12-volt adapter. Since we have no working outlet to plug it in, we needed a backup power source without spending another $150 on a solar panel. This is partially on us, because we should have asked, but the 12-volt adapter is the one thing that is not included in the box.

We talked to Lee at the Plano store (who shouldn’t be at REI, he should be at Dick’s, because he is one) and his solution was to try to upsell me to the more expensive model because “those batteries come charged.” Then, he suggested just going to Walmart or McDonalds and plugging it in. Uh, I’m not going to spend eight hours in a McDonalds, Sparky. I’m on a low-carb diet.

So, Monday I bought two battery backup units in one day and one will be here Friday, and the other one could easily be charged in my home if Oncor restored the power – which was the problem in the first place.

So, REI Dallas, rock stars. REI Plano, not exactly helpful. (While Lee was trying to upsell me, Virginia called the Dallas store to see if they had the adapter, and they said “No.” She asked if they could see if any other store had one, and they said, “Sure, but the guy in Plano can do that.”

Then, it turned out the upgraded unit was available in Southlake, which is another 50 miles or so of driving, so we declined.

Sprint

The final culprit in my near-breakdown is Sprint, who must have lost some towers during the storm because our cell service was for crap yesterday. I couldn’t get anything done without being on WiFi. I couldn’t make calls, I couldn’t browse. If all I had was cell service, it wasn’t going to work.

By evening, the Sprint connections seemed to be improving, so maybe there is hope for humanity.

Actually, there is hope for humanity, because every dark cloud has a silver lining (or a lot of rain.)

Starbucks

Finally, some heroes, or at least companies that meet the challenge of a Spring storm in Dallas. Thanks to Starbucks for being open, having coffee, and having a web app, so I can walk in, see a line around the store, find a seat, log in and order my coffee, bypassing the line. By the time I explained to my boss online (over their free WiFi) that I was going to be out all afternoon with a doctor’s appointment and had no power or Internet at home, so I was taking the day off as vacation, my coffee was ready.

That was the final blow. I’m a contractor on my current project, so taking a day off basically means losing money. I really couldn’t see charging someone when I was probably going to be dozing off all day, and I was supposed to start a three-day medical test Monday afternoon – and was told to expect two hours to install the equipment.

So, I took a day off.

I got to the doctor’s office fifteen minutes early. They were closed for the day. The building had no power.

DoubleTree by Hilton

Every hotel around me was booked solid, because my neighbors were smart enough to avoid the four hours of touring the Metroplex while trying to find a generator and just moved out of their houses for a couple of days. By the time I conceded the fight and decided I needed a hotel to sleep and work, everything at a reasonable rate was taken.

I’m not saying DoubleTree is unreasonable, I’m just saying it’s a rate I’m used to paying with an expense account, not out of my own pocket. By the time I booked, what they had available was a Junior Suite. Not the most inexpensive room in the building, but if you’re going to suffer, suffer in style.

I love this place. I would stay here all the time, but it seems silly to stay in a hotel two miles from your house, and I can’t afford it all the time.

The staff is great, room service is fast and on-time in the mornings, the WiFi works, and I have a view of East Dallas out my floor-to-ceiling windows. Suffering should always been like this.

I had the room to myself most of the time, since my wife declared she “wasn’t leaving the dogs.” I’m not sure if this was to remind me of my place in the hierarchy or make me feel guilty, but it’s very hard to make me feel guilty when I’m looking out a 10th floor window and I already know where I rank.

She did spend afternoons at the hotel, which made working a wee bit difficult. I’m not used to the person in the next cubicle laughing at Facebook videos and memes. Well, I was at one point, but I’ve been home-officed for so long, those memories faded.

The hotel even had enough outlets so we could plug in the REI battery backup unit so my wife could have power for a reading lamp at home. She didn’t need it as badly as the dogs, who are apparently now afraid of the dark. (Actually, they’re afraid of the normal noises in the neighborhood they usually don’t hear – so much for dogs’ vaunted hearing ability – because the windows aren’t wide open to get a breeze in the house.)

We did not have the famous Doubletree cookies because my wife is minimizing carbs and she was watching me. After we got everything set up in the room and she went home because “she wasn’t leaving the dogs”, I forgot to go back downstairs and get one. Or six.

Epilogue

Just after I booked the hotel, Oncor texted me that the power was back. After just enough time for me to start cursing and reading through the cancellation policy, they texted and said it was out.

The Oncor auto-text messages went from a specific time estimate to “We are reviewing damage in your area.We will provide an update when your power will return.” which is the marketing version of “Beats the fuck out of us. Ask one of the power guys from another state. They seem to know what they’re doing.”

My favorite text from them is “Your power is restored. Please reply “N” if it is not.” Don’t you know?

The power finally came back Wednesday, so I went home after work that afternoon to help throw out all the food in the refrigerator and the freezer.

I spent one last night at the hotel so I could do my homework and because I didn’t have much faith the power would actually stay on. Also, it was a nonrefundable rate. (At one point, our power was back and the house across the street was still out.)