February 22, 2006

Season of Darkness, pt. 1

I had planned on spending today working on my sermon. I had planned on putting together the prayers for Sunday worship. I had planned on preparing for a two-day conference I have this weekend, and also a regional committee meeting which I'll be chairing.

Instead, I had to deal with PG&E.

Yes, today's adventures of the country parson are brought to you by Pacific Gas and Electric, the same company featured in the movie Erin Brockovich.

This morning, the power was out at church. When I called PG&E (the first time), I got a computer voice that asked for the phone number on the account. Then it asked if I had a billing question or an outage to report. "Outage," I said, as clearly as I could. Then the computerized voice said, "We're not aware of any outage in your area. If you'd like to report an outage, say "operator."


The person who came on the phone asked for our church's account number. "I don't know," I answered. "I don't pay the bills. That person is a church member who works during the week and picks up the bills every Sunday."

"Well then, what's the name on the account?"

I said, "Fairview Community Christian Church."

"We don't have an account listed for Fairview Community Christian Church," she said. "What's your phone number? your address? your city?" After supplying her every phone number and address I could think of, I heard: "Oh, yes, here it is. It says that it's a street light."

"A streetlight?"


"That's it?"

"Yes. The only listing we have for the address you gave is a streetlight in Marysville."

"But Marysville is 20 miles away!"

"There's nothing else, sir."

"Well, will power be restored soon in Marysville?"

"We don't have any reports of an outage in your area."

This went on for some time. Realizing that I was getting nowhere, I hung up. I walked around the church to see if I could discover for myself what the problem was ... as if I know anything about electricity. I found a notice shoved into the handle on a side door of the church. It said power has been disconnected due to late payment.

I went back across the street to the parsonage (where the power is still on) and I called both our current treasurer and past treasurer, but they're both at work. I left messages and waited for them to get back to me.

A few hours later, the mail arrived; in it, there was a letter from PG&E, advising us that our account was past due. The letter was dated February 13, but it wasn't mailed until this past Friday. I wondered, on whose desk did it sit all week before it was dropped in the mail?

I called PG&E again. The letter has our account number on it, so I figured that maybe this time I could get somewhere. The familiar computerized voice came on and asked for the phone number on the account. I spoke the numbers as clearly as I could into the phone, but the computerized voice said, "I'm sorry I don't recognize that number. Please---"


An operator then came on the line and asked how he could help. I said, "There's two issues here. One, our power is off and we weren't notified in a timely manner, and I'd like it back on. Two, the letter that we did receive (after the power had already been disconnected) says that, since we're a business, we have only two weeks from the billing date to pay our bill. Given that notices seem to be delayed at PG&E up to a week before they're even mailed, and given that we are a rural country church whose treasurer is a volunteer and is only here once a week, I'd like to see how we can extend our payment period."

"I can't help you with that."

"You can't help me?"

"No, sir."

Lent is the season when darkness gives way to light. It begins next Wednesday --- Ash Wednesday --- and ends with the celebration of the resurrection at Easter. What more can I say?

1 comment:

G. said...

When I have to interact with automated telephone systems or the dehumanized, automated people who are their counterparts, I really fear for humanity.