By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
Let's not be ethnic. You don't know what nationality I'm talking about anyway. They could be Eastern European. Or Arkansan. That's not the point. What was the point?
I could tell them I was a reporter. I could tell them I was Obama. Then we would all do that silly hand thing with both palms up sort of juggling the air like melon salesmen, grinning foolishly. And then they'd blow my house up. For that one long moment, I felt utterly helpless and inconsequential.
Aha! It was not an electrical truck. They were tree guys. They were not there to destroy me. We smiled and nodded, did the melon bobbing thing and backed away from each other decorously, as if taking leave of Queen Elizabeth. It's wonderful how mannered and polite absolute strangers can be, even when they are blowing each other up. Perhaps especially then.
I won't bore you with the rest of my day, because I assume many of you suffered through worse. It was an especially bad storm. A neighborhood in West Dallas was routed because the city's giant flood-control pumps failed.
We had all of the predictable phone-tree adventures with people in India, trying to get phone service and cable TV and broadband services restored. In the end, the bottom line is that those things sort of worked out, in spite of driving us crazy.
The bullet that whizzed by my ear in all of this, however, was the business with Oncor. Captain Blood Electrical completed the repairs at the back of my house in the late afternoon. I had to leave the house in order to get to a place where I could go online and transfer money to cover my $1,200 check to the captain.
When I returned, lo and behold, the power was back on. I found my wife in the backyard surveying the havoc to her garden.
"So it's back on," I said.
"Did Oncor ever call or show up to check and make sure they weren't going to blow us up?"
"Not a peep. Never called. Never showed up. It just came back on."
So, two things could have happened. They could have set my house on fire. They could have killed Captain Blood and Smee. No, three things: We all could have gotten lucky and somehow found a way to complete the repairs before nameless, faceless people in India clicked a mouse and sent power surging back into the houses on my block. Which is what happened.
But in the end—even if it was what some people might consider a happy ending—the fact is that I was utterly without leverage or importance of any kind, a powerless cog in a vast machine. I was ignored. People did not do what I wanted them to do.
I suggested to my wife it was a terrible thing Oncor had done, not checking with me to make sure they weren't going to blow up my house. She said something about it being a wonderful thing the house hadn't blown up. Well, sure! If you're going to insist on looking on the bright side.
I told my neighbors about it. They were quiet and looked pissed off. At me. I thought about it and realized that while I was basking in air conditioning, their power was still off. People have a tendency to look at things selfishly, I fear.
Finally I told my son how much Captain Blood had nicked me for. "Can you believe it? Twelve hundred bucks for two and a half hours' work, max. Man. He knew he had me. He knew he could get away with it."
My son, who is 22, asked, "He didn't tell you beforehand what it would cost?"
I said, "Yes. Of course. We talked about it. He named a price. I agreed to it."
"Seems up and up to me," he said. "How many chances does a guy get to make a score? He knew this was an opportunity, and he took it. You could have said no."
So much for sons.
So here I am in bed at night, eyes wide open, cool air blowing on my face from a ceiling duct. Across the street, families still without power are sweltering.
Something happened to me. I am not letting this go. Oncor was blind to me, couldn't speak my language, couldn't even see me. But that's not it. That happened to everybody. It's not the storm itself. I'm not mentally unhinged, damn it.
It's Captain Blood. He gouged me. My son is only partially right. I should have bargained better. But I still got gouged. For that I feel humiliated. Right now, I don't need that.