Sunday, February 15, 2009

Not much... And you?

Last week a wind storm hit Huntington, WV and blew us back into the Dark Ages.  
I was in the middle of making grilled chicken for my poultry-lovin' hubby when BOOM! Out goes the power.   
I had already preheated the oven so I opened up the garlic powder and sprinkled the contents on the laid out twisted bread sticks.  
I watched in dim-sighted horror as the entire bottle ended up covering the doughy sticks.   In the darkness I had opened the "pour" side instead of the "sprinkle" side and had now invented a new dish:  Garlic with breadsticks.  
Shrugging,  I quickly opened the door and tossed in the cookie sheet and hoped for the best.   The chicken, on the other hand, felt firm to the touch and, by flashlight, looked pretty good.  As the sky darkened to a deep urine-colored yellow I wrapped the chicken in some found foil and went to find the small weather station I had plugged in after our last outage.  
The wind pounded the windows and the rain seemed to strike from all directions.  The house, all three floors, seemed hell-bent on caving and I jumped and almost tripped over a box of Calphalon pans when my phone rang. 
It was sis.
"Aaaaaaaaaaagh!!!!" I answered. 
"Hey mom! Mom!  She answered like this 'Aaaaaagh!' hee hee.  Yeah!  She's alone! hee hee!"  I could hear my sister cackling as she regaled my fear to my parents.   "Yeah - we're going to stay put.  We were going to come over there but - oh - what's that? You have no power? Yeah, we're really going to stay here now!"  with a snigger indicating that she was enjoying my pain my sister hung up and went to sit on our mother's couch with a warm cup of joe and a relaxing smile while I stood in my creaking house, alone, waiting for a hubby with take-out. 
Trying to make the best of things I lit candles (xmas ones - it's all I had!) and made a nice romantic dinner for Harry and me. 
He arrived home a few minutes later, white-knuckled from driving a rented Xterra on the highway and clutching a bag of alfredo under his sweatshirted armpit.   
"Should we call AEP and report our outage?" he asked. 
"Sure, I mean, I'm sure they know, but we can try!"

I dialed the number on my bill and was greeted with an impersonal automated female.  
"Enter your ten-digit account number, located in the top right hand corner of your bill," she said.   
"There are eleven digits!" I said back to her. 
"I'm sorry," she apologized.  "I didn't get that. Please enter your ten digit account number."
I frantically recounted. 
"There are eleven! ELEVEN!"
"I'm sorry," she apologized again.  "Please wait while I get someone to assist you."
I relaxed a bit as I knew a real person would understand my saga of the missing number. 
A series of beeps sounded in my ear. 
"I'm sorry," she said again, sounding as unapologetic as ever, "there is no one to assist you at this time. Please call back."

So there I was. In the dark. Literally and figuratively and all at the mercy of AEP and their confused Automatic Reporting System. 

I gussied myself up by flashlight the next morning, got to work and fired off an email to AEP explaining that the frustrating event of a blackout is only further complicated by the fact that the account number listed is LONGER than the one asked for by the automatic operator. 
To which I got this response:  "Thank you for contacting AEP.  Unfortunately, due to severe weather conditions and outages, it may not always be possible to speak to a live agent."
After I got done scratching my eyes out and beating my heat with my keyboard I responded with this:

Good evening,
Perhaps my original email was unclear.
I wanted to communicate the difficulty I experienced when reporting my outage.
The "convenient" automated reporting system asks for the ten digit account number located on the upper right hand corner of my bill.
AEP has an eleven digit account number.
Not knowing which of the ten digits to enter - I was hung up on - four times.
Therefore not being able to speak to a live agent was the least of my concerns since I was, quite literally and figuratively, in the dark on how to even report my lack of power.

Since my street seems to have more than the average number of blackouts - severe weather or not - perhaps this automated system should be re-evaluated.
After all, what is the point of being a reliable, on-time paying, customer if the "convenient" way of reporting an outage only adds to the frustration of the event?

Thank you for your time and attention to this matter.

Yeah - I'm evil - but they drove me to this!  They did!  
Anyone else have a fun utility-related story to share? 
Or a generator to sell?

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