- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 24, 2003

The utility companies have one directive at the end of each month: Pay up, buster.

They do not feel your pain. They do not care if your grandmother just passed away. They do not care if you just lost your job.

They do not provide an open space with their love letters, with the heading “extenuating circumstances,” whereby you could state the reasons for your inability to meet the terms of the bill in a particular month.

To be honest, the utility companies do not really care about all the ups and downs in your life. They just want your money. It is that simple. They provide a service, and they expect you to pay for it. There is no complexity in this. It is a business transaction.

But this week, in the aftermath of Hurricane Isabel, the officials with the utility companies are getting all touchy-feely on us.

They are asking us to feel their pain. They are asking us to understand their difficulties in restoring power to all the residences and businesses in the region. They are asking us to be what they never are with us.

“We know people have lost patience, but we ask for their understanding,” Potomac Electric Power Co. President William J. Sim said earlier this week.

You see, his crews are working 12-hour shifts, working themselves weary, doing their best to bring power to the thousands of residents who have been in the dark since the storm hit a week ago.

You have to understand all the damage left by the storm. You have to understand the incredible number of trees that ended up snapping like toothpicks. You have to understand the complexities of the task before Pepco and Dominion Virginia Power.

Well, no, you do not really have to understand a darn thing, except that the storm was a week ago and you are still sitting in the dark and you do not pay your bill each month to be sitting in the dark.

We know the details of the over-hyped storm anyway.

We have MSNBC’s Brian Williams to thank for that.

He took his handsome self to Virginia Beach, all dressed up in official storm gear, and advanced into the eye of the storm with a meteorologist at his side. It was riveting television.

There was the talking head and the meteorologist warding off the fierce winds, clinging to each other while pinned against the side of a building.

They were attempting to complete a sober investigation of the hurricane at the time, and what an investigation it was. They were all wobbly and out of sorts, in serious trouble, until, finally, the wind ushered them from the side of the building and out of the range of the camera.

They lived to tell the audience about it, and they dispensed the telling with straight faces, with the following advisory: You, the viewer, should not try this at home unless you are with a highly trained talking head who is wearing official storm gear.

But all that drama was a week ago, a lifetime ago in the news business, and you, the ex-viewer, are sitting in a puddle of melted ice cream amid a small pile of previously frozen foods that have dissolved into moldy gunk.

Note to in-the-dark readers: In case you missed it, Geraldo Rivera did not appear to be packing a gun from his storm post in North Carolina, which was one of his interesting fashion accessories while on a prior quest to find Osama bin Laden.

Anyway, a week has passed since many of us took our last shower, and all the utility companies can do is remind us of the enormity of the assignment and admonish us to lather ourselves in deodorant.

“A marathon, not a sprint,” an official with Dominion Virginia Power said.

The delay in restoring power to the masses is becoming something of a habit with Pepco, in particular.

More than 250,000 Pepco customers lost power, some for as long as six days, after a thunderstorm last month.

It turns out that possibly was the company’s idea of a preparatory course going into Isabel.

Pepco’s surcharge on that valuable course probably is in the mail.

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