Monday, February 2, 1998

My Sensitive Manatee

I was driving around the Scandia, May Township, Marine on St. Croix area last week a bit lost but with plenty of time to think. It occured to me that as beneficial as our use of the elements can sometimes be, often times they can cause more than a few problems. Isn't it just like the night that the things we need to survive are also the very things that can destroy us? In the news was a story that Northern States Power Company had its wrist slapped because it was using estimated readings to charge some of its customers. Also NSP was punished for delaying billing to some customers and presenting these poor people with an accumulated bill from several months.

I was one of those afflicted by the power company's haphazard billing practices. After moving into my house I got one bill and then for the next few months, nothing. I called NSP to make sure my power wasn't about to be shutoff and they promised to take care of the billing problem. Another few months went by and I still didn't receive a bill. Now I wasn't exactly complaining at this point- I had just put down a major portion of my savings toward my down payment and not receiving one more bill gave me a chance to accumulate some spending money again. It was a bit of a heart stopper however when that $700 electricity bill did finally arrive.

And until this past week that was my little power company story. Not quite as exciting as my phone company story but one for the files nonetheless. Last week I was shoveling my walk when my little Kubo nose picked up the kind of scent you really don't want to smell- gas. Having just consumed a few of the hot peppers my sister had given me there were plenty of suspects not the least being my senses were rather heightened. These peppers were the kind you don't really eat, you just sort of inhale and feel them burn all the way through your body. They're the mouth and eye watering, soprano voice raising variety. So the smell of gas was a bit of a concern because I knew sparks might be flying from my nose or mouth at any moment and I didn't want it to be an episode that is covered in the next morning's paper, the kind of story that ends with the line, "there were no survivors."

I wasn't exactly sure what I was supposed to do. Was I suppose to immediately evacuate the area? Was I to ignore the smell and hope that it was nothing? Was I to light a match to see how bad the leak was? I decided I would call up NSP. They told me they would send someone out immediately. The service woman brought with her a bunch of tools and a meter she used to check for gas in the area from which the smell was emanating (I was hoping she wouldn't point that thing at me).

Indeed my house's gas meter had a slight leak and with a few turns from an impressive looking wrench she said the problem was corrected. After checking my house inside and out for more leaks, she thanked me for calling telling me most people don't call when they smell gas. "Really," I said with a note of sheepish surprise in my voice. "I was ready to spend the night in a motel." Somehow a gas leak is a concern I figured most people would naturally take seriously.

So with another problem fixed I went to bed with a tad more peace of mind. As I went out to start my car the next morning, walking through a misty fog to get to my garage, I turned on the headlights and just like that Wallflowers' song, only one was illuminated. Thus I drove the lengthy drive to Stillwater with one headlight on the foggiest morning of the year. I was a bit paranoid keeping an eye out for anyone who might blindside me. Still I felt a certain sense of kinship with the other folk who were driving with one burnt out bulb. If I could have talked to them I would have said that I certainly knew how they felt and together the two of us made up one good car. Luckily just a few days later my father and I figured out how to replace the burnt out halogen light.

But there is always something else lurking just around the corner. For example, I only hope that as those rather ominous looking ice dams on my house melt, the moisture doesn't join gas and light as something I have to figure out how to deal with. Granted none of these are exactly presidential sized problems but believe me I am quite aware my attention needs to be focused in other areas.

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