I have two stories to tell.
The first has been brewing since early August, but I have refrained -- yes, I have! -- from telling it. We moved on August 3, from Statesville. Our son Philip, however, needed to stay an additional two weeks, for work. The house was mostly empty, but we left the utilities on for him. From Brevard, I called the City of Statesville Utilities Department, and asked them to cut off the utilities on August 15, after Philip would had left. They said I could not call and ask that; I had to come to the office to request it, or fax them a letter with my request. I promptly sent in a detailed, clear fax message.
And they cut off the electricity and water a week early. Poor Philip had to use the Sheets gas station to go to the bathroom. Eating was problematic. I called them, talked to a supervisor, and got the utilities turned back on.
But before the conversation ended, I asked again -- would they please be sure to disconnect all utilities on August 15? I was assured that it would happen.
So you can imagine my surprise a month later when the utility bill came. It covered a few last days when Philip was there. It seemed high, but I grumbled and sent payment in. It would be the last, I thought, and then they would be off my back.
A month later, another bill arrived, with dates of service that included no day when any of us was even in Statesville. I called their office.
I was told various things: 1) The utilities were not cut off, and it must be my fault for not asking. I said I had the fax in my hand. 2) The utilities had been cut off, but someone clearly had gone to the water main and turned it back on. I scoffed at the idea that a total stranger would go in the dead of night to turn on water in an empty house. Besides, who was there to use it? 3) I was told that they were unable to turn off the utilities. I asked, why then had they been turned off when my son was there? Then the girl transferred me to her manager.
The manager said this: they didn't really ever turn off utilities. If the house was in our name, and hadn't sold yet, then there was a $25+ fee -- some sort of maintenance fee -- that they charged, even if no one was in the house.
Yes, you heard that correctly. Over $25 per month, for absolutely nothing. I was dumbfounded. I knew this was not standard practice. We've moved so many times in our married life, and no utility company had ever spouted this line before.
I told the woman that I was sure it would be mighty fine for her if I just handed over $300/year for services that they never gave, and I never asked for, but I didn't have that money. She could send those bills, but I would not pay.
I do hate conversations like that, I really do. They're upsetting, and they're unnecessary. But I know why the City of Statesville is doing this: there are scads of empty homes, foreclosed homes, unrented homes, in the city, and they simply can't bear to get nothing at all from all those homes, in utility fees. So they charge anyway. Just because they can.
I received a bill or two, and then (you guessed it), I started getting the bills with the scary red letters splashed across the top: DISCONNECT NOTICE!!! The last one told me that, if we didn't pay up all those belated charged for service we never asked for and never used, our utilities would be turned off on Dec. 23.
Please, City of Statesville, please disconnect our utilities. We've only been asking for it for five months. It's so nice of you to finally admit that you can do it. Ugh and double ugh. I abhor bureaucracy.
And now for Story #2:
Philip called last Friday. He'd finished his semester at college, dropped his roommate at the airport at 3:00 AM, and was heading home. Then the alternator belt on the car crumpled into a powder, and he was pit-stopped at WalMart. But then another crisis occurred:
Sometime in the autumn, Philip was driving along, and the speed limit reduced from 35 mph to 25 mph. He didn't slow down soon enough, and a policeman (who was conveniently waiting there for him, ahem) pulled him over and gave him a ticket. When he searched for his insurance card, it was gone. Some students had been playing pranks that fall, and stealing various items from cars, just for kicks. His card was one casualty.
So the policeman told him he'd need to go to court and show his proof of insurance. Philip's court date was set for Dec. 20. Yes, that's today.
But he called and was told he could get his court date delayed until after his Christmas break. Then he could get new insurance documents from us over the break, and get back to college. In fact, he didn't tell us any of this, because (as he said) he wanted to be an adult and handle his own troubles. Bless his heart.
But, on Friday, he found out the disquieting news that the court would NOT delay his date, and he had to appear today, at 5:00 PM, in court. Poor thing!! He fell apart. He called me. The dorms were shut, the college was closed, it was raining and cold, the car had no power steering, and he had nowhere to stay. For four nights.
(This is when I say thank-you to Facebook, which allowed me to wail to my friends near and far, and find my boy a place to stay, the week before Christmas, for 4 days. It was God, looking out for us.)
But, of course, Philip didn't really need to go to court. He just needed to go to the courthouse on Monday morning, pay his fine and present his license and his insurance proof (which we emailed to him over the weekend) to the Clerk of Court, and he could be on his way. Right?
Wrong. When he got there, the lady who handles that was "taking a sick day." Translated: she wanted a long weekend before Christmas and didn't care whether her job got done. Apparently no one else in the building could do it. Philip went down again today, and she was gone today as well. I can't believe that, in the government (with their hefty pay, benefits and retirement) that a person who takes a day off doesn't have to do what we teachers always had to do: we had to prep our lessons, find our sub, explain it all to her, and leave copious notes. It was barely worth the day off. Secretaries know this scenario also.
So, my son is still stuck in Chattanooga. His court appearance should begin in one minute. Will it begin on time? Will he wait two hours? Will they then tell him, "I'm sorry. We'll have to reschedule you for tomorrow? January?" ARGH!!!! I want to strangle someone! This is my college son, who just wants to be home for Christmas. If these people did their jobs in an efficient manner, none of this would have happened.
The only way around it is to stay away from the government. I'm convinced our government is like a massive, brutal metal machine, with long, spidery grasping arms that swing and fling around, looking for citizens to ensnare with its pincers. Stay far away! Even when you try to do a thing correctly, they will ruin your attempts and turn your life to chaos.
It's a six hour drive home for Philip, sometime tonight. If you think of it when you're closing your eyes in sleep, say a prayer for him, as he weaves through those mountain roads. He should have been home last Friday.