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Fiat Lux


So I’m learning, by sampling the offerings of other NaBloPoMo participants, that many of them do not write about Major Issues on a daily basis. They write about the little things in life, like what they watch on TV, where they had lunch, or other fascinating quotidian tidbits. I’m pretty sure I read a line yesterday about a “preggers spider” in one of them.  I have really enjoyed some of these posts; it is very relaxing to catch a glimpse into someone else’s life, to compare a little, and to admire the deft use of a metaphor or a beautiful photograph. This kind of browsing also helps me remember that, while I have been asked by a valued reader to refrain from padding my 30 days with “fluff,” I am also not Anna Quindlen on steroids, required to write thought-provoking essays thirty days in a row.

I particularly enjoy posts in which the writer “rants” about something that happened in the course of daily life (as long as the semicolons are in the right place and the misspellings don’t make me wince). A rant of that variety is a perfect marriage of recognizable dailiness and a certain passion. We can all sympathize with the person waiting all day for the cable guy, the person served a piece of sushi with a fingernail in the salmon, or the person who rode all the way from work on the subway pinned next to a gum snapper.

So I have a rant, and while it does not involve any particular depth of sentiment or clarity of insight, I will feel better if I tell someone, and my husband and my parents have opted out of further rehashing of my issue. You’re it; bear with me, and I’ll try to make it good.

This morning at 9:03AM as I was editing on my computer, I heard a terrible grinding sound outside the dining room window, and then the power went out. I went to the front window in time to see a Board of Water & Light employee get into his van and drive away. I knew I had paid them, albeit a little later than one might have wished, and I was pretty sure that when they work on power lines they do not appear unannounced and shut off power to individual houses.


So I called The Board of Water and Light (on my cell phone, since the house phones were dead), where I was helped by a charming woman named Diane, and I do mean that. I told her that I was looking at a confirmation code from our credit union that the bill had been paid 5 days ago. Diane had a good idea: we should conference in the credit union and get confirmation that the bill had been paid on their end. After hold music and 7 possible routes to human conversation, we reached a young woman who took my account number. “Are you on the account?” She asked. I had seen this one coming.

“I’m not, but you should have a release in your records signed by my husband, permitting you to speak to me about this account.”

“Just a sec,” she said, and she was gone. I did not, by the way, make up the business about the release. I really am a lawyer, I really had prepared one, and we really had submitted it to the credit union years ago in case of just such an occasion. There was a long pause, during which papers rattled. “I’m sorry ma’am, there’s no release, and I can’t discuss this account with you. Your husband has to call.”

“There is a release,” I said, marvelling at my Zen-like composure, “maybe you just can’t find it. Can you work with me here? Our power has been shut off, it’s cold, I can’t work without my computer, and I can tell you anything you want to know to prove who I am. I have my husband’s Social Security number, and I’m looking at a screen with a confirmation code for this payment. What are the odds that if I had stolen his identity I would have his wallet and his computer and be trying to get his power turned back on?” She did not laugh. Not even a little bit, although I think I’m pretty amusing.


“I can’t discuss this account with you, ma’am, Your husband has to call in” she said, standing her ground. She was not a woman to be trifled with, regardless of our credit union’s protestations of friendly, home-town service that distinguished it from the Big Bad Banks. It was unfortunate, but couldn’t be helped if this particular hometown neighbor and her child froze to death because she would not make an exception when anyone with an IQ higher than “tepid” could see that I would have no motivation for doing what I was doing if I was not who I claimed to be.  So, after being reminded by Diane that the clock was ticking, and that after a certain point we would have to wait until tomorrow to have the power restored, I bit my lip and called my husband out of a meeting with people at his company’s head office in Indianapolis.

He was not thrilled, but he called the credit union to authorize them (again) to speak to me. He then called me back to report that, while they were not willing to speak to me, because he “could be anybody,” they were willing to fax to the Board of Water & Light proof that the payment had been made. As a fairly logical person with more than passing familiarity with the law, I see absolutely no difference between releasing a customer’s information by saying it (to a woman reachable at the home phone number listed on his account) vs. printing it out and faxing it. This begs the question of why, if he “could be anybody” they were willing even to fax the information. Clearly, nothing would do but for him to drive home from Indianapolis, visit the Customer Service Desk at the friendly, hometown credit union, show them his driver’s license and the mole behind his left knee, and beg them to tell the Board of Water & Light that we had paid our bill.

In the end, although I was terrifically bothered by the logistical inconsistency, we went with the fax plan. The women representing the Board of Water & Light were both compassionate and kind, and were good as gold about sending someone out to turn the power back on as soon as they received the fax. Five hours after the turn off, the van returned, the grinding was heard again, and then, fiat lux, and heat, and computer, and cellphone charger.

A particular gem named Tammi also talked to her supervisor and made sure that we would not be charged a security deposit, or any of the other fees that are usually charged after a turn-off. [Strictly speaking, the delay in payment was my bad; I was already late, and didn’t realize that if I made a payment on October 29th, the credit union then sent it to a third-party service that sent a physical check that still hadn’t reached its destination five days after clearing our account].  Interesting that folks working for a much larger business than the credit union could find it in themselves to help a fellow human in a tight spot.


I am probably too lazy to do anything dramatic like closing our account, but I would like to communicate to the management of the credit union that the inflexible enforcement of rules in ways that defy common sense is not a feather in their cap. I have worked in various customer service positions, and have made exceptions in cases where I could do a great deal of good, and no foreseeable harm. I have been rewarded for making those exceptions, and I have been lambasted; I have never regretted sticking my neck out to help someone in trouble.When I really, truly had to say “no” to a customer or client, I found that it was better received if I sounded sorry about turning them down, as opposed to taking a tone of indifference, or faint triumph. These are not gems of customer service wisdom developed and patented by yours truly; they should be second nature to any human paid to assist other humans.

Also, I do not feel safer from identity theft after learning that our financial institution would send personal information to a fax number that could be an online identity-theft information clearing house run by two escaped convicts from Paraguay, but would not speak to me. I feel, in fact, that we may have deposited our worldly goods in an institution run by soulless robots created and trained by various luminaries of the Third Reich.

Spent; I am completely over this and ready to move on. At one time I would, by now, have sent a detailed letter to the credit union, cc’d everywhere that it might hurt. These days, It feels right to let it go and try to understand that such experiences are just part of modern life. I can walk away (now that the heat is back on and I don’t have to lie under a pile of blankets) and watch the credit union recede in my rear view mirror, its harried martinets marching in lockstep and reciting unbreakabale rules….



About imagineannie

I feel like I'm fifteen - does that count? I'm lots of things, I get paid to be the Managing Editor for a local news publication, and I love my job. I am also inordinately fond of reading, animals (I have four), elephants, owls, hedgehogs writing, tramping in the woods, cooking India, Ireland, England, avocado toast, Sherlock Holmes, Harry Potter, Little Women, Fun Home, Lumber Janes, Fangirl, magic, Neil Gaiman, Jane Austen, YA books, not YA books, classical music, Salinger (OMG SALINGER), Brahms, key lime pie, indie music, podcasts, sleeping in, road trips, marmalade, museums, bookstores, the Oxford comma, BBC, The Miss Fisher Mysteries, birdwatching, seashells, kombucha, and stickers. Not a huge fan of chewing gum, jazz, trucker hats or dystopian and/or post-apolcalyptic fiction (but I'll try anything).

9 responses »

  1. Ok, I will comment and rant, but the OPPOSITE of you. Because I STOPPED PAYING the Board of water and light through the credit union because it takes a ridiculously long amount of time for them to receive the payment. I don’t believe the will take it electronically so the c.u. has to issue them a check and then mail it and then it takes them days to process it. They are stuck in the 70’s or beyond. Once it took 2 weeks for my payment to go through. The Board works in the past and is the most inefficient system I come in contact with. I might also know a bit too much about them from a certain spouse of mine…but geez. So now I write out my little check and put in in the envelope and mail it, bc it, believe it or not goes through much faster.

    It is unfortunate what happened with the C.U. If it’s the same as mine, which I assume it is, I find it out of character and surprising. They are so helpful and easy usually….ok I think I’m done now.

    • Michelle, it seems like such a huge pain to have one bill that I pay “manually,” but it beats having the power shut off (after I paid for it).

      As for the credit union, it is Capital Area School Employees – my mom was a teacher, and that’s where I got my first account…and stayed. We were already unhappy with them because they will not allow me to sign my paychecks over to Rob for deposit, even if I am standing there with identification. They “don’t take third-party checks” despite the fact that they are perfectly legal, and I am clearly the payee.

  2. Ann,
    I commend you on your poise and patience. I would have gone BALLISTIC if that happened here. jeez, no warning. I generally prefer credit unions over banks–my mother was the manager of Medical Credit Union, starting with Sparrow Hospital–it’s had many incarnations now, don’t know what it’s called today, but she still has her accounts there, even though she lives in California. If she had been on the phone with you, she would have taken care of you, for sure.

    • I meditate a lot. 🙂 I still prefer credit unions over banks, for all kinds of reasons, but this struck me as particularly outrageous at a time when their big ad claim is better, less impersonal service than a large bank. This looked pretty large bank-like to me…..

  3. Um….I must confess. I would just call back and pretend to be my Rob but um…in transition, if you know what I mean? I have actually done this to cancel certain services, subscriptions, etc.

    • I thought about it – I have a pretty deep voice. I also considered calling my dad, and having him call them.I’m not above that. 🙂

      • I prefer the “I am his agent” approach. Although, this does work better when dealing with overseas customer call centers. Agent seems to throw people off- I presume they are equating ‘agent’ with famous or important person and are too intimidated to question me. I’ve never tried it with the bank since we are both on the account but I highly recommend it for any calls to Verizon/Comcast/Computer Company of choice.

  4. Oh my, working both sides of that fence, I can tell you the Bd of Water & Light spends money on alot of things, but none so much as inefficient computer systems. It surprises me not a LICK that they can’t take electronic payments from customers, but I’ll bet when other power companies are purchasing power from BWL, they take whatever kind of payment they can get, and gladly. And CASE – I always was their champion, as they were the best of the best. Then they got a little bit too big for their britches, got all ‘commercialized’ on us, and now only SAY they care about the customer. They have, sadly, gone down in my personal rankings since they now focus training on the correct thing to say, not the right thing to say under the circumstances to their shareholders. At least the BWL people were nice…

    • Well, I am learning some interesting, although not necessarily positive things about BWL (!). I also loved CASE; that was where I had my first bank account, and I remember how great they were about teaching me how to balance my checkbook, etc.. Sad that one of the best things about an organization is it’s customer service and human face, and all that gets lost when those very qualities let them “grow” their business.


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