Saturday night, 2230 hours. My double- shift has almost ended and I get a job for flickering lights in an upscale area.
I’m pretty tired at that point, so I pull into a shopping center parking lot to psyche myself up. The location is a cluster of 240, mostly upscale, vintage homes surrounding a private country club and golf course. It doesn’t tolerate drive through traffic; there is one road in and one road out.
The area is almost exclusively overhead construction, stately trees and a squirrel and tree-rat problem to go with it. 2300 hours and I’m outside calling the customer. Come in, she says. I enter to find a newly remodeled, mid-fifties vintage ranch style home. At the entryway I make a right turn through the designer kitchen, past the laundry room and into the back yard. Along the way to the yard the flickering lights are unmistakable. At the meter, the ring and seal are missing. I imagine that the customer’s contractor had taken liberties with our meter. I glance up at the bolted connections at the weather head and let my eyes follow the service wire through the trees. I’m thinking a squirrel has chewed through the service neutral. Worst case scenario is that I have to hack my way to the pole, climb the pole, drop out the service, make a repair and try to pull the service up again.
The customer is adamant that, number one, the flicker is unbearable and number two, she doesn’t want the power off.
I question the customer and find that the lights have been flickering for a week. Yes, a week… but at midnight on Saturday it becomes unbearable. Oh man! I’ve heard that nonsensical story a thousand times before. I turn to the customer; I was dying to ask-- “Why did you wait until Saturday at midnight? Did you think you might get better service?” I held my tongue and instead said--“I’ll be right back. I need to get a tool off my truck.” I returned with the Beast of Burden and announced that I will have to turn the power off to run a test. She reaffirms that she doesn’t want the power off; her son and his friends are home from college; her husband is in bed watching TV and she needs the power on. Period! She just wants the problem fixed. Her sense of entitlement stunk up the place.
I removed the meter, plugged the Beast into the 1950’s meter socket and hit the switch. “Wha?” I flick the switch the other way and smile. I feel relief and my mental fatigue fizzles away. Our service tested good; the main switch was bad!
The customer had walked away into the house; I called her back. I explained how the Beast works and give a demonstration. She paused and politely asks if I wouldn’t mind going over it again. I gave a second demonstration and, surprised, I turn to see that she is filming me with her phone. I thought that was an asshole move but I didn’t complain. I’m tired and the Beast has given me a pass. Why ruin the mood? However, I think it would have been more polite for her to ask before filming. She explains that she wanted it on record so she could precisely show her electrician the problem. At any rate, this is a good reminder that no matter where we are, no matter what we do, whether we like it or not, somebody has eyes on us.
By the time I leave, the customer and I are on good terms; she has a question--“for all the money that was spent on the remodel…I wonder why they didn’t’ upgrade the electric box?” I wasn’t a party to the remodel; I shrug.
I advised the customer that she should refrain from turning the power on until a repair was made. She said she couldn’t do that; she had company over. Suit yourself. As I walked away, she has one more request. “Just tell me it’s safe.” I paused, slightly dumbfounded. I replied- “I’d sleep with one eye open.”
Dan Flores - Troubleshooter