Monday, February 28, 2005

Let There Be Light! (Even If We Have to Wait For NES to Turn It Back On)

I am somewhat fanatical when it comes to lighting our house at night. I do not need a specialist to tell me that turning on lights at night discourages criminal behavior. It is common sense. I am simply hard-wired to turn on the lights come nightfall.

We have three porch lights, a deck light, and four external spots strategically placed on our house. I have a one-and-a-half million candlelight, hand-held spotlight sitting by a back window just in case, multiple flashlights and a couple of lanterns. And that is still not enough for me. I will not rest until we have a couple of industrial-sized halogen lights attached on the sides of our house and a powerful street light in our back alley. The electric bill is no object.

So, you can imagine my horror when the streetlight in front of our house went out recently. I was well behaved for a while; I spent a couple of weeks pacing in front of street-side windows before I filled out an on-line form with Metro Public Works. I received a quick, polite response from Customer Service saying that my request for repair had been sent to an inspector in charge of repair.

That inspector did not call me back for several days. I started chomping at the bit. The night seems to get darker and more imposing when the streetlight in front of your house is out. When his belated call came, he apologized for being late. He assured me that he had turned in a request to NES, which fixes streetlights.

So, I continued to pace, but patiently so. I watched everyday for one of those big white NES trucks with the cherry-picker arms that unfold and reach to heaven in order to bring us the blessing of light. But no open arms were forthcoming.

On the evening of the ninth day, we were awakened by gunshots somewhere close in our neighborhood. While gunshots are alarming enough, our alarm was magnified by the sight of a pitch-black street. If there was a victim down or a perpetrator to be fingered, we could not tell.

On the morning of the tenth day, I sent an angry e-mail to Public Works demanding an explicit time for streetlight repair, begging for the sake of my family’s safety. The righteous indignation flowed.

A few hours later, I received a fuming phone call from the belated inspector reminding me of his request to NES. He told me with some audible irritation that he had no control over how long they took to repair a streetlight.

I told the inspector that the bureaucratic process was his problem and not mine. “All I care about is getting my streetlight fixed as soon as possible. Waiting weeks on a dark street and worrying about my family’s safety in the dark is intolerable,” I replied.

He asked me if I called the police about the gunfire. I told him I had and that the police had already promised us increased patrols beforehand. He asked me if our neighborhood had formed an association. I told him that we were, because we needed greater numbers to deal with problems like malfunctioning streetlights and bureaucrats slow to respond to requests to fix them. I made clear that public safety was a war fought on multiple fronts. He need not worry about the other fronts we were fighting when his duty was to help us wage the battle for functioning lights.

The inspector then told me that he lived outside of Nashville, so that he could buy and pay for his own streetlight. He said that he did not have to depend Metro or NES when it needed to be fixed. I bitterly thought to myself, “So what?” I barked out, “Why should I be punished for living in the city when my streetlight goes out? You pay for your streetlight. But I pay for mine, too; with taxes.” I restrained myself from asking him why exactly did he work for Metro if he does not even trust them to take care of his streetlights.

Even with restraint, I was about a bob away from Fight Club mode. I lectured him that Metro was responsible for being an advocate for Nashvillians to contractors like NES if they drag their feet in making our communities safer. I told him something he already knew: that NES would not give me the time of day if I called them about my ten-day old request. I made it clear that, if we did not get either the light fixed soon or a firm idea of when it would be fixed, I reserved the right to go over his head all the way to the Mayor’s Office if I had to. That’s where it ended.

I am not saying my demeanor during the phone call made a difference. I am not saying that my fanaticism for lighting made a difference. But the next day the NES cherry-picker arms were rising up to the heavens in front of my house to make certain that the street in front of our house had light once again. I do not feel victorious; I only feel troubled that it took a tumult to turn on a light.

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