Memo to Pepco: Are You Freakin’ Kidding Me??!

Downed tree in DC

Photo courtesy of Flickr user woodleywonderworks

Out of absolutely nowhere this past Friday night, a severe derecho or “land hurricane” of some meteorological unusualness hit D.C. As a result, hundreds of thousands of Washingtonians have no electricity–again (see below)–in inferno-like conditions, where the temperature outside is at or around 100 degrees.

Our friends at Pepco, the region’s electricity provider, casually informed us that 90 percent of its customers’ power should be restored by July 6th!

Well, thanks, Pepco! We’ll keep our gaze fixed on that date, as we step over the lifeless carcasses of our beloved pet dogs and cats, as well as our more expendable small children and remaining parental units. I think that terse “update” has much to do with why Pepco is ranked as the “most hated company” in the United States. (I propose a new slogan: “Pepco, ensuring survival of the fittest in the Beltway!” Alternative slogan: Pepco: Motivating you to clean out your refrigerator and patronize local hotels!)

Telling a couple of hundred thousand people to be patient and swelter to death for one week–well, my guess is that Pepco is not getting the whole “electricity provider” component of electricity provision.

Were this the first such example of Pepco’s indifference to its customers’ suffering, I guess most around here would still be outraged to the point of incoherence that is illustrated by this post (because this is a completely unlivable situation, especially for kids and the elderly).

But you need not read between the lines to understand that when Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley’s commented that, “Nobody will have their boot further up Pepco’s backside than I will,” he was tapping into a long, deep vein of seething regional anger. [UPDATE: see Gregg Easterbrook's valuable intervention on O'Malley]

I have lived in Washington for five years and somehow endured five blackouts in that time. As a point of comparison, I spent 40 years in New York City, and can only recall the infamous blackout of 1977 and maybe one other.

In the District, conversely, there is a direct correlation between observing a thunderstorm and packing up your car to drive to the nearest hotel. It appears Pepco’s vaunted “grid” is held together with Scotch tape and cheese wire. Factor in Pepco’s dial-up/1991 era Web site and its unserviceable customer service, and you have the perfect storm–or derecho, if you will–of derision.

My only question is this: How can the capital of the world’s most powerful country fall into total chaos every time there are a few inches of snow or a thunderstorm?

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