This post is part of a series on my days as a meter reader for Public Service Company of Colorado from 1989 – 1995.
Meter reading isn’t a clean job; it’s complicated and messy. Sometimes, rules get broken.
The Denver Design Center was a new space filled with artistic intentions in an urban setting. The new space offered facilities for decorators, culinary schools, piano stores, design centers all within walking distance of the proposed light rail system.
Maurice was a reader who was good, fast and a nice guy and the Design Center was one of his routes.
One of the nightmares about reading is going into a place and not coming back out. Doors have locks, stairs cause falls and people lurk in dark corners.
Maurice always said he was a little nervous about the big metal doors with locks and someone in the Design Center thought it was a good idea to put one of those doors with no lock on the inside in their meter rooms. Isolated and alone, the meter rooms face I-25 and the noise coming from the freeway. The door sprung shut trapping Maurice in the meter room and with no way out, he said he panicked.
He pounded on the door, screamed at the top of his lungs and even tried prying the pin out of the door hinges. Nothing worked.
One dangerous problem with reading was that we never returned to the office after a route because the bosses didn’t want to see us there, it was pointless and PSCO would have been required to pay our mileage back to the office. It’s a system that worked well and no one, but no one complained.
The big problem was a reader could get hurt and no one would know. You could lie there for hours waiting for help that doesn’t come. We were never given Gary or Trish’s home phone numbers and there is no operator at PSCO. The only people that will answer the phone are the people in the gas department if you have a gas leak and an explosion was imminent.
Families would have a hard time contacting the powers that be should their spouse, parent or child didn’t come home.
Almost 24 hours would have gone by and in the morning, Gary or Trish might have thought someone just didn’t come to work and might or might not call that person’s family.
This was the days before cell phones and though many of us carried pagers so we could be reached by our families but pagers are one-way communication devices. Cell phones would have made it easier but Maurice had no way to reach out.
About five hours passed and Maurice kept calling out until someone heard him. That person had to find the maintenance person to open the door and that took another hour.
Maurice was physically and emotionally exhausted and Gary gave him the next day off.
Soon after, PSCO required that all meter rooms have locks on both sides of the door.
Crime is another entity that occasionally would draw a meter reader in and without any warning you’d be in the thick of it.
One of our readers was cutting through a field that used to be catty corner from where Coors Field was planned. At that time it was an overgrown field and there was a body in it. The reader was looking down at his DataCap and nearly tripped over the homeless man who had laid down and died sometime in the previous day.
More than once a meter reader stopped something as innocuous as fights between kids or a robbery. I once interrupted a robbery in progress but didn’t know it. The homeowner was inside, she was home alone and was scared and hiding with her kids but I entered into the back yard and whoever was trying to get in either heard me or saw me in the previous yard and booked it out of there.
It’s not common knowledge that the Colorado State Patrol provides security for the governor’s mansion just outside of downtown. It’s misleading – there was no gate, just a driveway that led up to the front door. There was an intercom and I buzzed but no one responded. I went in.
Apparently I set off a rash of alarms and lucky for me, the officers knew what I was carrying in my hand and what business I had there.
They laughed and told me they considered tackling me to the ground.
Some poor lady got tackled to the ground in another part of town – a man had grabbed her as she walked through a park and had forced her into the bushes and the attack was in progress when one of our readers heard the commotion and investigated.
This was during a bad time for meter readers, a cost-cutting and efficiency measure had been put in place that would see the end of meter readers and the use of electronic glasses placed on each and every meter in Colorado.
During this time readers no longer worked only 3-4 hours a day, our routes were re-mapped and we required to walk as many as 8-hours a day.
After your route was done, you had to return to the office that had been moved out to an old office near the Rocky Mountain Arsenal, a long drive from Denver Metro Region. The reader went back to the office but his route wasn’t finished and that was considered grounds for dismissal.
We were scrutinized for breaks longer than 15 minutes and this meter reader had a break of about 2 hours because not only did he pull the guy off the girl, he stayed to make sure she was OK, gave a statement to the police and then went on his way.
He was promptly fired.
An uproar shot through the meter reading community and the union pursued the case for wrongful termination.
The meter reader contacted the newly formed Westword newspaper and they did a very long, detailed story about problems arising from the new automation and the fact that 125 people were going to lose their jobs.
PSCO stood their ground. Readers were there to read, not to be a bunch of fleet-footed do-gooders.