This post is part of a series on my days as a meter reader for Public Service Company of Colorado from 1989 – 1995.
MUD stands for make-up-day.
A MUD day to catch up on routes that may be behind and it also gives our department a chance to hold safety meetings, trainings or to try and read skipped meters.
Each day PSCO had a certain book of meters that had to be read. The following day was for parts, bits of routes left over for whatever reason.
Let’s say that on Wednesday 3s are scheduled. On Tuesday, some 2s are finishing up and possibly a few 4s could be read that same Wednesday. It moved like that throughout the month but ever 60 days or so we would have a MUD day to catch up or slow us down.
MUD days were fun because you wouldn’t have a route to walk, you have a bunch of skipped meters that hadn’t been read in at least 3 months and your job was to drive to each meter and try to get a reading.
After working Denver metro for a while you get to know places. You know routes, roads, houses. You knew why a certain meter hadn’t been read. You also could judge houses by their appearance and houses that didn’t feel safe we’d write “NA” on the meter slip which meant there was no answer at the door. We called them “drive-bys” or “DBs.”
If Gary gave you 50 meters to read on a MUD day, then 10 would be DBs. Gary was a meter reader for a short time and he knew the drill, he knew we’d look at houses and go, nuh-uh, so he understood but every once and a while he’d ask if we’d go in and get the meter. It’s funny the things you’ll do for a good boss. I haven’t had a good boss like that since Gary.
MUD days were great because you were off your feet. You had to drive to each meter and it was a skill to arrange the meter assignments so that you drove the fewest miles and ended up as close to home as possible.
Gary told us that after we came in first thing in the morning, he didn’t want to see our sorry faces until the next morning. The most beautiful sight is when the last meter is read and you get the message that says, “End of Route.”
Gary also didn’t to see us after we’d left the office. It was a rule you didn’t break. Many of us would go to breakfast before our routes and there used to be a little diner on the corner of 17th and Glenarm. It had great food and really big booths right next to the front window with a great view of the sidewalk and intersection. We’d squeeze in and there was about 8 of us.
One day we were eating, talking, shooting the shit and Gary pulls up in the turn lane. We all started waving enthusiastically. Gary just hung his head and slowly shook it side to side put his car in gear and turned the corner. We were pleased with ourselves.
The next morning, Gary came up to us and told us, “Never do that again, at least get a table at the back, you morons. What if the boss had seen you?”
Deep in his heart, Gary was one of us and he gave us a lot of slack on MUD days but you couldn’t just ignore all those MUD slips, you have to have SOMETHING to show for your day. We were, after all, supposed to read meters.
I guess it’s a no-brainer that people aren’t home during the day and it can make it hard to get meters and affects your monthly statistics. They had problems with readers entering “Can’t Read” on their computers without even trying to read it. Big “Can’t Read” numbers can get you disciplined.
A reader, years ago had a solution – he’d crawl through the doggie door to get to the meters. He was slight of build and would squeeze through and gain entry to the homeowner’s premises. This was a big no-no and he’d gotten away with it for years except for that one time that he got stuck. The owners had gotten suspicious about someone coming in so they put a smaller door in and the reader got stuck. He was freed only after the people came home to find him there. I always wondered where the dog was, the one that used the doggie door because no dog was ever seen there.
Funny thing was he could have just hit “Can’t Read” and been fine but there was a bet going on with a few other readers each day to see who could have the fewest skipped meters. They ALL got in trouble for betting like that.
Truth is if every reader got every reading every day they would have put four of us out of work – we would work from Tuesday to Saturday and we got a lot of readings just because people are home on the weekends.
I worked that shift for about a year and there were four of us would comb the city trying to get what others couldn’t. We’d go to breakfast at a few different places close to work before we started our day and these people were my friends. Well, all except for one lady who was too quirky for my taste.
She used to tell me my oldest daughter was going to be a lesbian because she lettered all four years of high school in both volleyball and soccer. She said she had “gay-dar” and told me I, too was destined to become a lesbian because I had so many women friends. She would echo my ex-husband’s sentiments when he would tell me that if I had women friends I was a lesbian and if I had men’s friends I was whore so listening to Vicki talk was more than I could handle over a breakfast burrito and a Pepsi.
There was one place we’d go nearly every Saturday, a place on Santa Fe in the arts district that had great food but it was always chilly and my feet and legs were real sensitive to cold then so my excuse for not going was “the floor’s too cold.” That was code to my other friends that I couldn’t handle Vicki that day.
She had some radical ideas about life, politics, families and chocolate. Each year, after Easter, she’d buy out all of Engstrom’s Easter candy, and I mean we’re talking $200+ of candy at one time. She’d put it in her freezer and eat it all year long. She told me some days she’d eat nothing but candy and she was as skinny as a rail.
She had courage though, she and her girlfriend moved to Mexico and ran a small animal clinic there even though neither of them ever had any training as a vet. They lived in a little house on the beach and scraped by on their meager earnings. They smoked pot, ate chocolate, made love and watched Mexican sunsets on the beach. Neither of them ever came back to Colorado.
We wished Vicki well when she left because as a meter reader she was marginal. She’d argue with homeowners and if she felt an opinion bubbling up like a belch, she’d let it out. I was glad when she left our breakfast foursome.
The gig only lasted a short time and they did away with the Tuesday to Saturday schedule. It made me kind of sad because then I was back to walking 5 days a week.
One day before I had my own set, Gary sent me out to read a part, a segment of meters that for some reason didn’t get read. It was an old apartment building on Broadway near Ellsworth. I went in and walked up two flights to get to the manager’s office. This building was really beautiful and was one of those buildings that talked to you. Its elegant staircase and wallpapered hallways echoed a different time, one whose pace was slower and more refined. Turns out I read that building wrong because it used to be a brothel.
The manager told me the stories of the madam who walked the hallways at night, peeping into rooms, “managing” her business with pride. She was a ghost.
The manager also told me that he wasn’t going to leave me alone in the meter room because the ghost had a real dislike of women, especially younger women. Apparently the madam engaged in her chosen trade but felt that women probably deserved the life they got. She’d been known to change TV channels on people and nudge them when they were on the stairs and grab mail out of their hands. Mostly women suffered from her abuses.
The manager stood there with me while I read the 20 meters and someone from upstairs came and told them he had a FedEx delivery. He asked me if I’d be OK down there myself and I told him I was fine. I checked the readings in the computer before I left and walked up the stairs and out into the street.
I drove back to the office and placed my DataCap on the bank for it to upload. Gary came out a few minutes later and asked if I’d actually read the meters. I gave him my best “are you fucking kidding me?” look and asked what was up. He said there were no readings on the computer. Nothing. Nada.
I told him I’d been there; I told him about the manager and he could call and verify that I was there, which he did. Later he told me it wasn’t that he disbelieved me but they’d been having a problem with getting readings in that building each month. The previous month the meter reader had to use paper to first get the readings then come back to the office and sit in the meeting room with a DataCap and enter the readings in. Gary told me other readers had said the same thing, the readers thought the ghost had messed with their computers and most of those readers didn’t believe in ghosts.
Gary reloaded the route and I went back except I didn’t ask permission and no one stood with me. I had a conversation with that bitch ghost and told her to keep her spiritually filthy paws off my shit. I told her I wasn’t going to allow it and she might have been able to bully other people I wasn’t going to take it. I also told her I thought she was probably a lousy madam.
When I went back to the office, the readings were in the computer.
I have one other house whose spirit occupants keep people at bay. You don’t even have to go in, the house gives off an evil vibe. It’s on Ogden near 13th Avenue and when you walk by you can feel the evil all the way to the street. The worst vibe comes from the upper floors, under the eaves. Something happened there and I don’t know what.
Another reader had a ghost that would pull her hair whenever she went to read the meters. It was near the house on Ogden and the reader was nervous about going in there. The owners dismissed any paranormal activity but said that neighbors had told them a murder was committed in that house and the reader felt the angry presence in the basement.
Close to that house is an old set of apartments in the long basement hallway is a place long forgotten except for a group of hate-filled psychos who spray painted Nazi slogans and anti-Jewish nastiness on its walls. They burned something on the floors in certain rooms that looked like animal remains. The manager who went down with me that day was repulsed by what he’d seen and wasn’t aware that anything like that occurred in that long hallway. It was a creepy place to be.
The creepiest places sans ghosts are the hoarder houses. There’s a house on Jackson Street near 14th Avenue that has a hoarder living there. All rooms were filled from floor to ceiling with … stuff. You couldn’t walk through the rooms, you had to skirt along the walls, with your back to the wall because there wasn’t enough room to walk normally. It’s hard to list all the things I saw but I used to try. Here’s a preliminary list: newspapers, laundry baskets, luggage, microwave food trays, stuffed animals, tin cans, clothing, trash bags filled with whatever, boxes, furniture, all things, no things.
Newspapers and microwave containers were very popular with all hoarders. Funny thing is they’re some of the nicest people on the routes. You can tell they’re straightforward people and never apologized for their bounty.
An animal hoarder is a different breed and secrecy is their armor. You can usually smell their house a few doors down. Cat urine is potent and overwhelming. A house near Newton and 4th Avenue had the neighbors fuming over the smell because the owner, an elderly woman had dozens of cats holed up that house. Now cats like to be clean and they like to live somewhere equally clean. This house was a monstrosity of over flowing litter boxes, rotting cat food and urine soaked everything. Neighbors were powerless to solve the problem.
Usually with meters like this, the company would move them outside but that requires access from the homeowner.
Neighbors were also powerless to force people to clean up their properties. It was common to have to ford through tall weeds and ivy to get to meters. The worst are large evergreen bushes that homeowners seem to pair with meters like peanut butter and jelly.
After a day of fighting those evergreen bushes you were dustier and dirtier than working downtown. A few homeowners would recognize out hatred of the bushes and carve holes through the bush so we could read the meter.
Some people felt their meters were so special they loving built and encased them in structures. The people who did this are usually the same people that hang lots of wind chimes and have little flags on their front walkway.
Some houses I read were truly beautiful places with manicured gardens, an oasis in our busy day. One place near Cheesman Park has a Greek temple built in the back yard, complete with grapes and statues and hues of blue and white and when you were there, you were in Greece. Goddesses kept you company if you stopped for a while. The owner wasn’t Greek but bought the house when it had a tangle of weeds and she had the temple built after divorcing her most recent husband.
Another house near East High School sports a wonderful scale railroad that runs through the entire back yard. Several engines intersect with each other and the cars all have riders looking out the windows. Trestles and towns with buildings and figures, it was a wonderland of fun. The detail was incredible and the owner’s workshop was an oasis of tools, paint and wood. You could follow the train through its journey on a well-tended path with flowers, benches and waterfalls. It was hard to tear yourself away from yard and the stories because someone who’s passionate about something is a fascinating thing to behold.
The owner, it turns out, is my uncle.