By Daniel Dunaief
Timing is everything. Just ask the people who bought large blocks of tickets to sporting events and then tried to resell them in the year with empty stadiums or, perhaps, PSEG last Tuesday.
The New Jersey-based utility was supposed to be the savior of Long Island power, bringing corporate muscle, know how and technology to a region that had suffered in 1985 from outages that lasted weeks from Hurricane Gloria and dislocations and gas shortages during Superstorm Sandy.
But then, Tropical Storm Isaias had other ideas. The storm came through Long Island last Tuesday and, within hours, the communications system went down at PSEG, making it difficult for residents to know whether their efforts to report outages, downed trees, and dangling power lines were effective.
The storm caused about 420,000 people to lose power. That is particularly problematic at a time when some residents are still working from home. It also disrupts the angst-ridden end-of-summer period as parents and students prepare for a school year filled with questions about an uncertain future.
Hardened by all the difficulties of an impossible year, some residents chalked it up to the mess that is 2020, hoping that the change in the calendar will allow everyone to return to a normal in which we can hug friends, shake hands, visit extended family and lean in at a crowded restaurant to hear what someone said. If the vaccine Russia rushed to the market for the virus proves effective without serious side effects, maybe that hope will become a reality.
Just before Isaias hit, however, PSEG must have frustrated the entity in control of the disruptions during this haywire year. You see, the company sent out a postcard.
Now, postcards are nice, particularly when you get one from someone vacationing in an exotic location. You might appreciate the magnificent scenery, even if the card makes you wonder why your friend didn’t take you along instead of spending 42 cents to make you jealous of her wonderful life.
But, no, this wasn’t that kind of postcard. This was the kind of message that helps build a brand, that makes you feel as if you’ve landed somewhere between the familiar rhythm of a safe Brady Bunch household and the high-tech, happy future of the Jetsons.
The card, which arrived hours before Isaias in mail trucks that would have had trouble delivering them the next day, had a picture of a man in sunglasses on a power truck, wearing a yellow hard hat with blue skies and intact branches behind him.
The message offered GOOD NEWS! Of course they used all caps and an exclamation point. Then, the card continued, UPGRADES COMPLETED! How nice and promising, right? The postcard went on to suggest, “PSEG Long Island recently finished work to ensure that you and your neighbors will continue to receive safe and reliable electric service for years to come.” The words safe, reliable and years to come were in orange, as if they were highlighting the parts you needed to read closely, emphasizing their comforting professionalism and reassuring skill set.
The last paragraph read, “After careful inspection, we replaced and upgraded equipment that strengthens the infrastructure to better withstand storms and extreme temperatures.” The highlighted words were replaced, upgraded, and strengthens the infrastructure.
The tag line, after thanking customers for their patience, was, “Just one more way PSEG Long Island is working for you.”
Hmm, now, that postcard might have slipped, unnoticed, into the trash bin. But, that’s not what happened here. The postcard and storm arrived the same day and, despite the reassurance that the company had the infrastructure to better withstand storms, it seems that the storm, and maybe 2020, had other plans.