Trees, trees, glorious trees. They give Governmentville a big part of its distinctive look (not to mention its shade and its oxygen). Trees should always be treated carefully and well. Usually, they are.
But Pepco sometimes treats trees like a nuisance, and it doesn't treat some of its tree-owning customers any better. Craig L. Ellsworth, a Levey regular in Silver Spring, recently proved the point.
One morning about a month ago, Craig heard the unmistakable whine of power saws outside his home. He went out to have a look.
Craig says he was very pleased to see a crew of workmen trimming tree limbs near the power lines that serve his house. As Craig well knows, power outages in the Washington area are often caused by limbs that snap lines during storms. The less friction there is between wood and wire, the less likely it is that Craig will lose his juice the next time there's a little blowing and gusting.
As soon as the trimming crew was done, Craig surveyed the work. Nice -- except that "limbs lay in my yard, in the street and some were hung up in the trees," Craig writes.
So Craig called Pepco to see if the company planned to remove the debris. After the obligatory 12 minutes spent stewing on hold, Craig was connected to a customer service representative. The answer:
Pepco does not remove tree cuttings or debris. A supervisor confirmed what the service rep said.
Craig's nutshell: "Pepco just comes when they please, cuts what they want and leaves it for the homeowner to clean it up." Needless to say, he wasn't happy to spend the next few minutes hauling wood off of his property.
What's the Pepco policy on removing tree cuttings? Spokesman Bob Dobkin said it depends on the circumstances.
If Pepco routinely trims trees to prevent future outages, the company removes debris, Bob said.
If Pepco is called out by a customer to trim a branch that may threaten a power line, the company removes debris, Bob said. Pepco will even cut large limbs into firewood for the customer if the crew has time, Bob said.
But after a storm, when power is out and it's a race to restore service as soon as possible, Pepco will not remove cuttings, Bob said. That task is up to the town or the county if limbs fall on public property. It's up to the owner of private property if limbs fall there.
Bob could not explain why the crew on Craig's street did not clean up after itself, given that the trimming was routine and not storm-related. Nor could he explain why the customer service representative apparently didn't know Pepco's policy. Bob did say that "there's always complaints" about trimming. "It's a no-win situation. We try to do the best we can."
I have no quarrel with Pepco doing whatever it can to restore power quickly, even if that means leaving debris all over a lawn. But why do we have to make a choice between electricity and mess?
Pepco is missing an easy bet. It should go into the firewood business. Seriously.
Why can't the company hire a few guys who own a truck? They could follow trimming crews, clean up the mess and sell the resulting logs and kindling. This way, trimmers wouldn't face the choice between cleaning up debris at House A and restoring power quickly to House B. They'd be power-restorers, period.
I'd be one of the first customers of Pepco Firewood Inc. Wouldn't you hop aboard, too? It would be a lot more reliable than the more typical firewood adventure -- dickering with some guy who rings the doorbell and offers a cord of firewood, real cheap, right then and there, from the back of his ratty pickup truck.
How do you protect yourself against a driver's license photo that makes you look like a hyena? Perhaps you should move to Minnesota.
Here in the land of the Middle Atlantic, your driver's license is handed to you as soon as you reach the end of the process. If you hate the photo, too bad.
But licenses are mailed in Minnesota (and several other states). And before they hit the mailbox, each license is scanned by an actual live person, whose job is to reject license photos in which the "victims" have accidentally blinked their eyes, tilted their heads or bugged out their eyes.
I heard from Judy the other day -- an actual live person who used to hold a job as a driver's license picture-scanner in Minnesota. She says she kept a small private collection of the very worst. One day, Judy says, she was showing her treasure trove to a friend who was a state police officer.
The officer scanned Judy's stack. Then he said the photos were actually quite accurate. "That's how they look when I pull 'em over," the officer said.
A political note from Mark Sullivan, of Northwest Washington.
Dan notes that former vice president (and current presidential candidate) Dan Quayle is an excellent golfer. "It proves that a man with a handicap can aspire to high office," Mark says.