It would never occur to me to indulge in alcoholic beverages for what is known these days as "recreational purposes." However, from time to time even an abstemious fellow like me must buy a bottle of sacramental wine or medicinal whisky. Even among the devout, there has been a lot of illness lately.
So there I was, looking over the stock in Plain Old Pearson's liquor store on Wisconsin Avenue, when Plain Old Doc, who runs the place, spotted me.
"Just the man I want to see," he said. "Come with me."
Doc led the way to the back of the store and then all the way out the back door to 37th Street. "Take a look at that," he said as he pointed to a high-powered modern street light. "It's 1 o'clock in the afternoon and that light is burning. It's been burning night and day for five years. Why? And who's paying for it?"
"Doc," I said, "I don't know why a street light should burn night and day, but I have a bad feeling that when I check it out I'll discover that the taxpayers have been paying for it."
"While you're checking," Doc suggested, "find out how many others there are that stay on in the daytime."
When I got to the office, I called a Pepco spokesman. "I have a complaint about a street light that's been burning night and day for five years," I said. "How often does something of that kind happen?"
"Occassionally," was the reply. "Not often, but it does happen occasionally - and for a variety of reasons. Mechanical malfunctions usually. Do you have a pole number?"
"No," I said, "I have an address: in front of 2416 37th St. NW."
"We like to have a pole number," he said, "but the address will do. We'll fix it."
"It's probably too late to get it today. We'll fix it tomorrow."
"Who has been paying for the current for the past five years?"
There was a slight catch in his voice as he replied, "We have. Pepco. The District government is on a flat rate for street lights. When the lights malfunction, we lose doubly."
"Gee, I'm glad you asked," he said. "When fuel prices went sky high in 1973, the Public Service Commission gave us permission to add a fuel adjustment charge to our regular rates. Everybody has been paying the FAC except the District government. Between 1973 and 1976, the District refused to pay us about $2.5 million in fuel adjustment charges, so we took them to court. The case is in the Court of Appeals now, but meanwhile the cost of those daytime lights is coming out of our pocket, and we're not even collecting what we think is due us for nighttime service."
"The world is filled with sadness," I said.
"If you'd like to eliminate a little bit of that sadness," he said, "tell your readers that if they see a street light burnin in the daytime we'd sure appreciate their telling us about it. Call our Consumer Services number - 833-7500. The pole number is usually on a little metal tag, down near the bottom of the pole."
"All right," I said. "One more question. Fred McHone, one of my printer friends, tells me that when he goes home from work after midnight the lights are still blazing at the Pentagon Metro station - which shuts down at 8 p.m., of course. He wants to know why the lights aren't turned off."
"That one is Metro's baby," he said. "Ask them."
So I asked a simple question and got a simple answer: "You know the doughnut-shaped facility we have at the Pentagon, and how people complain they get wet in bad weather? Well, we have a contractor at work there now. He's putting a roof over the hole in the doughnut so that our passengers can stay dry. The contractor works at night, so he needs the lights. When he knocks off for the night, he turns out the lights."
Why hasn't the District paid its fuel adjustment charges? It contends that the language of its congressional appropriation forbids the payments.
Pepco says the language of the legislation does not forbid the payments. "It just says none of this money shall be used to pay the adjustment charge. It doesn't say the District can't use some other money to pay the charge.
Because of my extensive knowledge of the law, I could probably settle this issue in short order. However, that would throw 17 lawyers out of work, and a chain reaction could develop and plunge all of Washingtn into a depression. I don't want thaton my conscience.