Posted by: scribe9 | November 15, 2009

Utilitarian issues

When I was in college and moving at least once a year, utilities weren’t a big deal. Water and garbage were, by law, included in the rent; electricity came from a local publicly-owned company; and Ma Bell’s local child would send someone to wire in the phone on three days’ notice.

That was decades ago, on a continent far, far away. Here water’s still simple; the landlord gets a bill for water twice a year, and will forward it to me. (That doesn’t mean the water’s great; it tastes as  if I’m licking rocks. We got a filter.)

Electricity’s another story. It got deregulated a few years ago, so I had to choose among four different companies (the one I chose is headquartered more than halfway down the country, although one company is responsible for all the transmission lines. Two weeks ago a forklift managed to bring down one low-hanging line and cut off power to the northern third of the country, which is more than a bit scary). And then I had to select among half-a-dozen plans. Many of the houses here, including ours, have a separate meter for the hot water heater, and one can opt for plans that are vary in price according to when and how long one allows the power company to interrupt the electricity for that. (I don’t think Alvin Toffler had deregulated electricity rates in mind when he wrote Future Shock, but the concept’s the same as endless options on Mustangs.)  And then one chooses between regular or low-use rates. I was going to opt for low-use until I realized that the figures I got from PGE reflected the use of a gas hot water heater and stovetop.

I haven’t yet figured out which gas company to use to supply the heater in the living room. The previous tenants, who lived here only during the fall and winter, didn’t use any gas; either they have anti-freeze in their veins or they used a lot of space heaters.

We all have cell phones, so assumed we didn’t need a landline until we found out that that’s the only way to get broadband. The first company we called was going to take seven to ten days to connect us even though phones just plug in, so we called another company that could do it within hours. (Telephone books get delivered to one’s door once a year, just like in the US, but since we missed that distribution I had to pick one up at the post office.) We’re still waiting for the modem for broadband, though, and we had to choose a certain level of gigabytes for that; there’s no plan that offers unlimited service.

Garbage—rubbish—is very simple. For $2.20 you buy a specially-marked large plastic bag that can hold up to 13kg. You fill it, put it out at the street on your garbage day, and the local council (government) sends around a truck to pick it up. Three different trucks come by for kerb-side recycling: one to pick up corrugated cardboard; one to pick up paper in a plastic bag; and one to empty the recycling bin of metals, glass, and bottles numbered 1 and 2. (The only bottle bill in this part of the world is apparently in South Australia, as we inferred from a Coke can that also assured us that its contents were “lovingly crafted” in Sydney).

The sports fans I live with wanted more than local TV. It just took one phone call to get the television and the satellite dish hooked up the next day.

We had to change our address, so I went to the post office for a form. Mail forwarding isn’t included in postage; the charge for two months is $20. It’s clear from the amount of mail stacking up that the previous two sets of tenants didn’t bother.

One of the saving graces through all this is that virtually everyone I dealt with was at least polite and usually also cheerful. Positives aren’t just good, they’re “brilliant!” And if you make a mistake or need a little extra service, “No worries!”



  1. Amy – i just caught up on your blog – last time i read, you and Emily had walked into town for the first time – and i am delighted by your adventure and your writing – i am laughing outloud and think you should look into a book deal. You have not painted a pretty picture of your new home or the utility situation – i am imagining 3 people living in a frozen, sub-par existence. Am hoping summer comes soon…you can do shrimp on the bar-b with your friends from portland (too small a world?) take care and keep the blog coming.

    • Nancy–

      Actually, our new place isn’t that bad–we just need to get settled in, which requires getting accustomed to new ways of doing things. Further adventures to follow!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: