Wednesday, January 30, 2013

1129 Frank

1129 Frank

No one called him that.  Everyone knew him as “Bubby.”  He was a meter reader for Con Ed.  Made a decent living.  Not a fortune, but enough to drive a Packard, the clipper model, a little down scale but still a Packard.

Bubby had a union card.  He had a route.  He’d amble through his days looking at electric meters and gas meters and writing down what he saw, then get into his green Packard Clipper and deliver the results.

Guys like this are still out there, but not for long.  The electric companies of America are replacing the meter readers with digital devices.  The modern era has arrived.

But the modern era techno-Bubbies don’t just write down what the little dials on the meter say.  The new brainy digital stuff knows what you use and when you use it.  Is your washing machine certified Energy Star?  They know by how much electricity you use for it and when you use it.

Is that fair? Is it right?  Well, today, saving money on (unionized) workers is the current Big Thing.  It’s almost as important as outsourcing and “offshoring.” Bubby’s heirs in south Queens will have to find other work.  Con Ed doesn’t need them anymore.

Frank was good to his mother and father.  And mom and dad respected him.  He was a diligent worker with a good trade.  His brother John was a construction guy.  They haven’t yet figured out how to replace him with a microchip.  If he’s still alive, he’s probably still working and probably at the age of 108.

John was less pretentious than Bubby.  He drove a Renault.  Gotta have a cheap car when you’re in a trade that has ups and downs like installing PermaStone.  Still, no microchip can do that.

You have to go with progress.  No doubt about that.  But what else do they find out about you by knowing about every kilowatt minute you use and when you use it?

The family -- Ozone Park people -- was not against technology.  Bubby was the first guy on his block with a tape recorder.  The parents were the first on the block to have a television, and we’d gather in their yard or on their porch to watch blurry black and white TV shows.

What, one wonders, would they think of technology that put people out of work and gave big corporations the inside scoop on when you run your flat-screen, your computer, your washing machine and your wireless telephone?

So, here’s to the memory of Bubby, a nice Italian boy from Southern Queens, a prince of labor with a clipboard and a green Packard Clipper and a welcoming smile.  A guy who could make a shut off notice seem like a birthday card.  A guy who could fudge the figures when you weren’t up to paying your bill.  Which, of course, he would never do.  Never.

I’m Wes Richards. My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to them.
Please address comments to wesrichards@gmail.com
© WJR 2013

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