Things fall apart: Losing heat, water during Polar Vortex

It falls apart

By Tracey Morris
Motor City Muckraker

June 17, 2013:
I have a voice mail message from “Tabitha with DTE” coming from a number that does not show up on my caller ID as a DTE number. She claims to have a report of an outdoor gas leak at my address. I didn’t call in a gas leak, nor did anyone else here. I call the DTE customer service number to report what’s going on. I’m transferred between and share my experience with four different departments, including DTE’s security office. Each time I’m told the number provided was not a DTE number and the call is a hoax. One rep even said to file a police report, which I do. I also block the number.

December 13th:
I receive a hand addressed letter from “Tabitha” dated December 9th and postmarked December 11th. The unsigned letter says my gas meter needs to be moved outside, that workers will do the work on November 24th, and my gas will be shut off if I don’t comply. The contact number listed on the unsigned letter is the one DTE told me was not theirs back in June. I’m now frustrated and scared.

December 14th:
I contact DTE again. I’m told by customer service the number and letter are a hoax. The rep I speak to transfers me to DTE’s security office to file a complaint. After giving the security officer the phone number and address listed on the letter, I’m told this is not a hoax. When I relay what happened in June and say I don’t know what to believe, the officer huffily replies, “I don’t know what else to tell you.” I then call the number listed on the letter. Tabitha answers. I share my entire story with her, asking why DTE’s customer service does not list her number as one of theirs, why her number does not show up on caller ID as a DTE number, and why a letter dated December 9th references a November appointment. Her answer to all the questions is a flat, “I don’t know.” She insists the work request is legitimate and work should only take two hours.

December 30th:
Approx. 10:00 a.m. Two DTE repair techs show up at my duplex with two new meters, a backhoe, the largest spool of bright yellow flexible line I’ve ever seen, and a van full of heavy duty tools. They tell me they’re replacing a corroded gas line outside along with the meter move, but insist the work will only take a couple of hours and that my gas will only be off for an hour. Their truck and equipment partially blocks the street, which means the city’s promised snow plows may have to pass my block by.

Approx. 1:00 p.m. Something heavy falls in the basement, triggering a keypad alert on my burglar alarm. This is especially disturbing because I had my alarm off so the workers could come and go as needed. It takes about four tries before the alert stops.

Approx. 2:30 p.m. One of the workers comes up from my basement and asks, “Umm, are you the homeowner?” He shows me a couple of fist-sized holes in the chimney vent that need to be patched to prevent a possible carbon monoxide leak.

Approx. 3:30 p.m. The DTE workers announce that, while the install for the upstairs flat was done, my meter could not be installed because there was a leak in my system they could not find. I’m told I need a plumber to pressure test on my gas pipes. Once the leak was found and fixed, the meter could be installed. I ask if my home protection plan, which I pay about $20 a month for on my gas bill, will cover the work. It won’t. I’m left with no heat, hot water, and no cooking gas in the depths of the polar vortex.

Approx. 3:45 p.m. A plow comes down my street, clearing a path through the snow. Thank goodness the work on my house didn’t negatively impact the entire neighborhood.

cold cold coldApprox. 4:30 p.m. The temperature in my house has dropped to 48 degrees. I contact a plumber, but he can’t come out until end of the week. I try to arm my burglar alarm, but can’t get it to respond. I call the response center and schedule a repair, which I’m told will cost about $200. I put every blanket I have on my bed, rush out to buy a space heater, and plan to spend as much time as possible in my mom’s flat.

January 4th:
I call Tabitha at DTE to ask about reimbursement for my alarm repair, but get her voice mail. I leave a message. The plumber calls to say his current job is running long, and he can’t come until tomorrow.

January 5th:
The plumber manages to make it through a record snowstorm to start work. His pressure test finds not one, but roughly ten leaks in my gas line. Some pipes could be repaired, but others, along with fittings on my water heater and furnace, had to be replaced. The repairs take nearly six hours and all of my savings. When he leaves, I contact DTE’s emergency number to schedule my meter install. I’m told a worker will arrive sometime tomorrow afternoon.

January 6th:
Approx. 4:15 p.m. The DTE worker, after installing the meter and going in my basement to light the pilot on furnace and water heater, asks me, “Do you know your water heater’s busted?” He points to a steady drip and a small puddle of water. He says it seems the heater was damaged from the outside. I ask if my home protection plan will cover a repair. It won’t because the heater will likely have to be replaced. I call my plumber, who assures me he’ll be over later that evening. He never shows.

January 7th:
My mom and I call the plumber several times. Our calls go right to voice mail. I call Tabitha at DTE again. This time she answers. When I ask about alarm repair reimbursement, she tells me there’s a form I have to complete and DTE will decide if the expense qualifies for reimbursement. She says she’ll arrange to have the form mailed to me “soon” and reimbursement could take “several weeks.”

January 8th:
Approx. 2:00 p.m. The plumber calls my mom back. He says he’ll be over that evening and to make sure someone will be home. He never shows or calls me or my mother.

January 9th:
I get a referral for another plumber, who confirms I need a new water heater. I borrow money from my mom and brother-in-law to cover the cost of the equipment and installation.

January 10th:
The water pump in my sister’s truck fails. We come to the conclusion that water hates my family.

January 11th:
Approx. 8:30 a.m. The new plumber arrives and disconnects the broken water heater before heading out to a previously scheduled job. He arranges to meet me at the hardware store later that evening to help me pick up the new heater.

Approx. 6:30 p.m. As my brother-in-law and I are warming up my car, Mr. No Call-No Show plumber pulls up and starts walking towards my car. He apologizes, saying he’s been busy, but he now has “a little time to see what was going on” with my water heater. I send him home as politely as I can.

Approx. 8:00 p.m. The plumber and my brother-in-law manage to fit a 62” water heater into the back of my Kia Soul. We drive home from the hardware store on unplowed Detroit streets. A trip that should take about 15 minutes takes about 40 minutes.

Approx. 9:45 p.m. The new water heater is installed. I’m flat broke, but it seems my troubles are now behind me.

January 13th:
I get calls from both plumbers. The plumber who did the water heater install asks if everything is working well and apologizes for not calling the day before. He tells me to call if I have any questions or if anything seems wrong. Mr. No Call-No Show plumber butt dialed my number, leaving a three minute long message on my voice mail consisting of him changing radio stations in his car.

January 14th:
My sister gets her truck back. She’s flat broke, but it seems her troubles are finally behind her.

January 18th:
The repair tech from my alarm company has to replace my glass break sensor, which was improperly mounted when initially installed. The bad install job lead to the false alarm problem I had during the gas meter install. I throw away the DTE reimbursement form. I give my brother-in law half the money I owe him, which he promptly uses to replace the failing battery in my sister’s truck. They’re flat broke, but it seems their troubles are finally behind them.

January 20th:
Approx. 5:15 a.m. I awake in a panic because I swear I hear a funny sound coming from my furnace. I mute my TV and listen carefully but I don’t hear the sound any more. I just chalk it up to nerves.

Approx 10:30 p.m. The house feels chilly. My thermostat is set for 70 degrees, but the temperature is about 67 degrees. I turn the heat up to 72 degrees and go to sleep.

unnamed-1January 21st:
Approx. 7:30 a.m. The house is cold and my furnace is making a weird whirring sound. I check the thermostat, and the temperature in the house is about 60 degrees. Here we go again. I call DTE and am told a repair tech is not available until tomorrow afternoon between 12:00 noon and 4:30 p.m.

Approx. 6:00 p.m. The temperature in the house is about 67 degrees, but the furnace sounds like a freight train. I wonder if it will make it through the night.

January 22nd:
Approx. 4:00 p.m.: DTE calls to say repairs are “running a bit behind,” but I’m still on their schedule for the day.

Approx. 6:00 p.m. My brother-in-law literally carries my mother, who is suffering from hip pain so bad she can’t walk, out of the house so she can go to the doctor. My sister drives my car, which sits lower than hers, through snow drifts in our yard so the passenger door is at the foot of our front porch. As they’re getting her into the car, the repair tech calls to say he’ll arrive in about 15 minutes.

Approx. 6:15 p.m. The repair tech shows. He says. After doing some preliminary work, he tells me my blower motor was going, but he has a replacement. I ask him if my home protection plan will cover the repair. When he says yes, I give him a big hug and ask if he’s done for the night. He says no, and that he’s been working 18 hour days for weeks because of the weather. He has no idea when this schedule will end. I wish him well as he heads out for his next job.

Approx. 9:00 p.m. I get a text message from my mom. She’s had a gout attack, likely exacerbated by the diuretics she takes because of a kidney condition. It’s official. Water in all forms hates my family. She’s given a pain shot and medicine to relieve the swelling. She’ll need to be flat on her back for a couple of days, but the doctor assures her after that, all her troubles will be behind her. When they get home, we give each other a big hug.

Tracey Morris

Tracey Morris is the author of, “You Said You Wanted to See Me Naked: An Autobiographical Poem Cycle.” Her work has recently been published by Rust Belt Chic Press, and she was a finalist in the 2013 Springfed Arts Writing Contest.