The Boston Diaries

The ongoing saga of a programmer who doesn't live in Boston, nor does he even like Boston, but yet named his weblog/journal “The Boston Diaries.”

Go figure.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Yeah … I'm walking kind of funny now …

Due to Hurricane Wilma, then the holiday season, we ended up being just a wee bit behind in our electrical bill. In discussing this last night, it was decided that I would pay the outstanding amount on the way to work today. There's a gas station about a mile or so that one can pay their utility bills. I was expecting this to take only a few minutes or so.

I arrive at said gas station and I'm the only customer. I hand over the bill to the cashier who starts running it through some device (to read the account and amount off the numbers written in magnetic ink along the bottom), then punching lots of buttons, then running it through again, then punching numbers, then marking up the bill with incompresensible hieroglyphics, running it through again, then violently jabbing a pin-infested cloth doll; pins are falling out and bouncing off the counter top. Minutes go by, and the cashier finally turns to me.

“I'm sorry,” the cashier said. “But the bill is being rejected.”

“Rejected?” Oh XXXX, I thought. They've already cut our account and are releasing the hounds thugs collection agents as I stand here.

“Yes, we always have problems with Lake Worth Utilities,” said the cashier, glancing towards the cloth doll. “No problems with any other company. But Lake Worth Utilties.”

Lake Worthless Utilties?” I said.

“Pretty much.”

“Ah.”

“You can pay at the City Hall. Just down Lake Worth Avenue. Down by Dixie Highway.”

“Which side of the street?”

“North side. You can't miss it.”

“Thanks.”

Couldn't miss it because the traffic lined up down the block in front of the Lake Worth City Hall Annex, waiting paitently to pay their bills in the drive-through.

Not wanting to bother with that, I park across the street, and head into the Lake Worth Cith Hall Annex building.

I don't know that it is about government buildings, but every single one is painted in Institutional Paint. It's not a single particular shade of color—sometimes a pale green, other times a jaundiced yellow, or a pale flesh tone—but the shades themselves are never bright, always dull, like it's been there forever, and will remain there forever, eternally dingy. The Lake Worth Cith Hall Annex is a pale flesh color (maybe even a sickly peach color) headed towards a dull beige.

Soul sucking, is what it is.

There's a main hallway that shoots through the Lake Worth City Hall Annex building, and lined up down this hall is a line of people, waiting to get into the Utilties office in the center of the building. A real life Kurgan walks down the hall, deciding he'll come back on Thursday. A cute girl ahead of me in line is wearing a shirt, “I may not be perfect, but parts of me are AWSOME” and yes, parts of her are awsome. At least it keeps my mind of the numbing wait in line.

Half an hour later, I'm actually in the Utilties office, still waiting in line. The cashier window is on the other side of the room where a single person is working. I assume there is at least one other person working the drive though, since I don't see the cashier leave the desk.

Half an hour later, I'm the next in line. At this point, I see they take credit cards, but just past, far enough that it's hard to read is a sheet of paper with the word “VeriCheck” written across the top. The sign nearby that shows that Lake Worth Utilties accepts credit cards also has the word “VeriCheck” across it. I step over to the sheet of paper, keeping my leg stretched out with my toe marking my spot in line, and scan the sheet of paper.

It's a list of fees.

It's a list of fees one will pay for the “convenience” of paying your grossly inflated Lake Worth Utility bill with your credit card (or in my case, a debit card).

What a XXXXXXX racket, I think. The “fee” to “conveniently” pay with your “credit card” is a “measly” 5%.

XXXXXXX XXXXXXXX!

“Do you understand that there is a fee if you pay with your credit card,” said the cashier when it was my turn to pay.

“Not like I have any other choice,” I said. Notice how the signs giving the fee structure was posted next to the cashier, and not, say, out in the hall or near the door, when I might have been able to do something about it. Now, after an hour?

The cashier then mentions the fee. “Are you sure you want to continue paying?”

Not really, but then you're less inclined to continue our electrical supply, so here, let me bend over, I thought. What I said was, “Yes. No other choice really.”

“Splendid,” said the cashier, taking my bill and debit card.

Splendid indeed.

Now, I don't see this as a fault of capitalism. No, this is a fault of a government mandated monopoly that is nothing less than coercion. FPL, for all their faults, is at least working with economies of scale and are able to charge about half that of Lake Worth Utilties.

Although on my way out, I did warn a few people about the fees awaiting them, if they so choose to use plastic to pay. At least one guy started on about taxation without representation, so maybe there's hope yet …

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