Power Lines

I don't try to complicate things. Really I don't.

When setting up the utilities in our new house last week, I made only one decision that struck me as somewhat out of the ordinary -- we're going with Vonage for our phone service instead of Bell South. The phone works over the internet instead of over the phone lines. $25 a month instead of $50. Big whoop.

To do this all you need is a Vonage modem, which they send you, which you hook up to your regular modem and then to your phone, then you... I won't go into it. My wife, like you I imagine, despises hearing about the processes and infrastructure necessary for these sorts of arrangements to work.

Suffice it to say that late in my deciding process I found out we can't hook up the satellite tv until we hook up the phone (it needs to dial out every so often to verify stuff), and we can't hook up the phone until we hook up the internet, and we can't hook up the internet until we hook up electricity, which requires calling such and such number between these certain hours, and all this stuff drives Penelope absolutely batty.

And it's not just machines -- bureaucratic red tape, required orders of operation, title insurance, twelve-minute airport layovers sixteen gates apart, mandatory electronics restocking fees -- all these and more can be counted on to infuriate my lovely Lope. She rails against them at every turn, and she's even got a battle cry.

"Power lines!" she'll yell, pounding her palm with a fist for emphasis.

She sees the world as a bundled mass, bound together by its power lines. She'll study those space photos in detail and show you a greenish blue orb trying to whirl itself apart, holding steady only barely, and only because it's trussed up with so much baling wire.

She'll point to the seemingly infinite lines of posts we pass on the highway, waving off toward the distance where the string of poles shrinks to matchsticks and disappears over the horizon. "See?" she'll say. "Power lines."

Even underwater, I suppose, Lope would sit at the submarine porthole and show me how our web of cabling snakes across the ocean floor and keeps the continents from drifting too far.

So yesterday, when she and I sat down in the attorney's office to close on our new house, watched him shut the door behind us and listened quietly as he outlined the potential snag that could ruin everything and cancel the whole deal, we shouldn't have been too surprised that it came down to power lines.

"There is an easement issue, you see, with the pool and the electric company..." he explained. "According to this 1988 survey it would have to be outside a twenty-foot distance usable at their discretion, but if you look at *this*, more recent survey, it seems to be *ten* feet, which would be five feet on either side of their service zone, so there's the issue of the precise location of the concrete pool decking, and you can't really tell from this document because it's been crumpled up and photocopied... so there could be a chance they could come in later and force you to *move the pool*..."

Lope squeezed my leg hard under the table, muttering obscenities under her breath. I exhaled deeply and kept listening.

And then, twenty minutes later, when I found myself in the passenger seat of our realtor's Lincoln, heading over to the home site with ruler in hand to determine *precisely* how far the outer lip of the pool sits from the electric company's zone of influence, I still shouldn't have been too surprised.

It would just figure, you know, that this move from Indiana to South Carolina, our journey of 600 miles across the country, should ultimately come down to a foot and a half.

Eighteen inches. That's how much the clearance ended up being. According to our best measurements, verified by photographic images (available upon request) taken with the lawyer's digital camera, there is one foot and six inches between the edge of the water and the imaginary "easement" area which could be appropriated from us at any moment.

So big sigh of relief.

But my *goodness*... yesterday's ordeal had me on the same page with Lope, definitely. "Why must this all be so *complicated*?" I repeated again and again in my head.

Then I remembered the flip side of her analogy: these lines of Lope's don't just bind the world up. They aren't how you picture them sometimes, cinched almost to the breaking point and strangling each plain and prairie. It's not quite like that.

They also connect things. Bring power. Light. Heat. Phone calls, for heaven's sake. I must acknowledge that our connection to the outside world from our new house will be through wires -- most likely those exact wires that caused us so much grief yesterday.

The hand-wringing in the attorney's office was only to protect us from future surprises. The requirement that we go to the water company's office in person instead of just calling to order service is to prevent mix-ups and unintended shut-offs, like the ones caused recently by some kids' phone pranks. The internet/tv/phone thing is a pain in the ass, sure, but I go through the irritation because I expect in the end it'll be worth it, and it *is* pretty neat to be able to get information and entertainment and conversation with loved ones inexpensively, via satellite and a thin cord of black cable buried in the ground.

I finally got it. And though I still intend to curse mightily every time I get tangled in christmas lights, I'm now okay with wires.

When it was all over, and all the papers were signed and witnessed and notarized and the blood started circulating in my leg again, I saw the true nature of Penelope's power lines. They can be restrictive sometimes, and frustrating certainly, but they also do exactly what she says they do: They hold things together.

And in the end, that's probably worth the trouble.


Anonymous said...

Powerlines Schmowerlines! Invent a new source of energy, Colin! You're smart enough. I'm glad the five of you are getting settled. The really important news, in my humble opinion as an aunt to three adorable animals is, how are the boys?!?

penelope said...

I am not sure they are worth the trouble. But I am VERY happy that it needs to be gone through only once every few years and not monthly or even yearly. Then it would definitely NOT be worth it.

I am "not it!" next time we need to set everything up. I'm calling it right now. :)