Tales Of The Rare And Skittish Utility Truck

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If you’re one of the unlucky ones still without power, the sight of an electric company truck in your neighborhood feels like Christmas morning and prom night put together. And given the tales of crews working 16-hour days to help get Houston back online, one would think such trucks would be ubiquitous in areas that are still suffering outages.

My assignment today was to find one of these crews and hang out with the workers for a bit – check out what these gruff, hard-hat-sporting angels of electric light get up to when they’re out on the job. Sounded easy enough – the CenterPoint media relations employee whom I talked to assured me crews were “everywhere.”

Problem was, an hour of driving around the West Loop near Highway 59 yielded nothing but a couple of CenterPoint gas line repair trucks and dozens of tree-removal crews. My dreams of getting hoisted up in a cherry-picker, liability issues be damned, were fading fast.

Those dreams were soon revived, though, when I saw a CenterPoint electricity repair crew pull out of the dispatch center on Bissonnet near Newcastle. I trailed the truck as it rumbled on to the West Loop South. Followed it as it took the curve onto the South Loop, where the city’s electric billboards inform drivers that Galveston Island is closed to the public. Puzzled at the fact that the truck exited at Reliant Stadium and then re-entered the freeway, retracing its steps.

Things got stranger when the truck I’d been following for 15 minutes apparently began trying to shake me. At first I didn’t know what to make of the false signals – indicating a left and quickly darting back to the right, for example. I couldn’t imagine what they thought the lone guy following them in a black Hyundai was going to pull.

My cherry-picker dreams were soon replaced by Popeye Doyle fantasies. I considered how I would break the news to my boss at the Press that I’d decided to quit and become a cop. I gave myself pretty high marks mid-chase – how could the driver of a giant diesel truck with a massive apparatus stuck on top expect to lose me?

It was about that time the driver of a giant diesel truck with a massive apparatus stuck on top lost me. He exited onto Bissonnet, heading back toward the dispatch center. I expected the truck to pull in the parking lot – instead, the driver took a sharp left in front of traffic and darted down a side street, leaving me waiting for the cars to clear before I could follow suit. Thirty seconds passed; the crew was gone.

There’s an important lesson here. Electricity repair crews are not as common of a sight as you’d hope, at least not east of the Galleria and in the Heights, where I later looked to no avail. And if you do happen to see one on your block, for God’s sake, don’t make any sudden movements – they’re as skittish as stray kittens and they can drive like goddamn moon shiners on the run from the law.

Blake Whitaker

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