Temperatures dropped into the twenties in Connecticut last night, with many still without power a week after an October snow storm. I have a soft spot for two of the more blighted towns: My family moved to Bloomfield from New Jersey in 1972 amid the howls of our Siamese cat and the roar of the remnants of Hurricane Agnes. Roughly a year later, my life as an obnoxious, foul-mouth teenager ended when I became an obnoxious, clean-mouthed Jesus Freak. I often pedaled my bicycle over Talcott Mountain and into wealthy Simsbury, always hoping to meet one of the co-eds at Ethel Walker, a girls prep school. I never did, for which all can be grateful (How would I introduce myself? “Hi, I’m a born-again Christian and I have a strict morality. Wanna go out with me?”). I later worked in Simsbury as a YMCA day camp counselor, which I loved.
So I drove there this morning and snapped pictures. The traffic lights on Bloomfield’s main thoroughfare, Cottage Grove Road, were still out. Drivers made a lot of eye contact at the intersections, courteously yielded the right of way, and inched their way forward before crossing. I went to our old house, met the brother of its owner, whom I learned was a pastor like me. They still have no power and a few streets remain closed due to live wires. And then there was Simsbury, where I visited an old friend and tried to see another. A fallen line blocked me.
There will be investigations after the clean up — and I’m sure we’ll see fingers point and hear accusations and charges and explanations and, perhaps, excuses. Maybe we’ll even hear of lessons learned and procedures implemented.
We might begin by looking at the almighty bottom line and seeing it for what it is. Of course we must maintain fiscal discipline and never run a company at a deficit. But that line transforms into a venomous, coiling snake when we live for it. It rears its head and strikes. Admirable companies thrive to serve and view profits as a means to that end. Think of Steve Jobs, Henry Ford, and Hewlett and Packard: they loved their products. Lackluster firms merely exist to make money. It’s a matter of record: Connecticut Light and Power, the utility responsible for maintaining and repairing the lines, has slashed its budgets and work force while charging some of the highest rates in the nation. The profit margins looked good while that bottom line lay still, but Bloomfield and Simsbury — and Avon and Farmington and East Grandby and Suffield and others — have been bitten.
I refuse to question the personal motives of the company’s leaders. I’ve never met them. I know nothing of undercurrents in office politics or passive sabotage. Perhaps they’ve seen a wayward corporate culture; perhaps they’ve been fighting it tooth and nail. The question is: Can they take advantage of this moment and lead the utility into a vision of service? There’s a silver lining for them, if they can see it: some of the more impaired municipalities — such as Simsbury and nearby West Hartford — are also among Connecticut’s wealthiest. Rich people have influence. They get things done.
For more photos click here.