Monday, November 1, 2010

Trick or Treat?

Late last night, near midnight, my wife Gloria and I walked into our kitchen and smelled gas. There had been previous occasions when we’d wondered if we were smelling gas, but then we’d stop and smell some more and think… nah, there’s nothing wrong.

Last night, there was no doubt. We smelled gas and we called the gas company for emergency service.

A man and a woman from Peoples Gas arrived relatively quickly, but then proceeded to treat us in a horrific manner. We explained that we smelled something like the smell of rotten eggs, and the man said, “Our gas doesn’t smell like rotten eggs. We put Mercaptan in it.”

Wikipedia tells me that Mercaptan is “a colorless gas with a smell like rotten cabbage.” So, I guess we were wrong. But, what you need to understand is the tone with which the man asserted that their gas didn’t smell like rotten eggs. It was derisive, haughty, and, frankly, insulting. As if we were idiots to describe that – threatening – smell in such a way. And, neither he nor his partner would let this faux pas go – they kept saying things like, “It doesn’t smell like rotten eggs” and “You don’t know what you’re talking about” and “We’ll determine whether or not there is any problem here,” etc. – all with that same, curiously hostile and dismissive attitude.

The man had a device with him to check for leaking gas, a handheld instrument with a tube attached to it, something like a Geiger counter. It clicked slowly, perhaps at one-second intervals, when there was no unexpected presence of gas, but clicked quite rapidly when there was a significant amount of gas present. When he steered the end of the tube behind our gas stove, it went ballistic, clicking like mad.

We had a gas leak.

This meant that the duo had to check all gas appliances in the house as well as the source of the gas coming into our house. Down to the basement we went – water heaters, fine; incoming gas line (in our tenants’ apartment), fine; upstairs gas fireplace, fine. Throughout all of these additional checks, they continued to be hostile and dismissive of my and my wife’s concerns. They did, in the end, replace the flexible hose leading from the gas valve to the back of our stove, but I doubt I will ever understand why they were so rude to us.

Discovering that you have gas leaking in your house late at night is rather troubling and worrisome. In that, well… the house could have blown up!

The kicker? The literature that they left with us after we signed to cover the bill contains the following line: “Peoples Gas adds an odorant (Mercaptan) that smells like sulfur or rotten eggs to alert you in the event of a gas leak.”

Maybe they should tell their workers that.