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Long IslandColumnistsJoye Brown

How many calls does it take to get the lights turned back on?

A utility crew restores power to angry residents

A utility crew restores power to angry residents on Spring Street in Cold Spring Harbor as promised by supervisor Terrence Dowd, after homeowners blocked a previous crew from leaving, Aug. 11. Credit: Jeff Bachner

Where were you when the lights went out?

Alyssa Nightingale was changing the sheets on her mom's hospital bed. She didn't think much when the electricity went poof; after all, Tropical Storm Isaias was coming through, hammering Long Island with punishing wind and rain.

How many calls did you make trying to get somebody at PSEG Long Island to estimate when the darkness, the heat, the rapidly warming foodstuffs — and a whole lot more — would end?

Nightingale said she tried to report the outage, but everything, including internet and phone service, went dead. And, she said, she wasn't about to leave the house or her mother, Gisela.

"At that point, you know,I was concerned, because I couldn't have her getting up at night in the dark, getting injured or hurt or breaking something," said Nightingale, who works in public relations.

Many people tried to use PSEG's text-message system, but Nightingale took to her phone.

On Aug. 5, Nightingale started calling.

And calling. And calling.

Over six days, she said, she ended up making two shy of 50 phone calls.

And that's a conservative number — because it doesn't include the times she punched PSEG-LI's number into her phone but couldn't get a connection.

"I went kind of crazy," Nightingale said. "There came a point where I said, no, no, no, I have had enough, I am going to get through to somebody, anybody and get some answers," she said.

To that end, Nightingale often would get into her car and hunt, first for stronger cellphone service — and, later, for PSEG-LI service trucks.

But let's not get too far ahead.

Nightingale was changing the bed on the afternoon of Aug. 4 because her mother had been released recently from the hospital. Because of COVID-19, Nightingale and doctors had decided that home was the best place for mom to recover from an infection unrelated to the virus, Nightingale said.

Luckily, mother and daughter live next door to each other, on Spring Street, in Cold Spring Harbor.

That's a lot of springs, but they have a place in this saga because the homes — like many of the historic buildings in the area — were built over springs. Thus, they rely on pumps to keep water from the springs from accumulating in the basement.

On Aug. 5, she made three calls — and got through, she said, to report the outages.

At Newsday's request, Nightingale shared records from her cellphone.

It shows that she started out small — with the three calls to PSEG-LI's 1-800 on Aug. 5.

On Aug, 6, Nightingale called eight times.

On Aug. 7, she called seven.

One day later, she ended up calling 12 times.

The day after, 11.

Then came 8 more calls, on Aug. 10.

But it wasn't just the volume of calls, it was time — a total of 438 minutes, which works out to 7.3 hours.

Her shortest time on the line was one minute. The longest was an hour and five minutes, her records show.

Did you ever get through, not to a recording but to a living PSEG-LI representative?

Nightingale did — several times, in fact, when she ended up talking to PSEG-LI reps including Jay and Christina and Katie.

That's not to say she didn't spend time on hold before getting disconnected; that happened a few times, including after a 31-minute wait that ended when she was cut off.

Nightingale got crafty. When prompted, she didn't press any of the options — and ended up getting real people on the other end of the phone.

"They would tell me one thing, then another and then promise one thing and another," she said.

A few times, at the end of a call, she was prompted to answer a company survey.

She said she savaged PSEG-LI's service in the ratings, "but I made sure to give the reps high marks because they were doing the best that they could, and it wasn't their fault we kept getting different estimates, that we weren't getting power."

On Aug. 8, the power went on in her mom's house.

She remembers it well — because she'd tried to reach PSEG-LI at 2:19 a.m., and again at 2:23 a.m.

Nightingale grabbed a flashlight and made her way next door, hoping to hear pumps working.

There still was silence.

So Nightingale remained with her mother.

And that was a good thing. It meant Nightingale could cease her daily hunt for cellphone and Wi-Fi service, which had taken her first to a location outside a Starbucks on Main Street in downtown Huntington (no good); to a darkened Dunkin’ Donuts on Southdown Road (also no good); to a Dunkin’ Donuts on Route 25A in Northport (nope); and finally to success outside an office building not too far from her home.

"I don't know," she said, "but as awful as it was for us, I kept thinking, over and over, how awful it was for people who didn't have cars, who couldn't make calls, who couldn't get their work done.

"It made me angry," she said.

She grew angrier once she began to see PSEG-LI officials on television.

"They kept spouting numbers, rather than saying, hey, we accept that we messed up and it's going to be a while and maybe you need to make other arrangements," she said. "They kept giving estimates, and we kept believing them, but I'd go out when they were supposed to be there and they weren't there, and I would drive around looking, and couldn't find anyone out there, either."

Where were you when the lights came on? For Nightingale, it was two days after her mother's.

Nightingale was sitting on a retaining wall, across the street from her cottage — after a neighbor had blocked a PSEG truck.

She sat there, on Aug. 11, watching as a line was repaired. 

Nightingale didn't go inside her cottage, she said, until after another neighbor had confirmed the return of electrical power.

She'd been out for eight days.

PSEG Chief Operating Officer Dave Eichhorn, has acknowledged the frustration of PSEG-LI's customers.

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