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Con Edison meter readers gauge hidden lives of NYers

Kersha Brown, 30, a Con Ed meter reader

Kersha Brown, 30, a Con Ed meter reader Photo Credit: Kersha Brown, 30, a Con Ed meter reader (Marie Claire Andrea)

The rich decorate differently than you and me.

Kersha Brown, 30, knows this because as a “CFR” (customer field representative) for Con Edison, she reads gas and electric meters in one of the wealthiest neighborhoods in the world.

In addition to predilections for antiques and old world paintings, effulgent fresh flower arrangements that never decay and staircases winding heavenward inside multi-floor apartments, rich people “have lots of drapes,” noted Brown, a Con Ed meter reader for “C-Zone” – the area between 51st and 89th streets, from Central Park to the East River.

Rich people call curtains “window treatments,” observed Brown, who would very much like to treat the windows in her own Harlem one-bedroom to some floral silk extravagance.

With the passage of such figures as the milk man, Brown and the 450 other meter readers who service New York City and Westchester are among the last amateur anthropologists who have regular entrée to the crazy kaleidoscope of New York homes and basements.

Because our city has an old housing stock in which many gas and electric meters are inside “PDs” or “personal dwellings,” they see us in curlers, in the midst of meltdowns, in a panic to get to work, and in our loneliness.

“Some people get really personal,” Brown said. “They tell me about the deaths in their family.”

They see – up close and personal – the effects of a cratering economy as people are suddenly at home to let them in – or are no longer customers, as when service is shut off.

While Con Ed aims to read at least 89 precent of the city’s 4.7 million meters at least once a year, Kersha’s batting average is 96 percent. Her gender, she concedes, may be a boon in obtaining entry (18% of CFRS are female) but it can have disadvantages. When a man greets her at the door without clothes, Brown simply asks crisply, “could you please put something on?”

When meter readers get together, they trade anecdotes about trash-crammed apartments  and “worst basement ever” horror stories involving rats, fighting cocks, and raw sewage. At a posh Fifth Avenue apartment house, with a staff to equal a military operation, glue traps held two tiny pink mice, twitching desperately in their own La Brea Tar Pit-like Waterloos, surrounded by cockroaches the size of baby turtles.

“You got to get hard,” said Brown. “There’s no such thing as a bug-free basement.”

 

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