By David Kligman
People who visit New York generally do so as tourists—the Statue of Liberty, Empire State Building and a Broadway show. But few get to experience the city quite like PG&E’s 270 electric workers who are helping restore power following the devastating Hurricane Sandy.
Crews have been working 16-hour shifts – in Queens, Brooklyn and Long Island – to turn the lights back on.
Currents spoke with four PG&E employees who participated in the closing bell ceremony at the New York Stock Exchange on Thursday (Nov.8). PG&E joined representatives of other big companies, such as Home Depot, UPS and Coca-Cola, who are active in Sandy relief efforts.
Tim Bedford, a West Sacramento-based restoration and control manager, got to stand at the podium along with other companies recognized for their charity. The other employees—Merced lineman Blair Martin, Salinas troubleman Steve Harris and Stockton associate distribution engineer Roy Gaebel—watched from the stock exchange floor.
It was a unique experience for men who wear hard hats to work, not a shirt and tie. As they recounted, it has been more rewarding than they ever imagined.
Currents: What’s been the reaction of your family and friends?
Bedford: I’m already getting responses. My dad called me right away and I’ve been getting all kinds of emails and texts.
How did you guys get selected?
Martin: They made an announcement, we wrote our names out, dumped them into a hard hat and we drew names.
Three of you were actually on the floor of the stock exchange. What was that like?
Harris: We were right underneath the podium. We talked to a lot of them. They were telling us how thankful they were that we came to help them out. That’s what we do.
Martin: I never thought I’d be there. It was the farthest thing from my mind. If you’re a tourist you can’t just go there. There are several layers of security. It’s not something I’d normally get an opportunity to do, but it was a major experience. There’s a lot of history in that building. Everything that goes on in there affects the world.
Gaebel: It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
What has it been like working in New York?
Martin: Working here you get to see parts of the city I would never get to go. Even some of the places I wouldn’t want to go to are some of my best memories I’ll take back. The people are great. We would set up on a street and a guy pulls out a generator and puts on a coffee pot for us. It’s like being in the movies talking to the Con Ed employees. And I’m still not a Yankees fan even though our Con Ed guy is working us pretty hard. He still doesn’t have power but he said his wife is going to make me cannolis as soon as the power comes back on at his house.
What are the customers like?
Harris: I never really had any desire to come to New York but it’s actually pretty nice. They bring us coffee, donuts. They even try to give me wine and booze and I’ve had to decline those. The people are really happy to get the power on. They come out, clap, say thank you. They’re just happy to see you because they’ve been out of power four or five days.
You guys are working 16-hour shifts. How long does it take you to get back to your hotel each night?
Harris: Miles wise, it’s not far but minutes wise it is. It takes about a half hour. Every day we load up in our bus at 5 a.m. get back around 8 p.m., eat dinner, go to sleep, wake up and do it again.
Email David Kligman at email@example.com.