A huge black Newfoundland dog lumbered toward me and I knew my life was over. Supposedly a person’s life flashes before their eyes when they face death. I only managed to wonder if massive amounts of dog slobber were toxic. I furiously clicked my handy-dandy dog zapper but it didn’t faze him.
He skidded to a stop two feet from me and underneath the slobber, I swear he grinned.
“He just wanted some attention,” my husband suggested when I told him later. “So what did you do?”
“Got back in the car. You’ll have to go back and read their meter.”
“I can’t keep reading meters every time a dog scares you,” Keith said in exasperation. “If you want to keep this job, you need thicker skin.”
Ah, well, there you have it. If I want to keep this job. Some months I’m not so sure. I’d landed this crazy job to generate a little extra income. For driving to every house in our township once a month and reading 127 electric meters, I earn roughly $100 a month. Subtracting $20 for gas and vehicle wear and tear, and provided I finished in four hours, I make $20 an hour.
Meter reading looked easy enough. Our old meter reader drove to our power pole, read the meter, and drove away. He didn’t even get out of the car. Piece of cake, I thought. Nothing to it. When our township’s meter reading job opened up, I applied, blissfully unaware that not all meters are created equal.
The first clue this might be more than I bargained for should have been that my predecessor had quit in December. I started February 1, on an unseasonably warm winter morning, so didn’t discover for nine more months how unpleasant meter reading is in subzero weather.
I was shocked that some meters were harder than ours to read.
Some meters are behind people’s houses or buildings. Some are in a field. That means I have to get out of the car to read them, which is only a problem in the aforementioned freezing weather, or if the homeowner has a scary dog.
Halfway through my first day, after climbing over fences, dodging goats, slogging through mud, walking behind a stinky hog barn, and being scared by dogs, I thought, “Angie, you idiot.”
REC provided a dog zapper that makes a noise only dogs can hear and don’t like, and a can of mace, in case the zapper doesn't work. What had I gotten myself into?
I told Keith about my first day. He rolled his eyes. “I suppose you’ll want me to go with you.”
What a great idea. Then he could climb fences, slog through mud, and handle scary dogs. I even offered to share my “easy money.”
The second month, Keith and I set out, armed with dog zapper, mace, binoculars, and dog treats. I was tickled we finished in four hours, until I realized technically, that’s more like eight, which means we only made $10 an hour.
Keith took me home and said he’d finish the route on his way into town. He called twenty minutes later.
“Could Andrew (our son) come pull me out of the ditch?”
“What do you think happened? I went in the ditch.”
“I was doing your job for you and misjudged my turn and slid into the ditch.”
Hmmpf! My job. If he gets half the money, it’s his job too. Serves him right.
We settled into a monthly routine, which worked great until the first time Keith couldn’t go.
“But what about the dog houses?” I wailed.
“Do them yourself.”
“You could do them on your way into town,” I reasoned. “Call me with the numbers and I’ll do the rest.”
“Just this once, and then you need to learn not to be afraid.”
Hah! Easier said than done. I considered telling REC their meter reading ads don’t give near enough information. They need a disclaimer: "Wimpy women afraid of dogs need not apply.”
Finally the dreaded day arrived. Keith couldn’t go with me, and I couldn’t, for love or money, talk him into doing the dog houses on the way into town. He used the lame excuse he was going a different direction.
“They aren’t as bad as you think. Show the dogs who’s boss,” Keith advised. "Don’t let them know you’re afraid. The Harper’s dog won’t hurt you. He’s just big, dumb, and stupid.”
Big, dumb, and stupid. Big, dumb, and stupid, I kept telling myself. I warily opened the car door and started towards the house. The stupid dog jumped on me and growled. Keith said the dog wouldn’t hurt me, but he looked even bigger up close.
We played a variation of Mother, May I? “Big, dumb, and stupid dog, may I read your meter?”
“No, you may not,” he growled. Turns out he wasn’t so stupid after all. He saw right through my not letting him know I was scared act. His alpha dog instincts kicked in as he smelled my fear and wouldn’t let me onto to his property.
I explained all this in great detail to Keith that afternoon.
“So what did you do?” he asked suspiciously.
“Maybe you wouldn’t mind reading it for me?”
He muttered unprintable words and left to read the meter.
Besides Big, Dumb, and Stupid and the slobbering Newfoundland with his speeding train imitation, the dogs that scared me most were Rex, the big German shepherd down the road who tolerated Keith but growled at me, the Hank the Cowdog wannabe next door, the evil Dalmatian two miles east, a vicious mutt two miles west that scared even Keith, and two obnoxious car-chasing Collies who lived around the corner.
After two years we’d seen it all. We’d been stuck in snow three times, and mud two times. We’d seen dead fly-infested bloated pigs piled by a power box. Once we returned the meter reading book and forgot to read our own meter.
Over time meter reading got easier. The evil Dalmatian was put down for biting the Propane man. We learned how to sneak up on Rex the German Shepherd. Big, Dumb, and Stupid moved to Idaho. The drooling Newfoundland died. (His owners said he went deaf; that’s why the dog-zapper hadn’t bothered him.)
Keith and I split the route, although I suspect not evenly since he finished in two hours and I finished in three. But he did the dog houses including two huge bull mastiffs that moved in that last summer.
I rejoiced the day REC called to regretfully inform me they no longer needed my services as the system had been automated. I was elated to be out of a job as I had long since decided that some things just aren’t worth the money. Especially after Keith broke the news to me that we didn’t actually make any money. Our electric bill averaged $100 a month so we had basically broke even.
Moral of the story: Only buy nice dogs, don’t put a meter on the back of your house, and think twice before taking an “easy” job.