A big part of my job was collections, no I wasn’t the guy who called you up on the phone to discuss payment arrangements nor was I the one sending out those bills threatening to shut you off, I was actually the guy who came knocking on the door and either collected the past due amount or I was supposed to shut your water off, and by doing this job I ran into a wide range of people both good and bad. Before I went out to collect from a customer the water company always placed a reminder notice on their doors giving them a couple of days to come in and pay, if they didn’t come in then I got to be the bad guy so to say and come knocking on the door.
One man I met doing this job was a motorcycle mechanic, a large man who deep down was a good guy who I really liked, it seemed I was at his house every month and most of the time I ended up shutting his water off, even though I would give him a chance to gather his money by placing his order to the bottom of my stack and coming back a little later in the day, a lot of time he would actually come up with the money and other times it didn’t work in his favor, but never did he treat me bad nor blame me for it, he did however know exactly when the reminder notices were due and would chain his German Shepherd dog on the front porch making it impossible for anyone to get to his door, most times I went to collect this dog would be chained on the porch, I always walked right up and patted the dog on the head and knocked on the door, he would open the door and grin saying, Hell Jimmy I knew it had to be you because you are the only one he will let on the porch.
I had a female supervisor who decided she wanted to ride along with me to see how well I knew my job, she followed me up to each persons home and stood behind me to listen and note how I treated the customers, before we ever got to this mans house I suggested she stay in the truck and let me collect this one by myself, she wanted to know why and I told her first thing is I don’t think you could get by the dog, second thing is he is a pretty big man and will answer the door in his underwear, he will either pay or tell me that he can’t and I will shut his water off if that case, simple as that, she explained that there was no way I could know this and that she would be going up to his door, I just grinned.
Pulling up to the house the dog was chained on the porch, he saw me and started wagging his tail, my supervisor opened the door and started getting out of the truck, I said for the last time you need to stay in the truck, she popped off you are forgetting who is boss here, I said just remember I warned you, I leaned on the truck and watched her walk toward the house only to retreat rather quickly with the German Shepherd growling and barking loudly as he chased her to the end of his chain, flustered she suggested calling animal control, I didn’t say a word as I walked up to the dog and patted him on the head and knocked on the door, the customer opened the door in his Fruit of the looms and grinned saying who is the gal in the truck, I told him it is my supervisor coming out to see what I do, he laughed saying I see she couldn’t get past the dog, as I said before I always liked this guy.
Another regular customer was a woman who had several grown kids that all lived at home, they were either involved with a local gang or wanted to give the impression they were, I think the latter and they were a lot of trouble, most times they just gave me a hard time, making comments like I was the bad guy coming there to pick on them, there were always minor threats and they would always try to lure me into the house wanting me to call the office to try and make arrangements for them to pay at a later date, at this point they were already coming up on three months behind and I always communicated with the office via radio so I had no need to go inside.
On one particular day I got an order for their address, I told customer service no matter what you do I don’t need to go inside their house to talk with you on the phone, if you need to talk with me do it by radio, needless to say when I got there the first thing I was met with was a whole porch full of young men, I asked to speak with the customer whose name was on my order and the heckling began, I walked through the crowd and knocked on the door with cussing and threats coming from behind me, the customer wanted to make arrangements and called the office, next thing I know she is asking me to come inside and speak with them on the phone, I went back to my truck and radioed the office and was told that I needed to get on the phone, against my better judgment I did and was told to give them a couple more days to pay to which I suggested that it was a bad idea, I hung up the phone and headed for the door where I was immediately surrounded.
About five young men had me blocked, one was right in my face saying that they were going to take all my money and my truck because I was giving their “Moms” a hard time, they then proceeded to threaten that they were going to kick my ass and cut me to make sure that I would never be coming around there anymore. In the background I could hear the office calling my unit number on the radio, I couldn’t get to my truck to answer them nor ask for help since I was trapped so to say, at this point I was scared but I knew to not let them see it, so I looked this young man right in the eye and began laughing loudly, he took a step back with a confused look on his face and said “Why are you laughing” I said because it may take five of you to kick my ass and take my truck, you may get it done but you will always know I was there, the crowd parted and he said, Jimmy you ain’t nothing but a con man, so are you going to let us pay later, I told him nope you have to pay the full amount right now, I’m walking to the truck to write out your receipt and I will be right back for the money, which he had ready when I returned from the truck. From then on I carried a hand held radio, and each time I walked up to their house they always paid me with no trouble and treated me with a little more respect.
I think I could write a whole book on this subject, these were just two of my customers, some of the others I remember include an elderly lady who didn’t pay her bill on purpose because she liked me coming by to talk with her and it saved her a stamp, there was a single Mom who once had no money at all so I bought a dozen tamales from her for just a bit over her bill amount so she could pay it, and a young couple with a new baby who were about nineteen years old if they were a day, she started crying when I told her who I was and asked me what she had to pay, I gave her the past due amount total assuming that she couldn’t afford the full amount, she continued crying telling me “But I owe you more money than that, can’t I just pay it all”, and a State level politician who refused to pay me because he didn’t feel he had to because of who he was, I shut his water off and he followed me out to the alley with a valve wrench stating he would turn it back on as soon as I left, I simply removed his meter and plugged the service and told him to go for it, I was soon called into the office and told I should have never shut his water off because of who he was, I responded that if they didn’t want his water turned off then why did they give the order, I never did play politics well.
When I retired a funny thing happened, I was standing out in my front yard leaning on my crutches and I see an unfamiliar car coming down the street, it slowed down and rolled to a stop in front of my house, one of my regular customers who I had to shut off every month for years was driving, he waved his hand at me and yelled “Hey Jimmy, when are you coming back to work?” I told him “I don’t think I will be coming back” he said “Man that’s too bad because that new guy they keep sending to my house gets on my wife’s nerves, I think I’m going to have to kill him” I laughed and told him to give him a chance, he smiled and as he was driving away said we miss you Man.