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Earthquake? Terrorist Attack?

Oakland, California

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Nothing brings the neighbors out like a good accident and this one was a doozie. I was sitting at my computer at 11:15 a.m. when I heard a thunderous crash that shook the house and rattled the knickknacks followed by a complete power failure in the house. As I stepped onto the sidewalk and looked towards the commotion, two transformers at the top of a pole that was now laying on the ground exploded in a 20-foot diameter ball of flame. Dozens of power lines were strewn across the street, jumping, arcing, and sounding like the world’s largest popcorn popper. Just then the transformer at the top of the pole in front of our house which I was standing ten feet from, exploded.

As quickly as I had arrived on the scene, the police had beat me to it and were quickly sealing off our block. After checking with my neighbors across the street I walked towards the wrecked car carefully avoiding the downed live wires in the street. I could see no one inside the wreck and assumed no one could have survived such an accident in the first place. Back to the house I ran and returned to the street circus with my camcorder. Crowds were gathering at both ends of our block. Police had put crime scene tape across the intersections at opposite ends of our block and soon after another strip went up across the middle between our driveway and the stop-ahead sign across from us.

The consensus of opinion was that the two men in the car were running down the hill on Seminary at, based on the amount of destruction, 100+ mph, hit or swerved to avoid a van in the intersection, lost control, sheared off a power pole with two transformers and a street light pole, both at the base, then slid along the tree line next to the pre-school’s fence, inside of which the two to four-year-olds were on their playground for recess, to come to rest along side the fence just 20 feet short of my next-door neighbor’s property line.

We soon learned that the power was taken out not just in our block, but extended a mile to the top of the street and the 580 freeway. One look at the carnage to the power infrastructure told me we wouldn’t have electricity for two or three days. By one o’clock the idiots driving the car had been extracted at gunpoint by the police, handcuffed, and hauled off on stretchers in two ambulances. PG&E was already on the scene assessing the damage and the cops had departed to attend to a murder several blocks away.

Surprise, surprise! PG&E jerry-rigged the wiring in our block and we all had juice back on by four o’clock. The block remained closed to traffic and several neighbors ran around the corner to bring their cars back to their houses when the realized that buses and big rigs were all having to turn onto the side streets to avoid the closure.

With power back on, I started checking household appliances. I was pleasantly surprised to see that all of our computer equipment came back on and seemed to be working. However, three power strips which had accessories plugged into them were fried. Several circuit breakers had tripped and I reset them. Even the stereo atop the TV in the living room came back on and continued where it left off playing the iPod.

We went across the street to check on our neighbors. Beulah’s microwave and VCR were fried. Ted & Doreen lost a computer. Other than a couple of thirty-dollar power strips, we were fine… until we returned home and tried to turn on the living room television. The 55" HD television was toast, so we moved Pat’s bedroom TV into the living room and hooked it up to have something to watch. At 10:30, the power went out again… but only in half the house. Same for Ted & Doreen across the street and Tony next door. A check with the PG&E crew working under portable stadium lights in our street revealed they were having major problems trying to restore the power grid to normal. Time to go to bed!

Friday begins the call to the insurance agent to start the replacement process. I need to have a TV repairman do a house call to confirm the demise of the living room TV and follow that up with a trip to Best Buy to pick out a new set, arrange for installation, and have the old set carted away. God! I love living in Oakland! Never a dull moment.

Monday, March 24, 2008

The TV repairman confirmed that the fuse was blown in our big screen. A replacement fuse blew out the second he plugged the set back in the wall and burn marks were seen on several circuit boards as well as the power supply. State Farm agreed to replace the set and after depreciation and taking off the $500 deductible, cut a check for $1,539 for it, the repairman’s services, and the three power strips that were fried throughout the house. Friday night Pat & I drove down to Best Buy in Emeryville to pick out a new TV and narrowed our choice down to two sets, a 50” and a 58” Panasonic plasma models. Given the expense and mounting considerations for our house, we decided to spring for the $100 to have the Geek Squad come to our home (now scheduled for tomorrow afternoon) for a consultation on what would best be suited to our living room.

Saturday morning Pat did a load of laundry and when he went to transfer it to the dryer, discovered our clothes dryer doesn’t even light up, much less operate. A voltmeter check of the 220-volt outlet that powers it revealed no juice in the line. I reset the circuit breaker at the main breaker box in our driveway and still could not detect power at the 220 outlet. Once that issue is resolved by an electrician, we’ll determine if the dryer itself was damaged.

While we wait for the new TV purchase and installation to play out, we’ve moved Pat’s bedroom TV into the living room and connected it to our home theatre system. By Sunday we realized we had no output from the bass speaker of our Canton surround sound system. Something else for the Geek Squad to look over when they come on Tuesday.

I finally reached Roberts Electric this morning after waiting out the holiday weekend. Roberts, as you may recall from previous entries in our Adventures in Home Improvement series on this website, rewired our house a few years back, added new outlets and lighting to the newly floored attic, and grounded the entire system. Eric will be here in a half hour to get power restored to the dryer’s outlet and check out the entire electrical system in the house.


Eric from Roberts Electric has checked every outlet in the house, replaced a bad GFI in the kitchen, and corrected the polarity on two outlets on the back porch. He has recommended that every power strip in the house be replaced even though they may have survived Thursday’s surge. As he was leaving he mentioned a new product that has just hit the market: a surge protector that goes on the outside circuitry box that trips prior to any surges hitting the inside wiring. Cost: $250 + labor; about $500 total. I quickly said, “We’ll take it!”

The 220-volt outlet to the dryer checked fine and Eric, formerly a Maytag repairman, told me the Maytag Neptune dryer’s electronic control panel was fried and needed to be replaced. I called Western Appliance in San Leandro from whom we bought the washer/dryer pair six years ago and found out they don’t do repairs. Next call was to Maytag which provided me a number for a local repair service which can’t come out until a week from tomorrow, hence another week without laundry.

Next a call to the Oakland Police Department to get a report number on the incident followed by a call to the State Farm claims department to update them on the latest developments. The quickly agreed to pay the $275 electrician service call and concurred with Eric’s advice to replace the power strips throughout the house on the premise that although they were still working, they had likely sustained damage that would cause them to fail in the future. However, they were not willing to cover the $500 to have the system surge protector installed because it wasn’t there in the first place. I argued that this five hundred dollar investment would have prevented the several thousand dollars in claims and although they agreed, suggested I take the issue up with my agent and the underwriters for a possible discount on our coverage. The most pleasant surprise came when they agreed to pay the $100 Geek Squad consultation fee since I was going to have them check the health of our Canton home theatre surround sound system.

To date, dealing with State Farm has been the easiest part of the experience. They’re very pleasant, patient, and even appear caring. And they haven’t questioned a single claim I’ve put forth. Granted, I’m honest with them regarding the damage we’ve suffered, but I’m well aware that there are folks who would take advantage of such a situation and would not be offended if State Farm required proof of loss.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

And the hits just keep on coming! Best Buy’s Geek Squad showed up around one this afternoon and quickly determined there was no way a flat-panel TV could be mounted to the divider wall between our entryway and our dining room, hence we’ll have to settle for a table. The woofer in our 7-speaker surround sound system had a blown fuse, but they suspect that the woofer itself may be toast and will likely need replacement. The really bad news was that our tuner/amplifier which processes the sound for the TV, the iPod, and the room speakers throughout the house and backyard, though working well-enough to process some sound, likely has some fried circuit boards because a test of the system revealed several dead zones.

Though I don’t recall what we paid for the tuner/amp about three years ago, the man estimated I probably paid around $700 and a proper replacement would cost at least $800. The good news is I won’t incur a $300 mounting charge, but rather a $200 setup charge when the new TV is delivered. Plus, he told me the $100 fee for his consultation should be credited towards our purchases. Then he added that they were backed up with work orders, hence it was likely that the soonest they could return to set up a new TV would be two weeks, but to check with the store.

And, as if we hadn’t had enough drama in the neighborhood from last Thursday, just after Pat got home we heard fire engines rushing to our vicinity, then going silent just as they reached our house which, in turn, caused us to run outside. The house on the corner, opposite the pole that had been knocked down, had smoke pouring out from the eaves on all four sides of the structure. Seven fire engines blocked the intersection, and, like last Thursday, a crowd had begun to gather. In the midst of all the new commotion, Pat saw the firemen drag a burning television set out of the house and on to the street. We couldn’t help but wonder if the TV had suffered damage from last week’s power surge, then finally caught fire, setting the rest of the house on fire.


Research of my checking account and file drawer in my desk revealed the following:

Product Model
Purchase Date
Purchase Price
(includes cables etc., delivery, & setup)
Toshiba ColorStream HD Projection TV TZ55X71
January 29, 2000


Yamaha AV Receiver HTR-5790
May 21, 2004
Canton Movie 10 MX II surround system AS 10 SC
June 14, 2004
Maytag Neptune Dryer MD5500
November 20, 2001

And all this, just in our house, from an armed thug running from the police!

After five days of watching Pat’s 25” bedroom TV atop the microwave cart in front of our dead 55” HDTV, we just couldn’t take it for another night and headed down to Best Buy in Emeryville to bring home the Panasonic 50” 1080p Flat-Panel Plasma HDTV for $2,079.99 that we had settled on. The rest of the problems could be addressed later but for now we were having major HDTV withdrawal. While there, we’d also try to pick up the new Tuner/Amp receiver and the replacement sub woofer recommended by Nick of the Geek Squad earlier in the day. Turned out the store had neither of those products in stock and the price on the Panasonic plasma was for the floor model. A boxed model would cost $2,700 and they had none in stock.

Then came the big shock from the salesman when he told us plasma sets use two to four times as much power as LCD sets and have an average lifetime of 5 to 8 years vs 15 years for LCDs. Back to the selection process. After two and a half hours of going deaf from the din in the store, multiple interruptions from other customers who on a few occasions managed to pull our salesman away from us for several minutes, and several trips by the salesman to the stockroom to check inventory that took ten minutes or more, we finally drove home with a Sony Bravia 52” LCD HDTV in the back of our minivan.

Once home, it took another hour or so to get it inside, unpacked, swapped with Pat’s bedroom TV on the microwave cart, then remove the old set to the inside front porch, and hook up the cables. It was 9:30 p.m. when we finally turned it on. A few minor adjustments and Voilá! Houston, we have television!!!

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Today my brain was totally fried from chasing down all the replacement items and repairman and decided to chill out. Roberts Electric had to order the household surge protector, the Maytag repairman wouldn’t be here until Tuesday, and Nick from the Geek Squad had yet to tell me where I could purchase the replacement receiver and sub-woofer speaker. Instead I called Van Go Heating & Plumbing who was already two weeks late in setting up an appointment for our every six months service & maintenance on our furnace and air conditioning. Bruce would be out on Thursday morning to replace the filters and run the checkup.

I spent the remainder of the day scrubbing the kitchen floor and washing all the dusty knick knacks that had been removed from the kitchen’s microwave cart to make room for the new TV and sound equipment in the living room. I also did a much needed load of laundry in the washer, then schlepped it next door to Tony’s to use his dryer.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

The mailman delivered the first check from State Farm for our losses and I was pleasantly surprised that it was $200 more than what I had been expecting. He also brought a bill from Roberts Electric for Monday’s service call. I promptly called Roberts to inquire about the status of the surge protector we had ordered.

Bruce, from Van Go Heating & Plumbing showed up at 10:30 and replaced the filter in our air filtration system but could not work on the annual central air conditioner service because the outside air temperature was in the upper fifties. Of course last week’s weather was in the seventies, but not today. Murphy’s Law. So, the AC would have to wait for warmer weather. At 12:30, Eric arrived from Roberts Electric and installed the new surge protector unit in the power box in our driveway.

In between I received an email from Nick of the Geek Squad and searched Best Buy online to locate the replacement units he recommended. Neither was available at any Best Buy in the San Francisco Bay Area. Another email back to Nick to find out if he could acquire them for me. At three o’clock, next-door neighbor Tony needed me to pick him up in downtown Oakland after he dropped off his car for service. When Pat got home from work he was upset that I hadn’t called someone else to come out and fix the clothes dryer. I promised to call Friday morning.

Friday, March 28, 2008

No email reply yet from Nick at Geek Squad on where to acquire the replacement receiver and speaker. Into the Yellow Pages I dived to see if I could come up with an appliance repairman that had the electronic control unit for our dryer in stock and could fix it sooner than next Tuesday. A&E Appliance Repair, with whom I had the appointment for next Tuesday, was a nationwide service located who knows where in the country and I was concerned that whomever they sent out would then tell me they would need to order the needed replacement part, delaying the dryer’s repair for another week or so. I knew there would be hell to pay with Pat if I were to allow this to happen.

Leery of full page Yellow Pages ads, I called a service with a smaller ad that had a local number. I spoke with George Antone of Antone’s Appliance Repair who spoke clear English with no accent and told me he had been in business since 1952 (their ad says 1961). I’m 60 and I was four-years-old in 1952, so how is this possible? George told me he was 85 and his son does the servicing. He told me the soonest they could get someone over was Wednesday but he was pretty sure they would have the needed part in inventory. He also went on to say some unpleasant things about A&E, so with his promise to get back to me later today or early tomorrow, I called A&E and cancelled Tuesday’s appointment. Time will tell if I made the right decision. Better to wait an extra day for someone who has the part than take a chance on someone who may need to order it.

Not having received an email back from Nick at the Geek Squad, I decided to call his cell phone. Our problem is that the receiver he recommended does not appear on Best Buy’s website and the woofer says it’s out of stock. Since Nick works with all of the Best Buys in the Bay Area, he knows the receiver can be found in Union City and the woofer in Pinole. He’s going to acquire them for me along with the needed HDMI cables and I’ll authorize payment over the phone. Once the setup appointment is made, he’ll bring them along for the installation. In a world of bad customer service, Nick is a prince who wants his customers to be happy. And if all goes according to plan, I’ll be very happy indeed.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Received an email this morning from Nick at Geek Squad informing me he now has my replacement speaker and receiver set aside and he will pick them up when he returns to work tomorrow. He’ll check his schedule then and call me to set up an appointment for him to come out and do the work on our home theatre system. Antone’s Appliance Repair called at 10:45 this morning to say they’ll be out on Wednesday between 1 and 3 p.m. to fix our clothes dryer. Gee, dare I think this nightmare is actually coming to a conclusion? Nah! Still have to submit all the bills to State Farm.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

All the drama of this day deserves its own page, but for now skip back to the top of this one. The net result is we now need a plumber out to repair our garden watering system.

Monday, March 31, 2008

Received another voice mail from Geek Squad central wanting me to set up the appointment, so I called Nick who told me, yes, he now had possession of all the needed replacement elements to our system and I should call to set the time and date. He and his crew are now scheduled to be here on Thursday morning to finish the setup for the new TV including the surround sound system. That will be two weeks to the day from the initial power surge and, frankly, I’m worn out from all the purchases, documentation, phone calls, and appointments.

Out of Pocket Expenses To Date

Vendor Product/Service
Purchase Date
K&L TV & Video Service Service call on fried TV
March 21, 2008
Geek Squad TV replacement consultation; testing of tuner/amp & surround sound
March 21, 2008


Best Buy Sony Bravia XBR 52" LCD HDTV + setup
March 25, 2008
Roberts Electric Electrical wiring system check
March 24, 2008
Roberts Electric House surge protector
March 27, 2008
Antone's Appliance Repair Repair clothes dryer
April 2, 2008
Best Buy Yamaha RX-V861 AV Receiver
April 3, 2008
Best Buy Klipsch Synergy Subwoofer
April 3, 2008
Best Buy HDMI cables for TV (Two 4' & One 8')
April 3, 2008
State Farm Loss check after depreciation & $500 deductible
March 27, 2008
State Farm Loss check
April 10, 2008