One week after Hurricane Rita blew through East Texas, many residents of Walker, Montgomery, San Jacinto and surrounding counties were still without electricity. Those who did have electricity still experienced rolling black outs for four or more hours daily in the extreme heat of the Indian Summer. They were the lucky ones. Those without any electricity quickly began to realize just how dependent they were upon it. They couldn’t take a hot shower. They couldn’t watch TV or read after sunset. They couldn’t even cook. If these citizens relied on a well, they were also without running water.
Perhaps most importantly, they couldn’t even remain comfortable due to the extreme heat and humidity. Many days reached or exceeded 100 degrees with 98% humidity. Life was miserable with no end in sight, as the electric companies had stopped answering their phones days ago. No one knew how long this would last.
Those who could afford it bought up every gas powered generator in sight. Mid-week after Rita, there was a line at the local Home Depot in Huntsville, Texas just for generators.
After being without electricity for over a week, one local Huntsville citizen purchased a generator from Home Depot. They had a single brand available for $700 which was advertised as “reduced noise.” He took it home, assembled it, and cranked it on in the hopes of having a hot meal and a relatively cool evening in front of a fan.
“It was deafening! Reduced noise? Reduced from what? It was louder than a Diesel Truck. It was louder than most jet engines I’ve been around. The only way of communicating was to yell over the roar of the engine!” he explained.
In addition, the generator would only run 12 hours on 6 gallons of gas. With raising gas prices, this was $36 per day to run a household. ($1.50/hr, $252/wk, over $1000/mo) All this, and the thing still doesn’t run the AC.
So, he decided to return it to Home Depot the next morning. Upon arriving and approaching the return desk, the Home Depot employee refused to give him a refund despite their 60-day return policy.
“Read the sign,” the employee said.
He pointed to a large sign above the employee’s head stating their advertised 60 day return policy.
“Not that sign. That sign.”
The sign, which had to be pointed out to him since it was around the corner, behind the returns desk, and at knee height, read: “No returns on generators.” There is no other indication in the store of such a policy. Not on the shelves where the generator sat. Not at the check-out registers.
The man asked to talk with a manager to explain his situation.
“We do not allow the return of generators,” she said with a stone face.
He tried to see things from the multi-million dollar corporation’s point-of-view and said, “I know you can’t accept the hundreds of generators back once everyone’s electricity comes back on, but I still don’t have electricity. I only bought it 12 hours ago and I just don’t like it. You do not have a display model available. There is no way to test it without buying one, and it’s not “reduced noise” as described.”
The woman pointed to the knee-high sign again, gave her terse apologies, and walked away.
A middle-aged woman was also standing in the returns line at Home Depot. She claimed she lacked the strength to pull the ripcord to start the machine. However Home Depot’s zero-return policy on generators does not sympathize with this problem either.
Now both this Huntsville citizen and the middle-aged woman who drove 60 miles to Home Depot are stuck with a machine they can’t use and are out $760 (including tax).
When asked what he thought of this situation, the man replied: “I have been a building contractor for seven years, and I am never shopping at Home Depot again.”
Christine & Ethan Rose are activists and filmmakers. Their films include Liberty Bound & Internationally Speaking. They can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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