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The Local Lens: Thoughts on Some Local Chatter

  There was a time in the city’s history when the Water Revenue Bureau bill was the cheapest household expense. Water expenses were always lower than gas or electricity expenses, but those days are over. Case in point: if you shut the water off in your house for two or three months, you get stuck with a monthly maintenance fee even though you haven’t used a drop.

  Last month, something strange happened at the Water Revenue Bureau. No, the rates were not raised and the city’s water supply wasn’t contaminated. The venerable Bureau was into something worse: double-billing customers even though these same customers had paid their previous bills in advance of the due date. Adding insult to injury, the Bureau then penalized these customers with late charges.   

  To make matters even worse, many of the customers who called the Bureau to complain or ask what was happening were kept on the line for as long as 90 minutes.

  A good friend alerted me to this fiasco, suggesting that I check out the Eyes and Ears of Port Richmond Facebook page to see what all the fuss was about. So that’s what I did. Not surprisingly, the Water Revenue Bureau was the main topic of conversation on the page, eclipsing other news stories. One Facebook user suggested submitting a formal complaint to the Pennsylvania Public Utilities Commission.

  “The consumer rights and responsibilities guide state that consumers get 20 days from the postmark date to pay their bill without a late fee. If enough of you submit complaints, they’ll pay attention and should fix it,” he wrote.

  Another commenter posted, “I have the same problem. This is the 2nd bill in a row they stated it is late. I called customer service last month and they said they need 7-10 business days to post. Not true I sent my last 2 bills out 3 weeks in advance.”

  One woman had this to say: “Last week I received two bills in the same day as well. They are the worse…can’t get through on the phone and then when I did they didn’t know their drearier from a hole in the ground… you can talk to 3 people there and get three different answers.”

  “I got two bills I just threw one out,” another added. While somebody else said, “My last bill was posted January 28th, due 1st week in February. Someone is not doing there job mailing these things out.”

  I’ve heard that State Representative John Taylor has offered to assist Water Revenue Bureau customers who are left dissatisfied after registering a complaint, so perhaps the season of double billing is over. You can call Taylor’s Port Richmond office at (215) 425-0901 or his Bridesburg office at (215) 744-2600.

  In other news, a Spirit News reader emailed me with information about Philly Jesus. Though I haven’t thought about Philly Jesus, whose real name is Michael Grant, since the last time I wrote about him in this column, the news was oddly disturbing.

  The information the reader shared with me concerned a docket from the Municipal Court of Philadelphia County entitled “The Commonwealth v. Michael Grant.” Apparently, Grant was arrested by Officer Timothy J. Herrmann on January 18, 2017 for disorderly conduct and engaging in a fight. The arrest date was January 18, 2017, and the docket was filed the following day. A summary trial is scheduled for March 1, 2017, although no other information is given.

  This incident was not reported by the press, unlike Grant’s run-in with Center City Apple store officials in May last year. Grant claims the Apple employees harassed him when he entered the store with his cross. I was on Grant’s side that time, just as I was in 2014 when he was arrested by an overzealous police officer who charged him with soliciting money at Love Park. Grant, who often poses with tourists for quick photographs, admits that he occasionally accepts tips for photo ops, but never asks for money. According to Grant, the arresting officer in 2014 recognized him from his street vagabonding days when he was addicted to heroin and crack cocaine, another case of what happens when the past comes back to haunt the “reformed present.”

  One news source reported that Grant has been arrested more than 12 times between 2005 and 2013. Given all the publicity Grant has garnered since his decision to walk around town dressed like Jesus Christ — from references to him on Saturday Night Live to interviews in the Washington Post — it’s difficult to imagine him wanting to tarnish his image as a peace-loving Christ impersonator. Christ never got into fist fights; instead, he turned the other cheek, which in our day surely means walking away from a fight.

  Perhaps in the long run Grant’s fall from grace is a wake-up call for those who confuse costuming and a hunger for celebrity with the real values of the Prince of Peace. But don’t expect Grant to retire his staff and robes anytime soon. As he told the Washington Post, “I plan on doing this for the rest of my life. And, as I age, and probably when I start to get white hairs and start to get gray hairs on my face, I’ll morph into Philly Moses.”

  Finally, the recent murder of a woman in Port Richmond on the 3200 block of Mercer Street has had some concerned about safety in the Riverwards. Police believe Andrew Cruttenden, 26, robbed and shot his aunt, Virginia Cruttenden, 56, in her home on the 3200 block of Mercer Street in Port Richmond last Friday. Family members reported to police that various electronic items had been stolen. Police are still searching for Andrew, and ask anybody with information on his location to call 911.

  The murder got some folks who are normally anti-gun talking about buying guns, but in “a responsible, careful manner.” Personal defense may be the talk of the town, but can a gun protect you when someone rushes into your house at a time when your guard is probably down? Answering a gentle knock on the door is usually perceived as routine when you own a home or rent an apartment. Even the most responsible gun owners, with their firearms locked safely inside a cabinet, could not possibly go through the ritual of getting the gun out in time to stop a home invader. One solution, of course, would be to always wear a gun strapped to your shoulder, but few would be willing to do that. It’s a sad fact of life that many tragic incidents seem to occur when we are least prepared to defend ourselves.

  When I go to my best friend’s house on Belgrade Street some evenings, I walk under the eerie Belgrade railroad bridge near Lehigh Avenue. At night, this area resembles a scene out of a Stephen King tale with its broken wire fences bordering a woodsy climb to the railroad tracks. In this area there are scores of hiding places behind trees and assorted weed growth. There’s also a vast field surrounded by tall trees, a barren and sinister-looking landscape that is apparently so dangerous that a wall has been erected to keep people out.

  Nobody really enjoys walking under the Belgrade Street bridge, one reason being that the roar of passing vehicles increases threefold because the bridge creates an echo chamber effect. People pass one another under this bridge with a certain degree of caution; there’s always a slight degree of tension evident in a walker’s body as he or she approaches you from the opposite end of the bridge.    

  One night, as I was about to walk under the bridge, I spotted a man walking in the opposite direction carrying (and swinging) a baseball bat.  A man swinging a baseball bat is an especially fearful image, so I pretended to be waiting for a green light on Lehigh before heading towards the bridge. The man with the bat, apparently noticing my unnatural hesitation, stopped swinging the bat and put it by his side like a folded-up umbrella, then nodded to me, as if to say, “This is my son’s bat. I was just having some fun.”

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