Fred from ConEd“I have some customers who have snacks ready for me.”When Federico “Fred” Robles knocks on our door we know it’s that time again—time for the monthly ConEd meter reading. Fred’s route stretches along 47th Street between Queens Boulevard and 39th Avenue and includes more than 700 meters. While he chose to work for ConEd because of the possibilities it offered for advancement, his job has several other perks. Touring 21 different Queens neighborhoods each month, he is exposed to foreign cultures and gets a peek at people’s basements. Fred says hasn’t learned any new languages on our block, but does learn some Polish here and there by asking his Ridgewood customers, “How do you say in Polish, ‘I’m here to read the light’?”

On his routes Fred sometimes encounters angry people who blame him for their high utility bills. But, he says, “You really can’t take it to heart. You don’t know what they are going through. And you’ve got to remember: you are the face of the company.” For the most part, though, Fred, who lives with his wife and 15-month-old son in Throgs Neck in the Bronx, likes to interact with his customers. If they were sick the month before, he inquires about their wellbeing, and some customers look forward to his visit in return.

“I have customers who mark it on their calendars and say to me ‘I’m happy to see you this month,’ “ he says. “I have some customers who have snacks ready for me: Cookies in a bag.”

Fred’s feet often hurt and his eight-hour workday can be taxing, particularly when it is freezing or raining. Yet he plans to continue his Sunnyside route for another two years before trying to get a managerial position. I suggest we try to keep Fred for as long as possible. Teach him some of our languages—Chinese, German, Spanish, Irish and Hindi, for example—and please have some cookies ready when he knocks on your door!

In the podcast, Fred talks about what he sees, hears and smells in people’s basements and, of course, about cookies.

Listen to Fred’s interview