Page 83 of Overload

If it happened, the impact on public utilities producing electricity could be disastrous.

After a few minutes of sharing in the discussion, Nim felt a pressure on his arm. Turning, he saw 'Thurston Jones, his friend from Dewer. They shook hands warmly.

Thurston asked, "What news of Tunipah?"

Nim grimaced. "Building the Pyramids went faster."

"And the Pharaohs didn't need permits. Right?"

"Rightl How's Ursula?"

"Great." Thurston beamed. "We're having a baby."

"That's wonderful. Congratulations! When will the big day be?" Nim was using words to fill in time while marshaling his startled thoughts. He remembered vividly the weekend at Dewer and Ursula's arrival in his bed.

Ursula, who confided that she and her husband wanted children but couldn't have them, a statement Thurston confirmed. "We both had medical tests . .. my pistol will cock and fire, but I feed it only blanks. And I'll never have live bullets .

“The doctor says around the end of June."

Christi Nim didn't need a calculator to know it was his child. His emotions were whirling, as if in a blender, and what the bell was he supposed to say?

His friend supplied the answer by clapping an arm around Nim's shoulders

“There's just one thing Ursula and I would like. When the time comes, we want you to be godfather."

Nim started to say yes, he would, then found he could not get the words out. Instead he clasped Thurston's hand again, tightly, and nodded his agreement. The Jones kid, Nim vowed silently, would have-the best, most conscientious godfather there ever was.

They arranged to meet again before the convention ended.

Nim moved on, talking with more power people: from New York's Con Edison-in Nim's view one of the best-run utilities in North America, despite its enforced role as a New York City tax collector and the abuse heaped on it by opportunistic politicians-Florida Power & Light, Chicago's Commonwealth Edison, Houston Lighting & Power, Southern California Edison, Arizona Public Service, others.

There was also a contingent of a dozen delegates from Golden State Power & Light, actively mingling with out-of-towners since theirs was the host company. among the GSP & L group was Ray Paulsen; he and Nim greeted each other with their usual lack of cordiality. J. Eric Humphrey had not yet appeared at the convention but would do so later.

As he concluded a conversation, Nim observed a familiar face, moving nearer through the growing, increasingly noisy throng of delegates. It was the California Examiner reporter, Nancy Molineaux. To his surprise, she came directly to him.

"Hi!” Her manner was friendly and she was smiling, but Nim's memories were too close and sour for him to respond in kind. He had to admit though, the woman was damned attractive; those high cheekbones and the haughty manner were a part of it. She knew how to dress well; expensively, too, by the look of her clothes.

He answered coolly, "Good morning."

"Just picked up your speech in the pressroom," Ms. Molineaux said; she had a news release and a full-text copy in her hand. "Pretty dull stuff. You planning to say anything extra that isn't printed here?"

"Even if I am, I'll be damned if I'd help you by telling you in advance."

The reply seemed to please her and she laughed.

"Dad," a voice broke in, "we're going up to that place now."

It was Benjy, who had dodged through delegates on his way to a small convention hall gallery where a few visitors could be seated. Over by a stairway Nim could see Ruth and Leah. Both waved and he waved back.

"Okay," he told Benjy, "you'd better go get your seats."

Nancy Molineaux had listened with apparent amusement. She asked, "You brought your family to the convention?"

"Yes," he answered curtly, then added, "My wife and our children are staying with me in the hotel. In case you consider making something of it, I'll tell you that I'm paying their expenses personally."

"My, my," she teased, "what a terrible reputation I have."

"I'm wary of you," Nim told her, "the way I would be of a cobra."

* * *

That Goldman, Nancy thought as she moved away; he was strictly a no-horseshit man.

Coming here today was an assignment she had neither expected nor wanted. But the city editor, spotting Goldman's name on the program, had sent Nancy, hoping she would find some vulnerability, and thus continue what he saw as a newsworthy vendetta. Well, old I'm-the coach was wrong. She would report Goldman's speech straight, even give it a buildup if the material were worth it. (the printed version wasn't, which was why she had asked her question.) Apart from that, Nancy wanted to get the hell out of here as quickly as she could. Today was the day she had arranged to meet the girl, Yvette, in the bar where they had talked briefly a week ago. Nancy could make it-she had left her car in the hotel's underground parking garage-though time would be tight. She hoped the girl would show, and would answer some of those puzzling questions.

Meanwhile there was Goldman. She went into the convention hall and took a seat at the press table.

* * *

Even while addressing the convention, Nim found himself agreeing with the Molineaux woman: A speech, as heavy with technical material as this one had to be, was unexciting from a press reporter's viewpoint. But as he described the load and capacity problems-present and future-of Golden State Power & Light, the rapt attention of his audience showed that many of those listening shared the problems, frustrations and fears which Nim presented under his title, "Overload." they, too, were charged with providing reliable power in their communities. They, too, realized that time was running out, with a major electrical famine a mere few years away. Yet almost daily their honesty was questioned, their warnings disbelieved, their grim statistics scoffed at.

Near the end of his prepared text, Nim reached into a pocket for a page of notes he had made only yesterday. He would use them to conclude.

"Most of us here-probably all of us," he said, "share two important beliefs. One belief concerns environment.

“The environment we live in should be cleaner than it is. Therefore those who work responsibly toward that objective deserve our support.

“The second belief concerns the democratic process. I believe in democracy, always have, though lately with some reservations. Which brings me back to the environment.

"Some of those who call themselves environmentalists have ceased to be reasonable believers in a reasonable cause and have become fanatics. They are a minority. But by noisy, rigid, uncompromising, often uninformed fanaticism, they are managing to impose their will on the majority.

"In doing so, such people have prostituted the democratic process, have used it ruthlessly-as it was never intended to be used-to thwart everything but their own narrow aims. What they cannot defeat by reason and argument they obstruct by delay and legalistic guile. Such people do not even pretend to accept majority rule because they are convinced they know better than the majority. Furthermore, they recognize only those aspects of democracy which can be subverted to their own advantage."

The last words produced a burst of handclapping. Nim put up a hand for silence, and went on.

"This breed of environmentalist opposes everything. There is nothing, absolutely nothing, we of the power industry can propose which does not arouse their ire, their condemnation, their fervent and self-righteous opposition.

"But the fanatics among environmentalists are not alone. They have allies."

Nim paused, having sudden second thoughts about his notes, aware that what came next could get him into the same kind of trouble as five months ago, after the Energy Commission hearing on Tunipah. It would also run counter to J. Eric Humphrey's "stay away from controversy" instruction. Well, either way, the worst they could do was hang him. He plunged on.

"The allies I spoke of," he declared, "are the growing number of appointees on regulatory boards, put there for political reasons only."

Nim sensed, among his audience, rapt and immediate interest.

"There was a time, in this state and elsewhere, when the boards and commissions regulating our industry were few in number and could be relied on for reasonably fair, impartial judgments. But not anymore. Not only have such boards proliferated to a point where their functions overlap so they now compete brazenly with each other in establishing power bases, but a majority of board members receive their appointments as blatant political rewards. Seldom, if ever, do they get where they are through merit or experience. As a result, such commissioners and board members have little or no business knowledge-indeed, some openly display an anti-business prejudice-and all have political ambitions which govern their every action and decision.