Monday, January 07, 2008

Ah, Reddy Kilowatt, My Old Nemesis

A severe winter storm swept through the West Coast at the end of last week, splitting trees, loosening mudslides, and knocking out power to 2 million people between central California and Oregon. Unfortunately, I couldn't blog about it until now because my electricity's been out since 9 a.m. Friday.
Now, there's a stretch of time after the power goes out that's kind of fun. You slip a flashlight into your pocket, light candles, break out the camping lantern, start a fire in the fireplace, dance to 78s on the antique hand-cranked phonograph, play "Clue." When the lights flicker back on everyone groans a disappointed "Awww!" because they were having a neat little adventure without them.
This weekend I learned that "fun time" lasts about 12 hours. After 67 hours, it gets really old. You run out of "Little House on the Prairie" and Donner Party jokes on Day Two.
Part of our back fence blew over. We lost much of the food in the fridge and freezer, which wasn't actually a lot. Some of it made for an excellent barbeque Saturday night. I don't usually barbeque in the rain, but this was a special occasion. Like well-prepared Boy and Girl Scouts, we took stock of our resources. What worked: the fireplace, gas water heater, gas stove top, laptop computers (but no wireless Internet in range). What didn't work: lights, heat, refrigerator, oven, Dance Dance Revolution, the computer with all my good stuff. Fortunately, we had sufficient firewood, blankets, sleeping bags, and cats to prevent hypothermia.
Also fortunately, our children were home from college for winter break. They were delicious.
It was both a blessing and a curse that our neighborhood was a little island of darkness surrounded by otherwise normal, fully electrified homes and businesses. All our usual supermarkets, restaurants, shopping centers and movie theaters worked fine. Sunday night my wife and I went to see a movie in which we had no interest just to sit somewhere warm and distracting for two hours ("The Waterhorse," which was not bad). That was the blessing part; the curse part was that because our outage affected a small number of people in the middle of a functioning civilization, we were a very low priority for repair work. At night, we could see the lights of homes around us--twinkling, mocking, bragging about all the electrons flowing through their wires--and fantasize about long extension cords that would deliver us sweet relief at last.
Everything clicked on at 4 a.m. today, and all is nearly forgiven. The inside temperature of our house has risen 20 degrees. My wife is at the supermarket restocking our larder. And we have vowed to never take electricity for granted again, in a spirit of thankfulness and appreciation I expect to last at least another hour.


R said...

Yay! You're back in the 21st century! :)
I found out that we missed the power-outtage here by a day. Yay for good timing...

ronnie said...

Welcome back!

I know the feeling well, both the "Yay! this is fun? Isn't it? Isn't it? Nope, it isn't." and the feeling of being an island of dark in a sea of people getting along just fine, thank you. I have also had the weird experience of having been comfortably electrified while all around our street the entire downtown was without power. (Downtowns, when the power is out, are very weird places. You don't realize how 'lit up' the downtown is, even in daytime, until it ain't. And intersections - don't get me started.)

Glad you're back. Here's something that will make that grateful feeling last a bit longer: I read that a large number of American midwesterners, victims of the big storms that hammered the region at the end of December, suffered without electricity through Christmas. Now that would suck.

Xtreme English said...

we didn't have a power outage, but i turned off the toob and read your book. it's really wonderful. i'm still thinking on all the ways in which that is true.

Brian Fies said...

R, we miss you already. Ronnie, at least I'm in temperate California where a long-term power outage is only annoying, rather than your part of the continent, where it could be life-threatening. I made some light of our situation because it wasn't really serious, but realize that's not true for everyone.

Xtreme, that's the nicest thing anyone's said or written to me in a long time, thanks.

Mike Lynch said...

We spent a week in an "off-the-grid" house, deep in the woods, on the edge of an ocean side cliff. Power was generated via solar & wind, with a back up gas generator if needed. The place had a fridge, stove, electric lights, satellite TV & radio and a hot tub. Yeah, a hot tub! It only took a couple minutes to learn how the place worked. At night, we would intentionally turn off the electric lights and read books by lighting paraffin lamps. Well ,except it wasn't paraffin -- it was something better, safer. We talks about going off the grid all the time, since I think energy costs are going to be one of the major expenses when and if we retire.

Anyway, glad to hear you weathered it and I'm glad the girls were delicious!!!

Peter B. Steiger said...

There I was feeling sorry for myself when we lost power for all of three hours yesterday morning, and you have the gall to put it in perspective. Thanks a LOT, Mister Steal-My-Self-Pity.

Brian Fies said...

Mike, living off the grid has its appeals, but affordability isn't currently one of them. Nice if you can do it, though. I do think the candle and oil lamp era has its appeals.

Peter, remember, I'm in California. I think three hours where you live are at least equal to 67 hours where I live.