There ain’t no cure for the summertime blackouts

A powerful storm ripped through this part of the state Wednesday night, providing lightning and thunder, rain, and straight-line wind gusts up to seventy miles an hour. No significant damage happened on my property—just a lot of leaves and small branches to gather and bag. But two stately oaks in the neighborhood were shattered by the winds, one bringing down a power line, as was happening in multiple locations across the region.

The lightning was so profuse when the power went out that I was able to find my way through the house to candles and matches and a flashlight. With the air conditioner disabled, we opened windows for ventilation and went to bed. The power was still off Thursday morning, so I showered and dressed, ate two breakfast bars, drank a cold cup of coffee, and drove to work.

When I returned home that afternoon, my youngest daughter greeted me with a grumble—“Seventeen hours and forty-two minutes, and they still haven’t gotten it fixed!” It happened that her complaint was voiced roughly half-way through our outage. I told her what I had heard on the radio, about the thousands of people without power. When it was time, I drove to the campus where I teach evening classes, unsure if the campus was open, since they had no way to reach me if the power was out and the campus was closed. There were cars in the parking lot when I arrived, though, and the power was on, and students arrived.  So I taught, returned home, read by candlelight for a while, and went to bed.

Sleep was not hard Wednesday night, because the storm had cooled the air and there were still breezes stirring. Thursday night the house was hot, the air outside was hot and humid, there was very little breeze, and of course no electric fan would work. The power was draining from my daughter’s phone, so she went out and sat in the car and recharged it there. I went to bed early but slumbered fitfully through the night.

Friday morning’s shower almost seemed to have been pointless, as I was coated with sweat almost immediately after toweling myself dry from the shower. But I got dressed, grabbed two breakfast bars, and left early for work, buying a hot cup of coffee downtown. Before lunch, I received by text the single word “power,” and by the time I was home that afternoon, the air conditioner had made the house more comfortable in terms of heat and humidity. (I responded “yea” to the text “power”—my daughter, more creatively, answered the same text “to the people.”)

Today, as chain saws roar through the neighborhood, we are doing triage on food that was left in the refrigerator and freezer through the outage. One of my coworkers asked me Thursday if we had transferred any food to ice chests, and I said, no, we were simply keeping the doors of the refrigerator and freezer closed. He said, “I suppose for a while that makes them ice chests,” with which I agreed. The icemaker was leaking water by Thursday afternoon, but we just put a towel on the floor. Once power was restored, we emptied the remaining ice and water from the icemaker and set it to make new ice. So far we have discarded the softer dairy items—the cheeses appear to have survived unscathed. We are also discarding older leftovers.

I did eat some leftover tuna casserole for supper last night, reasoning that “what does not kill me makes me stronger.” Before going to bed, I remarked that I did not feel any stronger and would probably die during the night, but of course that did not happen. Actually, when it comes to food poisoning, it rarely kills people and never makes them stronger. I have suffered from salmonella twice—both because of public salad bars, never from my own kitchen. It did not kill me, but it did not make me stronger.

We have not had time to examine everything in the freezer, but it appears that the meat remained frozen through all those hours. Some ice cream bars lost their shape, but they refroze and are edible. We did have a little uncooked pork and bacon in the refrigerator that we have discarded, but fortunately our frequent supply of ground beef and of raw chicken had been cooked and eaten before the outage.

All in all, I would say that we survived the blackout admirably. My stress level listening to chain saws all day today may prove to be the highest cost of the experience. J.

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Powerless

One day earlier this month a powerful thunderstorm swept through the neighborhood. I knew it was coming, having checked the weather online. It was late in the afternoon, and I had a casserole prepared to go into the oven. The winds ahead of the storm were just beginning to blow when I sat down at the computer and opened a program. Just as it opened, the computer and lights flickered and went out. I was left in the dark.

Rain started falling a few minutes later. The clouds were so thick that I needed to light a candle to be able to read a book. I thought of the repair team that was probably out in the wind and the rain, clearing a tree from the road and stringing a new power line. My cat was unsettled and wanted extra attention. The rain continued to fall.

After a while the downpour eased to a steady rain, and I decided to drive to the mall. One of my daughters works in the kitchen of a restaurant in the food court. She is currently without a car, so she generally calls home when her work is done to ask for a ride. With the power out, the phone would not work. Besides, I would rather eat a hot sandwich at the mall than dig into a cold tuna casserole in the dark at home.

The dropping air temperature and rain had cooled my car, and water had condensed on all of the windows. It required several minutes to clear the windows, using the defroster on the back window, blowing air on the windshield, and toweling the side windows. Then I was able to drive safely. A mile from home I came to an intersection with a traffic light. The power was out there too, but a police officer was directing the traffic. The other traffic lights beyond that intersection were working, so I felt confident that the mall would also have power.

I arrived, went inside, and ordered my meal. My daughter was surprised to see me, since she was not done with her work and had not called for a ride. I told her the power was out at home, and joked with her and the other employees about hanging out at the mall for the air conditioning and the lights. They gave me my meal, and I sat down to eat.

About five minutes later, the lights went out in the mall. Oddly, only half the mall was darkened; the other half still had power. The restaurant was in the dark. The workers were surprised when power did not return quickly; they had experienced power interruptions before, but usually power was restored in less than a minute. My daughter and I remembered the post I wrote for April Fools’ Day. We were happy to see that no one was stranded on the escalators. Some customers came into the restaurant hoping to buy food, but the evening manager told them they could not sell any food while the power was out. The manager did not want to close for the night, but food was cooling as the blackout continued. The manager eventually had the employees take the meat back into the kitchen to try to keep it warm.

My daughter finished her work in the kitchen and I drove her home. The power was still out at home. When I left for the mall, I had left a flashlight by the door. I guided my daughter to her room, then found the thermostat and switched off the air conditioning. Then I went around opening windows. For a while I read by candlelight.

Power was restored about 7 p.m. I blew out the candle, reset the bedroom clock and the alarm, then returned to my reading. It occurred to me that evening that it would been ironic (and sad) if the storm had damaged the new shed being built behind the house. The workmen had finished the main body of the shed; it was still waiting for shingles, siding, and electrical work. I would not have wanted to contact the insurance company and the general contractor to report a tree lying on the shed, but that did not happen. J.