Thursday, November 3, 2011

The End of the World

     I have seen the world after the economic collapse. The world without light, without heat, without internet access, with no water and no food. It is the world of the Northeast, after the October snowstorm. The storm dumped heavy, wet snow from Virginia to Maine -- onto trees that still had their leaves, and the combined weight of the snow and leaves brought down branches and whole trees, making a tangled mess of electric lines splayed all over the ground.

     We lost power on Saturday afternoon. I was sitting there, innocently pecking away on my computer, when the screen suddenly went blank. The lights went off. It wasn't dark yet, but we hustled around the house gathering candles and flashlights, and I found my special hats with LED lights mounted on the brim. Of course the reason the lights went out was because of the snowstorm, dumping about eight inches on the trees and the wires and the ground. It was cold out. And soon it started getting cold inside.

      I went outside and brought in some wood from the woodpile. We started a fire in the fireplace, and by that time it was 6 p.m. I volunteered to go out and get some food (since we couldn't cook), and took B's four-wheel drive crossover up to the strip, where we have two malls and a row of gas stations, stores and eateries. Chili's was closed. McDonald's was closed. The diner was closed. I found a pizza place, elbowed my way into the crowd and bought a large pizza for the three of us.

     We spent the evening huddled in front of the fire, then went upstairs and bundled under lots of extra covers. B and I used our LED-lighted hats to read, then we went to sleep.

     We slept okay, but getting out of bed in the morning required a monumental effort. The bed was warm. The room was like a refrigerator. We had no hot water; indeed precious little water at all, since we have a well, with an electric pump that wouldn't be working. We had whatever water was in the water tank. No more.

     On Sunday we headed out to Best Buy and Barnes & Noble and Panera Bread. We knew Panera's had wi fi, and electric sockets, and we thought we might be able to charge up B's laptop and our cellphones. However, several hundred other people had the same idea. We did get something to eat, but there was not an electrical socket to be had.

     Monday brought no relief. I went to my health club, which had heat and electricity, but no hot water. I took a (very quick) cold shower. B's son went to a friend house to have dinner -- they'd lost electricity, too, but had gotten it back. B and I found a coffee emporium where we dined on a wrap and a piece of pumpkin cheese cake -- remember, it's not winter, it's still October!

     Halloween was called off in our town, because too many tree limbs were down, too many wires crisscrossed the streets and too many houses were still dark. Halloween night we went over to a friend's house. They'd lost electricity as well, but they have a gas-powered generator which allows them to run their furnace, use their stove, and turn on a few lights. B brought over some defrosted chicken, and we all had a nice friendly dinner. The silver lining to our storm cloud.

     The first day, with the fire, was kind of fun. The second day, trying to hook up our phones and computer at Panera's, was more stressful. By the third day, we were out of patience, out of good cheer ... and out of water. I did manage to get into Panera's (where I wrote my last blog post) and power up B's laptop, and we sat in bed that night, freezing our fingers and ears and noses off, but watching an episode of Doc Martin on the laptop. We thought the laptop might warm us up a little. It didn't.

     So what do you do when you feel neglected, when you thought that it was over , when everyone's out to get you, when everything is lost, and you're counting up your demons? What I did was ... beam myself off to Myrtle Beach, SC!

     My buddies and I had actually been planning this trip for a couple of weeks. So it wasn't just me abandoning my family for warmer, more pleasant clime. You see,we were all doing it!

     B and I had heard rumors on Tuesday that the power would be coming back that night. By 11 p.m. we heard. We went out to dinner at a local hamburger joint, driving home around 9 p.m., hoping for the best. It didn't happen. It was still dark at 11 p.m. Still dark and cold when we went to bed at 11:30.

     "I sure hope the electricity is back by the morning," I told B. "I don't want to feel guilty leaving you here in the cold and dark."

     "Oh, yeah," she shot back, but with a laugh. "I bet you'll feel guilty. For about five minutes. then you'll be going, 'Woo hoo! I'm outta here!'"

     I chuckled. "Well, you see, that's what I mean. If the electricity is back in the morning I won't have to feel guilty for those five minutes."

     But she really didn't mind too much that I was going. She was back at work by then. Electricity, heat and water were all back on at her office. So I left early Wednesday morning with a (semi)clear conscience.

     B called me Wednesday evening. She reported that she'd gotten home from work around 5:15 p.m. The electricity was still off. The house was dark and cold. But just as she was heading to the hall closet to find another coat (yes, we were actually putting on our coats when we came into the house), the lights blinked on. The furnace started rumbling. The well pump started pumping. All she had to do was wait an hour or so, and then she was going to take a nice, long hot shower.

     And at my hotel that evening, I stood in the hottest shower I'd taken in years, for the longest time -- the first hot water I'd felt in 4 1/2 days.

     I now appreciate my modern conveniences more than ever. Halloween night, I sat in bed, watching the candlelight flicker against the wall, and I understood how our ancestors concocted stories about ghosts and other shadowy creatures. They seemed so real in the dark, dancing against the wall. I was reminded that electric lights -- and all our other modern conveniences -- are really very recent developments. When my mother and father were born, less than half of the households in America were electrified. Many rural areas didn't get electricity until FDR's electrification project in the 1930s.

     I'd seen all those electric trucks out on the street, straightening out the spaghetti of wires on the street. I'd observed the Verizon trucks fixing the cables, the fire trucks and tree-trimming trucks, and the volunteers working through the night. I don't know about you, but I'll never again say anything bad about my electric company, or Verizon, or the fire department, or even the oil companies that deliver heating oil to the tank by my garage. In my opinion, after the last four days, these people are true American heroes.


Linda Myers said...

My husband worked for the power company for 40 years. In every storm, he was away from home working to turn the power back on.

Now he's retired, but he still jumps in the car when there's a power outage in our company. He drives around until he finds the problem, then calls it in.

He's a hero, that's for sure!

#1Nana said...

How lucky that it wasn't so cold that all the pipes froze. We have the same challenges here when our power goes out because we also have a well, but we don't have a working fireplace. We'd have to move into our RV because it has a generator!

Stephen Hayes said...

I'll never complain about Oregon rain again. We have it very good here, weather wise. Thanks for helping me realize it.

schmidleysscribblins, said...

The storm was indeed weird. Once more we were spared (kock on wood) owing to the heat bubble that surrounds DC. Much to be said for urban areas I think. We do not have a nice fireplace, so I suppose we would freeze if we lost electricity here.

Goodness knows how long it will be before we experience rolling black outs up and down the coast on a regular basis.

Population growth is the culprit I am afraid. We have overtaxed our system with our reproduction and out-of-control immigration coupled with a relatively grand scale of lliving when compared with other parts of the world. At least that's what environmentalists tell us, and I agree with them. Currenly reading another book on the topic, 'The End of Growth, Adapting to Our New Economic Reality' by Richard Heinberg (available on Kindle and can be read on laptops). Cheers! Dianne

Olga said...

Mike's family in CT are all without electricity still. My sister in law says that Simsbury looks like a bombed war zone. It was a freakish storm.
Our good friend in RI usually calls and asks about the weather when he knows it is bad up here...we were nicer to him and didn't rub it in this time.

Nance said...

A million pertinent and sympathetic thoughts, but these random ones, too: LOVE Doc Martin! In Greece right now, some people are having to choose life without electricity; we can watch them when we want to know what economic collapse will be like. And, all those folks like firemen, policemen, local power company folks...those are the folks who're getting double-whammied in this economy. Many are working for reduced wages in order to keep their jobs, but the responsibilities they fulfill aren't lessening one whit; in fact, they're on the up-swing.

Janette said...

We lost power for a week- ice storm. Our house hit 40 degrees. We were thankful that we had two fireplaces ( but learned how ineffective they were). After the second day we could drive to town. The local cafe was cooking over a gas stove. The next town brought in hot water for coffee. We were thankful that we had cash ( no electricity = no credit cards). The school got power first and opened gym showers for the town.
It was a strange time. It made me know that I was kidding myself that I had what it took to be a pioneer!

Anonymous said...

We have a generator and are accustomed to the power going out. We live in a rural setting and have learned we must depend on ourselves. We also have a well and septic.

For $799, we bought a 5.5 generator. It comes on wheels and is easily managed.

It's not as if we weren't advised a storm was coming. So, we prepared. That means having enough gas on hand to run the generator. We always plan on a week minimum to be without power here. We also got cash and stocked up on food that requires just a microwave.

Once our power went out, DH just spins up the generator. It's adequate to run the heat, the well, the TV, DVR and satellite. The fridge is fine and we can make ourselves a cup of coffee. We also make sure our camping equipment, such as lights and flashlights are ready. The only thing we need to buy this time around is a crank radio. But we can get our news off the TV. We make sure our cars are filled up with gas. And the back deck grill has propane for cooking up steaks, burgers, whatever.

If my husband would have left me during the storm and gone to Myrtle Beach or something like that, he'd be dead meat. But hey! That's just me.

Love Doc Martin!