After a four day sojourn in world of dark, I’m thrilled at the simple magic of turning on a light by just pressing a switch. Yes we had flashlights and white fuel lanterns, but it’s not the same as the full, corner filling illumination of electric light. It’s nice to flush the toilets as well, really nice.
Midway through our fourth day one of the township crews came by with a generator and a jury rigged cable to start the pump in our holding tank. It turns out we didn’t have a 500 gallon capacity, it topped out at about 60 gallons. No wonder we were full so fast. The release of stress when the grinder pump started to churn and water actually went down when we flushed was lovely.
I had taken it upon myself to become the pooh ladler, making my rounds each day with an old plastic bucket to empty each toilet. After all it’s only poop and paper. Then I would bag it up and put it in the garbage, as a special treat for the local sanitation engineers. I did “double bag” though.
I was most surprised at the growing sense of dis-ease that over came us all as time went on. Little frustrations built up into a sense of malaise, that piled into grim faces by the third day. It didn’t help that the local authorities kept announcing that all would be well by 10pm, or that the power utility had the pure stupidity to grumble about the cost of repairs forcing them to raise the rates soon.
Raise the rates? We coming over to burn your houses down if you don’t get us working soon. The local government had nothing but praise for the power utility, and the power utility “appreciated the full cooperation of the municipality.” “That’s nice,” said our voices in the dark. “Prepare the boiling oil!.”
It was interesting, from a purely academic standpoint, that nothing really started happening until after Irene blew through. That when trees just started to topple and streams gushed into to rivers and rivers leapt our of their banks and took over the land. Irene never materialized as the devastator she was predicted to be, she was only a tropical storm when she got here. It was still plenty.
Well loaded with camping equipment and emergency supplies we were better off than most. We cooked on the the stove top and ran a pipe from the window by the kitchen sink to a make-shift shower enclosure in the back yard. We have a gas water heater that makes hot water even during the longest of power outages. The shower water fell from on high to the shower-er below, who enjoyed a panoramic view of the woods and the neighbors houses.
We ran the generator twice a day for several hours to keep the refrigerators cold and our sprits high. Some of our neighbors never turned theirs off. We were kinder than that. The electricians I attempted to bribe into creating a temporary hook up for the generator to run the waste pump, said “no problem, my boss says we can create a solution for about $900.” Electricians are sticklers for the immutable laws of “code.” Just asking brought forth tales of horror from around the world, thousands of decimated souls who were ravaged by the missed wire nut, improper use of electrical tape and screwdrivers in sockets. Luckily the township guys didn’t feel the same way, being more followers of “if there’s a will there’s a way.” I still may call back the electrical knights, winter’s coming and cold and snow would make this situation much, much different.
The lights came on yesterday afternoon and there was dancing and singing in the kitchen. My youngest announced that he’d ejaculated 3 times at the return of the light and never planned to sleep again. Which means he’ll be really hard to get out of bed today. The Internet is his world and he felt cast out.
It’s not that we didn’t resort to board games, reading and even conversation. However, you can only tell the “In my day we didn’t even have rocks to bang together!” story so many times. We are used to our world and find little pleasure in times of Abe Lincoln. We do not long for cave living, humanity has been there and done that and moved on. When the power fails we don’t take it all in stride, demonstrating our resilience. We call for the head of the electric company and keep note of the names of bumbling politicians. Technology isn’t a gift, we pay for it. Any one who longs for simpler times may unplug at will, secure in the knowledge that they can return to our happy bright world at a moment’s notice.
What we did notice during this time was that some of the things that should have been there, weren’t. Where were the local radio stations to keep us informed? Gone the capitalist route to prerecorded shows shipped in from Chicago. What’s the point of tweeting insipid news updates when there’s no power for computers?
We also found a distinct deficiency in the local cell network, which quickly bogged down under the load of those wanting some semblance of news. The sources were out there and faithfully reported up to the minute events, but consistent connections were few and far between. One of the few bright spots was the “Patch” which allowed reporters and residents to ally and build information. That’s a newspaper conversion success story.
We’ll remember come voting time, the local politicians who rerouted power to businesses over residences, state politicians who sold off public radio and television assets to other states and congressmen who are holding up disaster funds to look for cuts. We’ll have a really good memory for that.
Copyright Prentiss Gray 2011