Pray to the Moon when She is round,
Luck with you will then abound,
What you seek for shall be found
On the sea or solid ground.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Will We Wake Up When the Lights Go Out?

Last night I experienced my first power outage in the city of Anchorage. 

In all these years, I have never seen even a brown-out -- something which has always made me marvel, having lived through many winters in New England. I met a man at a party on the 4th of July who told me this was because Anchorage has been vigilant about maintaining, replacing & upgrading its grid. He also said that in the effort to improve the appearance of the bottom line, they were cutting back on the upkeep, that we can expect more frequent outages in the future. He would know, he is one of those guys who is spending less time updating it. 

The outage was relatively brief & localized, but it was enough to give me pause & consider our modern human condition. When the power starts going out, will we wake up?

Five minutes into the outage, people started emerging from their houses. People I have never ever seen outside. Bewildered, like bats in the daylight, they wandered about & asked questions of their neighbors. The smokers, the only people I ever see outside, took the opportunity to light up. Are they somehow healthier for it? 

Then, very much like the people you see in sci-fi films listlessly wandering towards the apocalyptic horizon, folks began drifting down the hill towards the end of the cul-de-sac to see if the traffic lights were working. The intersection is very busy down there -- something might happen. What if the lights aren't working? But traffic signals occupy their own special sectors of the grid. No drama there. How will we get drama without television?

Ten, fifteen minutes into the outage, my neighbors began drifting back indoors. I had hoped they might linger awhile in the fresh air, linger among their fellow humans. This is summer in Alaska. There was no Darkness, nothing to impede outdoor (or indoor) activity. Silently I wonder, 'When they get inside, will they wake up? Will they talk to each other? Play board games or pull out a puzzle?


Twenty minutes or so into the outage, people begin to get in their cars & leave, I presume, in search of some place more hospitable. I wanted to believe that they would go for a walk along the coast, take the kids to a park or take a stroll downtown. But if I am honest with myself, I think they went in search of the Snooze Button. When the power goes out, go Shopping. There is electricity & Wi-Fi to be found in the mall, in the box stores, in the fast food restaurants. Comfy electricity. Comfy commercialism. Comfy consumerism. Comforters for those who Sleep.

And for those whose entire human community (maybe their entire world) is on the internet, it must have been much worse. No Spaceface. No Forums. No FantasyQuest. When the lights go out, they are severed, adrift. I remember this feeling. I once lived in a MMORPG. When the internet goes away, it is social anguish. Did they feel that desperation? When the lights start going out more often, will they wake up? Will they recognize the tragedy of their condition?

Fifty to sixty minutes into the outage, the people in the pink house have turned on their generator. I'm afraid I found myself completely aghast. In a blend of disgust & disbelief I grumble aloud, "I do hope they have a pressing medical need for that thing." But if I am honest with myself, I think it was the television. Without electricity, someone inside that house was going to miss a vital part of their Sunday evening routine. Or perhaps, it was dinner. Maybe they don't know how to prepare food without electricity. Goodness! No electricity! How ever shall they eat? That generator was a lifesaver.

After about ninety minutes, the outage was over. Click. Lights on. Generator off. Back to Sleep. 


Aine said...

Smile. Being a New Englander, in an area where brownouts or time outs or just plain no power happen for one good/bad reason or another, your post brought back some memories. Like Hurricane Bob; my son was a toddler. We didn't have power for a day or so. Since it was late summer, it wasn't that big of a deal. My favorite memory was my husband cooking my son's poptart on the grill....

Then there was the ice storm of 1998. That was a major deal. The night the power outage began, my son had a friend over for a sleepover.... they entertained themselves (and us) telling every ghost story they could remember. That night, and the next few, I camped out on the floor of the family room so I could wake up occasionally to keep feeding the wood stove.

We went many years without a generator, but eventually my husband got one. During outages now, my mother in law comes to stay with us, and her needs require some power for medical issues. Although the very first power outage we had with the generator around...what was it that the men in the house plugged into the generator first?

Was it the freezer, with all our stored food? no. Was it the fridge in the house? no. Was it the water heater, so we could shower comfortably? no.

It was the damn TV, so my husband and son could finish watching the Red Sox game....

刀ムイu尺乇 said...

ohhh, this is GREAT.. i recently spent a week with no power because of the derecho, this rings very true to me.. lots of people went to motels, and in the case of the very old and babies, i agree.. but yes, they go to motels and watch it on tv.. but, in my case, i actually felt pretty good about it.. got lots of outside work done, lots a few lbs and felt better.. got regular sleep. i missed the internet but i was 'forced' into the here and now, so it actually wasn't that hard for me. but when the power came back i cranked up the computer in the next minute or so, yes. you've done an excellent job on this piece, very true and thorough documentation with your magical style and intelligent observations, you paint a picture with words and i like that.. xo

Moma Fauna said...

Well... perhaps we can give them a little latitude. It *was* the Red Sox after all... ;)

I was in Western Mass. during the 1998 storm, living in that little house in the woods I wrote about in the post with the old photos of the fire pit & the shrine to Thoth. We were without power for a week & that might have been ok, given that our heat & cookstove were gas, except that our water came from a well that had an electric pump & no backup. So I must confess I say "Boo!" to scooping up soup tureens full of snow to fill the stock pot to thaw it all in order to *flush the toilet*. Big Boo. I also have to say "Boo" to borrowing other people's showers, but at least I only did it a couple of times. Otherwise, there was a certain pleasure in hunkering down & just watching the ice melt off the trees.

Our place in Utah has the same propensity for power outages (mostly due to wind & landslides out there), so I am happy to have the wood stove & all the other preparedness items (although we do not have a generator yet). This outage here in AK made me very aware of how little prepared we are. Hm. Guess we might want to do something about that.

Moma Fauna said...

I get the motel thing when you have babies &/or medical conditions too. When the Changeling first came home, he was on oxygen & although we had spare tanks for travel & whatnot, mostly we used the big noisy oxygen-making machine. He also had these noisy monitor for his O2 saturation. When the power went out (multiple times... wind, *sigh*) I would get all freaked out because I knew the battery packs only lasted so long & the O2 tanks were only so full. It was crappy, being tight as a wire like that.

But, if you're going to turn on your generator 50 mins into a power outage when the people one block over still have theirs (so it's obvious it isn't going to be long) & you are in Alaska in the summer so the sun ain't going down until after midnight, you have to really have some kind of medical need, or you might want to look carefully at your love of electricity. IMHO.

It's nice to go without. I agree with you. It helps you recalibrate your focus & lifestyle. And, to be honest, I am sure that just like you, I would feel the compulsion to hit the computer as soon as the power came back on. Ha! We all have our weaknesses. ;)

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