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Sunday, February 15, 2009

Powerless

The phone rang insistently on Thursday morning at 4 a.m. I scrambled to reach it (School delay, call from India?) It went silent, as a mantle of silence and darkness descended upon the whole house. The power was out.

Two hours later, we used the dying power of the laptop to check for any indications that school might be delayed or cancelled. There were none. M and S were hustled off on their morning routines, fed cold milk and cereal for breakfast, before they stepped outdoor to get to the bus stop.

I took off for work, as did my husband who had a morning meeting. The hope was that the power would be back by the time S got back from school. No such luck, however. The house was stubbornly darkening as the sun set, lit only by the flickering flame of a pitiful long-unused emergency candle. (Not for me those candlelit dinners with tall graceful tapers, or the scented aromatherapy pink and green beauties. I've always preferred the glare of incandescents, not yet fully switched over the CFL tubes.)

We stepped out briefly for a meal at a nearby all-you-can-eat pizza buffet. Nobody was enthusiastic about shopping afterward, so we returned back home to through darkened streets. Still at least 300 houses were without power in our area, a dark valley and ridge between pockets of glimmering lights.

A fire was lit in the dusty fireplace, generating a small quantum of light and heat, barely enough to keep the family room warm. We cleared the carpet, determined to spend the night like an adventure camping out inside our own house. Only, things are never as simple as they seem.

We started off feeling warm and toasty in our be-socked feet, under multitudinous piles of comforters, sleeping bags for the kids, but as the hours wore on, the fire dwindled to nothing, and our feet started freezing. Time for hubby to get up yet again and place another log on the fireplace. How uncomfortable it must have been for the pioneer families battling the cold in their log cabins, especially with fireplaces that needed constant tending to keep up the temperature.

The morning came, and we were too glad to get ready and speed away to schools and offices. An ambulance and police car wended their way out of the neighborhood, lights flashing. I wondered who might have had a medical emergency due to the lack of electricity, as I pulled my shoes on and walked down to the car. An hour later, my husband abandoned the cold house for the mcomforts of coffee and wi-fi at a nearby Panera, till it was time to get home before the kids got back from school.

In the evening, the same anxious wait continued. When will the power come on back? As we sat freezing, the temperature having dropped by over 20 degrees over 36 hours, my husband suggested we take up our friends' offer to host us at their home 15 miles away. The kids always loved their sleepovers there. Yet, I felt reluctant to leave the house "What if the temperature drops too much and the pipes freeze and burst?"
"It's not that we can do much in such a situation beyond watching and agonizing over it", hubby pointed out practically. "I can stay in a neighbor's or a local motel, to come and check occasionally if needed. Maybe you can take the kids to the North Hills- they're expecting their fun sleepover now. I'll go to Home Depot to get some more firewood for the fireplace." And off he went.

I sat with the kids, waiting as the minutes ticked by and it was time to leave, hoping against hope that the power would come back before our toes and fingers fell off from frostbite. At 5:30, I made up my mind. "Get your shoes and jackets on, we're leaving now."

Forty five minutes later, the cellphone tinkled from the back seat as I traversed the last 1/2 mile to our friend's house. I waited till I pulled up before their driveway to pick up the phone and check it. It was my husband's call.

"The power came back just 5 minutes ago. They were fixing transformers all up the road and when they got to the one on the top of the hill, our sector got its power back."

We stayed overnight at the friends' house, the kids having fun playing with their similar aged kids, while I chatted away at dinner time. We drove home the next morning.

Now my husband is busy going through brochures and websites, doing the research for his next big planned purchase- a 7000 W generator that can keep even the furnace going, should another power outage like this one happen. Who knows what the future will bring, with an economy in free fall and less money for essential services to be maintained, coupled with increasingly severe weather and global climate change?

5 comments:

Sujatha said...

Wow! I can't imagine going through the nights without heat. Our fireplace is largely unsused, so in an emergency, it would be a friend's house pronto.

Amit said...

If you had a generator, wouldn't you have missed the night spent at your friend's house and deprived them of the opportunity to help you out and strengthen your ties of friendship? :)

Sujatha said...

@Suj
You might want to try the fireplace out in the summer- never say never. Ours remained unlit for over 6 years after we moved in, until we decided it might be a good idea to check if it was functional.
@Amit
Remember, this is America. We're supposed to be independent, resourceful and self-reliant ;) Things are much easier of course (and more fun) when you have plenty of near and dear to impose on. (Ah, the good food, and not having to do the dishes, since the servant will handle the extra workload...)

Lekhni said...

I cannot imagine being without power in winter here - the pipes would certainly burst immediately, for one thing. Not surprisingly, the law allows even people who do not pay their heating/ electricity bills to continue to get the services in winter.

Sujatha said...

Lekhni:
This kind of power outage is relatively rare, since most of the cables in our area are routed underground. But extended outages are worse in winter than in summer, given that our heat depends on it.
Do you have an emergency plan, if a similar situation should arise in your home? Best to think it out before it actually happens.