I am the 33%

Baffling title, I know.  However, I am in a distinct and coveted minority right now.  I am part of the one third of people here in Columbus who have electricity.  The “rush hour storm” (my name for it; don’t know if anyone’s officially given it a title) of Friday night knocked out electricity when hurricane-force winds blew down power lines.  Looking at this morning’s Columbus Dispatch online, the best guess is that 345 thousand people in Central Ohio are without electricity, and about one million Ohioans total are without power.

While I have electricity, I do not have Internet.  I am “in the field” right now, typing this entry at the main branch of the Columbus Metropolitan Library.  I am without Internet and TV at home, and I realize that this may continue for awhile.  American Electric Power is saying it may be until Saturday before all of Central Ohio has lights, so I’m sure WOW Internet and Cable is not going to bust its chops to make sure people get to see America’s Got Talent.

My work day ended at 5 p.m. Friday, and around 4:40, I looked out to see that people were driving with their lights on, the street lights had come on, and the sky was getting dark.  (The latter never concerns me, because the windows in the William Green Building are so tinted that I often think it’s darker outside than it really is.)

At 5, I walked outside and was hit by the wind.  Newspaper pages and leaves skittered across the sidewalk, and then I saw an orange barrel rolling across High St.  The air felt warm and wet.  I hurried across High St. to catch my bus north.

During the northbound trip up N. 4th St., my fellow passengers and I escaped the worst of the hurricane-velocity winds that were pummeling Columbus at that time.  We saw trash cans rolling out into the street, strewing their contents behind them in a trail as they went.  We started seeing tree limbs lying on cars and on sidewalks.  Most ominously, we saw totally darkened houses.  Even at 5 p.m., three hours before sundown, everyone was driving with their headlights turned on.

I got off the bus and began walking the block toward my house.  Other houses on my street had lights on, so I was hopeful.  As I was leaving the bus, I saw several people running en masse north on N. 4th St., so I glanced in that direction and saw a thin cloud of black smoke in the sky.  As I looked up the alley, I saw there was a fire, and both rubberneckers and fire trucks were headed that way.

So, I hurried home and clicked on the living room light (just to make sure I had electricity; I did), and grabbed the camera.  (I write this one paragraph after saying something about rubberneckers, I know!).  I went up the alley, where the fire was still raging but looked easily controlled by the firefighters I saw there.  A garage behind a house on N. 4th was on fire, and the flames had even managed to catch the upper branches of a nearby tree on fire.  I thought that lightning had hit the garage, but a firefighter told me that the wind had blown a branch from a tree.  The branch had fallen on a power line, and both power line and branch landed on the roof of the garage.  The power arced, and the sparks set the garage on fire.  I shot about nine minutes of footage, most of it featuring the fire at the beginning, but the last few minutes showed more of people milling around in the alley.

I cursed WOW Internet and Cable when I was unable to get an Internet connection.  I turned on the TV, and at first they displayed a message saying there had been an interruption of service, and cable would be restored momentarily.  This message soon disappeared–they realized it would be a long time from “momentarily,” so the TV has displayed a blank screen ever since.

Not until after dark did I realize the extent of the power failure.  Once the sun set, I wandered around Baja Clintonville and the area around High St.  Houses just a block or two west of mine were dark.  I could see flashlights and candles in the windows.  Many people were sitting on their porches.  I could not see many of them, except maybe when they were holding lit cigarettes.  Some people made a party out of it, others sat and talked quietly.

A house at the corner of Indianola and East Maynard Avenues.  Falling branches destroyed his chimney and much of his roof.

But it was High St. that was truly the revelation.  Street lights were out, traffic lights were out, and the street was quiet, except for the sound of cars on the road.  My beloved Blue Danube was shuttered up, locked, and darkened, unheard of for Friday night.  The convenience store and Tobacco For Less across the street were empty and deserted.  Dick’s Den was open, with candles on the tables and in the windows, but I knew the allure of drinking room temperature beer could only last so long.

I used to have a record produced by CBS News called I Can Hear It Now: The ’60s, narrated by Walter Cronkite.  He mentioned the Great Power Blackout of 1965, and described it as “when the transistor radio, the candle, and the art of conversation enjoyed a one-day renaissance.”  That blackout affected 30 million persons in New York City, upstate New York, Massachusetts, Canada, and Pennsylvania, but the lights were back on the next day.  Candles were definitely making a comeback in Columbus Friday night.

I stopped in at Kafé Kerouac, lit by candles in the front room, with the performance/book room left totally dark.  The business was cash only, of course.  I stayed and nursed a warming can of Sprite, and sat at a table with a half-finished chess game and a deserted game of Connect Four.  I didn’t stay long.  No electricity meant no lights, and it also meant no air conditioning, and with all the people crammed into Kafé Kerouac’s comparatively small, underventilated space, the place soon smelled like the inside of a Dumpster.

Sirens have almost become white noise since Friday night, but it seems these are mostly rescue runs, not police out responding to opportunistic crimes.  People have been very courteous at intersections, treating them like four-way stops.  I have not heard about any looting or gratuitous property destruction.

By last night, the thrill seemed to be gone, and the fun has gone out of this blackout.  While I was out and about last night, I saw many people sitting on the porches of darkened houses, but the mood was much more desultory, and there was a feeling that this has gone on long enough.  I was out on a fool’s errand last night.  Fritz the Nite Owl was supposed to host Horror Express (starring Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing) last night at 11:30.  Without Internet access, I could not log onto Fritz’ Facebook page, and Studio 35 is usually pretty lax about changing its outgoing message on voice mail.  So I hiked the two miles or so to Studio 35 to see if the movie would still happen.  I made most of my way minus streetlights.  (I had briefly considered riding the trike up Indianola, but between the lack of street lights and the abundance of felled limbs and other debris, I am glad I vetoed the idea.)  The Weber Market was totally blacked out, and so, I saw was Studio 35.  The movie was cancelled, as was the 9:15 showing of Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter (divine intervention?).

The adventure continues tomorrow.  COTA is going out on strike, so I am either walking or triking the 3½ miles to and from work.  I need the exercise too much to be bitter.

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