Winter Blackouts… No Fun at All

I’ve posted in here about blackouts that have happened in the summertime, and all the fun that comes with wandering the neighborhood where the traffic lights and street lights are all dark, all the while searching for any business that is open for customers.

Winter blackouts have none of that.  And I speak from experience.  There was one tonight.

I didn’t come directly home from work tonight.  I went straight from work to the Whetstone branch of the library to pick up some reserves.  (I didn’t have much time, since the libraries close at 6 p.m. on Friday.)  It was around 6:30 once I finally got home.  I had been online checking email for about 15 minutes when all the lights went off on the first floor.  (I didn’t go upstairs to see if the second floor was affected.)

My first thought was that a circuit breaker had tripped.  When I first moved here, I was worried that the basement would have fuses instead of circuit breakers, since the house dates from 1910.

I stumbled through the living room to my front porch, and the neighbor on the other side of this half double was standing outside.  No, he and his family didn’t have lights, either.  Also, half the people on the block (not including the house directly across the street from me) were without power as well.

When I got on my phone to post to Facebook, I showed my frustration: What is it about power poles in my neighborhood?  Someone hit one, and much of this area has no electricity.  This had happened earlier, and it was because someone had run into an electric pole.

This meant, besides no lights, no Internet.  I had told my neighbor I was going to AEP’s Website and see what they posted as the estimated time we would have the lights back.  Just as I said this, I realized that I couldn’t do this, since I have a router, and not a 4G card.  I texted Steph in Florida, and asked her to check for me, and she texted back 10 p.m.

The temperature is in the teens tonight, so there was no hanging out on porches, no walking around the sidewalk comparing notes on how inconvenient the blackout is.  Also, there was the worry about what would happen if AEP’s estimates were unrealistic, and what would we do without furnaces.

During all these worries, I was grateful that I didn’t have to worry that my electricity was off because of non-payment.  I have been there too many times in the past than I should have, when I was more foolish with my money, and came home more than once to flip a switch and… nothing would happen.

Excellent system... when it works.

Excellent system… when it works.

Because of the cold, I wasn’t going to meander around in search of a place that did have electricity.  If it was warmer, I would have gone to Kafé Kerouac, or taken the laptop to McDonald’s and eaten two apple pies for a dollar while draining the Golden Arches of iced tea and Wi-Fi.

One reason I did not do this was because of all the ice on the sidewalk, still there and still dangerous despite being under a layer of snow.  After last year’s spill on the ice, I have been extra cautious on anything that looks like it might be slippery.  I have come to the stage in life where the LifeCall commercial’s trademark phrase, “I’ve fallen, and I can’t get up!” is no longer funny.  In the early 1990s, I would laugh at these ads when they came on in the predawn hours during reruns of Perry Mason or The FBI.

Another reason I could not leave was because I had ordered food online just before the electricity went off, and I wanted to wait for the delivery person to arrive.  (My lunches are usually pretty Spartan.  I eat at a deli on the same block as the William Green Building and, depending on the day, I either have a tuna salad sandwich or a chicken salad sandwich.)

I had just about decided to cut my losses and head to bed.  I wasn’t especially tired, but I wanted to be somewhere warm in case AEP’s guess was wrong and power was going to be off a lot longer.  I learned from my heat-less days on Maynard Ave. during the polar vortex that bed was often the only warm place in the house.

So, as I was planning to head upstairs, and be sound asleep at the magic hour of 10 p.m., the lights came back on.  I heard some knocking in the basement, and within 30 seconds or so the furnace came back on with a whoosh.  I had to be patient for another minute or so before the router was back on and I was able to log back online.  It was 8:15, a little less than two hours ahead of schedule.

According to the Friends of Kafé Kerouac page on Facebook, they had no power, either.  But, they still went ahead with the Scotch tasting scheduled for tonight.  (It reminds me of a picture in The Night the Lights Went Out, which is The New York Times‘ excellent book about the November 1965 Northeast blackout.  One picture shows men playing pool by candlelight.  The caption is: The important things go on.)

So, with restored electricity and a working router, you have this entry!

A Night Off the Grid

I’m proud of the fact that I haven’t missed an entry in the newest volume of my holographic diary since I began it on Wednesday.  I have never claimed that type of streak with this blog, but I’m guilty with an explanation for last night: No electricity.  (But you have a laptop, I hear you protest.  Yes, I say, but it’s useless without a router.)

Just after 4 yesterday afternoon, the TV and air conditioner in the bedroom suddenly sputtered, coughed once, and then died.  No rain had fallen during the day, but there was plenty of wind.  Susie and I noticed it when we were in Clintonville, waiting for a bus to take us home from First UU.  By the time we were done eating lunch, the wind was strong enough to start blowing trash and tree limbs in the circle outside our house.  Then, at 4, everything quit.

This storm is coming on the tails of Hurricane Ike.  More than half of Franklin County was out of power, and we remained so throughout the night.  It was a night like the Great Power Blackout of 1965 in New York, "when the transistor radio, the candle, and the art of conversation enjoyed a one-day renaissance," according to Walter Cronkite.  (I love all things radio, but if I still own a transistor radio, I don’t know where the hell it is.  We didn’t have C-cell batteries to power our boomboxes’ receivers.)

Surreal is the only word I can use to describe how it looked when I stepped out onto the sidewalk to look at the neighborhood.  No lights anywhere–not even street lamps or traffic lights.  As I looked toward downtown, all I could see were the lights on the tower at Mount Carmel West.  Later in the evening, the neon lights on the top of the American Electric Power building were on; I guess it wouldn’t restore public trust if they were blacked out.  We stayed in the master bedroom, using light from the candelabra I brought up from the living room mantle.  The battery on the laptop still worked, so I played some of the albums I’ve ripped to Windows MediaPlayer.

We got to bed at a decent hour–unlike right now.  I used the alarm on my cell phone to wake up, although during my many mini-awakenings during the night, I didn’t have the slightest idea what time it was.  I’m used to glancing across the bedroom and looking at the LED display on the cable box.

There was some free entertainment.  The couple who moved next door to us had a high-decibel and -intensity fight, and the sound echoed all the way up and down the block.  Words like "son of a bitch" and "crack whore" and "skank" were bandied about quite a bit.  It made The Jerry Springer Show sound like Masterpiece Theatre by comparison.

I had no way of knowing whether or not State offices would be open, so when 5:30 came, I treated it like a normal day.  Good thing I did, because the offices were open, although there was quite a skeleton crew.  (Besides there being no electricity in over half of Columbus, schools were closed.)  Steph heard that electricity could possibly be out until Wednesday or Thursday, so she called me at work and read me a list of foodstuffs to buy, all of them not requiring immediate and constant refrigeration.  I went straight from work to Kroger and bought over $50 of produce, snacks, bread, etc.  I came home and found that we had power–at least our side of the street does.  I’ve seen some candles burning the windows of our across-the-street neighbors.