PowerlesSituation

“We’re sorry for the inconvenience”

–          God’s last message to His creation

Let’s just say: be careful what you wish for. Those familiar with this blog know that it’s been kind of boring around here. Not many adventures. Not much drive to create adventures. In order to keep my modicum of at least 1 post a month, I was going to write about something else, which I will probably do later. As it stands, I have missed a month. Here’s why.

Wednesday is as good a day as any to start. Woke up to tornado sirens, like I have done occasionally for the past few months. I never really give them much sway, since I generally never encounter anything “tornado worthy” when they go off. They had kind of become the “boy who cried wolf” to me. Of course, Wednesday would be different. Wednesday they just wouldn’t shut up. Wednesday proved that they were correct.

I had training on Wednesday, so I merely went along with the normal day’s activities. Still no obvious weather anomalies. Not until lunch did I see what the sirens were talking about. It got very dark outside. Very windy. Very rainy. It was around this time that I took a trip to the bathroom, where the lights were starting to flicker from power fluctuations. Mind you, I didn’t go there to seek shelter, I just went to use the bathroom. I guess what’s interesting about this phenomenon was that the first thing that I thought of was those slasher/horror/zombie movies where the lights are flickering in the bathroom. We did actually lose power for one second before going back to class. After class, we all went home.

The sirens were still pretty much non-stop out there, but I managed to keep comfortable in my apartment. I made a facebook status update which was the following: “Make sure to stay away from PCs in this severe weather. Mac users should be fine, but you don’t want to be near Windows during a tornado.” The irony of which was that while I was in front of my PC, the power went completely out. Amidst the whirring down of the various appliances and electronics, intermixed with the sound of sirens outside, I could hear something that I hadn’t heard in a while: silence.

Last time I lost power in my apartment, it came back up about mid-way through the night. Last time my building was eventually the only one without power, so it was a bit of an anomaly. This time it didn’t come back on. As was the case last time, I found my headlamp flashlight and used it for the rest of the evening. Similarly, I set my cell phone and iPod alarms to go off in case power didn’t come back on before I went to work the next day. Which brings us to . . .

Thursday. My cell phone alarm woke me up, so I got up and got ready. I figured I would go in to work a little early and see if I could utilize the power there, since I still thought that only my area had been affected. As I drove, I realized that this was bigger than I had thought. All the traffic lights were off, the electronic billboards were black, buildings were dark inside. I began to realize that even though I didn’t see any immediate damage, those sirens on Wednesday might have been on to something. When I pulled into the parking lot at work and found that no one was there, I ejected the CD from the CD player and began searching the radio stations for any news. The first words out of my radio informed me that work was closed for the day. The next day I listened to the radio, but didn’t hear anything about work being closed until I got off the interstate. Then it was merely a turn-around and I was back home again for an unexpected 4+ day weekend.

I suppose that despite everything, there are some fortunate factors to this whole situation. First of all, the weather was nice, if not a bit cool, so that even without power, it was comfortable. I would not have wanted to have no power during the snowstorms earlier this year. That is certainly true. The second fortunate factor (at least to my situation) was that I had plenty to do that didn’t involve electricity. Granted, this wasn’t quite how I wanted to catch up on my reading goal for this year, but I certainly took advantage of it. In the 100 hours of no power, I ended up reading 10 books at a grand total of approximately 2100 pages. I figured, “what else is there to do?” At the very least, I didn’t want to get in the way out there, so staying home reading was the best solution.

Of course, I didn’t realize that it would end up being 100 hours. With no electricity, and limited information resources, I had no idea how long it would be until power returned. I figured a day at most. In fact, I was a little surprised that I managed to get two hot showers out of my water before I had to man up and do it cold. However, when the hours kept ticking on by, I started to worry about a few things. The foremost of which was food. I knew that since I was relatively sedentary I wouldn’t need much in terms of nourishment, and yet I didn’t want to be uncomfortably hungry. I pulled out what dried and non-refrigerated goods I had and snacked on them for meals. I know it may sound a little bit sacrilegious (especially when you say it quickly), but Cheeze-its was my savior. I just didn’t know how much longer I could make it last.

Food wasn’t my main problem anyways. The main issue I had was with communication. As Murphy clearly points out, “If it might go wrong, it will.” A few things stacked up that prevented me from contacting anyone until about the 90th hour of being without power. First was my cell phone battery. When I realized that I might be in this for the long haul, I turned my cell phone off, because it was very low on battery power. This was probably due to the fact that it was searching for a signal that wasn’t being sent out by the cell towers. No power to those, so it figures. I occasionally turned the cell phone back on to see if I could get any reception. When I finally did, I was informed that I had no more minutes. Great.

It comes to light that you don’t realize how unprepared you are for an emergency until it actually happens. There are a few things that I know I might want to get (or at least have at home) for if this happens again. First of all would be a battery powered radio. I have a Sansa mp3 player that has a radio capability, but that was not at home. Secondly, a land-line. I know it’s a little weird, since cell phones are usually what’s used in emergencies, but it seemed like the land-lines were working, and that way I could have told my parents (and work) that I was OK. Even though the flashlight and the decorative LED ice cube (see picture) were good for lighting at night, some candles (or at least more LED lights) would definitely be useful. I should have figured that one out the first time I lost power, but whatever. And, of course, a car charger for my cell phone would probably not be amiss.

Now that’s not to say that I wasn’t resourceful. After about two days of eating nothing but snack food (which I hadn’t done since a few years back when I was climbing 14ers), I was really craving some proteins. Fortunately, I was able to rescue some leftovers from my refrigerator, so I knew I had some pre-made meals to eat for a few days. The question was how to cook them. That’s when I realized that my car made a perfect solar oven. Around noon, I’d go down to the parking lot, toss in a Tupperware container of leftovers and wait 5 hours for it to warm. In fact, my car probably did a better job than my microwave would have done.

And yet, I found that with no power I noticed a few things that are sometimes drowned out by the hum of every-day life. First was the darkness. When the sun set, it got DARK. Now, I had known this fact from years of camping, but experiencing it in my apartment was something a little different. I’d stare up at the ceiling and I couldn’t tell if my eyes were open or not. I was definitely glad that my watch had glow-in-the-dark hands. Of course, I did take advantage of the darkness on two of the evenings. I hadn’t spent any time looking at the stars in a long while, so I figured that now was as good a time as any. With most of the light pollution gone, including most of the moon, I saw more stars than I ever had while down in Alabama. Granted, due to the increased atmosphere it wasn’t nearly as many stars as I would see at say, Cameron Pass, but it was still an awe-inspiring vista. One of the evenings I went out and lay on the hood of my car to keep my neck from getting sore while I stared up at the heavens. I don’t know why people would ever do this. It’s uncomfortable and probably not good for the car.

Secondly, there is the silence. Or the lack there of. At night it was quiet, with the exception of all the crickets and tree frogs. During the day, it’s the constant stream of cars playing rap music way too vulgar and loud and people walking by speaking way too vulgar and loud. I have come to the conclusion that these two things are probably highly interconnected. At the very least, in the respites of noise, I did manage to focus a lot on my reading, as I have mentioned before.

Lastly: old habits die hard. I don’t know how many times I would go into a room and flip a switch, only to have nothing happen. This kind of goes with the realization when there’s no power; you tend to notice how many power lines there are. None of them were down, but they do become a lot more conspicuous when you realize what they’re there for.

Now even though I was not harmed, and my property was not damaged, and I had a very calm attitude about everything (after all, “Don’t Panic” is excellent advice), I do not want it to seem like I am glib to this whole situation. Merely ignorant. This was a very serious natural disaster and I was lucky to be unscathed in more ways than one. My heart goes out to those that lost everything, and I know that the countless volunteers that are donating their time and effort will have their reward in heaven.

As I lay on my bed trying to get to sleep on Sunday night, I reflected on all that’s happened in my life up until now and how I have truly been blessed. But that’s a post for another time. Around 11:30, the power came on, and I went to check and see if everything was working. After turning off my closet light, which I had inadvertently turned on while the power was off, I logged on, plugged in and resumed my consumption. Having had 100 hours of a forced unplugging, I know to appreciate the little things in life, to pull away from the pace of the world once in a while and truly relax. Maybe that’s all it takes sometimes. Go back to the closet. Find the breaker box. Flip the switch.

Click.

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