We had a power outtage, someone hit a pole or a transformer somewhere blew up, something happened. The power fell off around 8pm and didn’t come back on until a quarter to midnight. In the course of those hours the house got cold, our frozen food halfway thawed, the lights went off and the computers went down and that was pretty much that. I was surprised at how quiet the house became when electricity was ripped from its nervous system. Even the furnace, now absent its electrically powered controls, sat idle.
The house was alive with the protesting beeps of battery backup systems, the various UPSs yelling their warning that the attached devices had been sent shutdown commands because the mains power was absent. I sat in the darkness and watched the lights of my various computers winked out and their fans and disk drives wound to a stop. I dragged myself around, pressing power switches on the UPSs to shut them up. That’s when I realized just how quiet it was. I could hear my wife moving about, likely in search of a light source. I have scads of them and in a minute I had a few LED laterns glowing brightly, casting their bluish light. I had my trusty 28 LED flashlight handy, which shown out like a deer spotters light. I have a 22 LED light as well. With the both of us equipped with light, hers including a snap on book light for her Kindle, I set about to wait on the return of power myself. My wife set her Kindle down and picked up her cell, “I’m going to call the power company.”
They didn’t specify the problem but said they had crews working on it. It would be midnight before power was restored, most likely. Hearing this, I drew out my Thrive tablet and powered it up. It had no wifi of course, but it had the music and movies I had wisely copied to it in a rare moment of preemptive action. The battery was topped off and it was time to see if the seven hour battery life claim had any merit. Not that I expected to use it for seven hours. Just till midnight, I hoped. I spent the next hour and a half immersed in Super 8. At the end, my battery indicator laughed maniacally and claimed 84%, it’s green line mocking my questioning of its charge life estimate. That could only mean one thing; it was time to watch another movie. But, it was also time to get a warmer shirt on. It was beginning to get a little chilly. The thermometer in my room said 68 degrees.
I wanted to go out on the web, I wanted to look for a front suspension setup for one of my crawlers, a robotic device I am building that drives around using GPS to find its way, along with obstacle recognition and inertial guidance. Tell it to go somewhere and turn it loose, and let it find its way. True, there aren’t a lot of uses for it that I can think of, but I like building the things, pointless or not. But, no power means no connection and so much for the idea of surfing. I picked up my Kindle, pulled its tongue-like LED light out and went back to reading a John Lutz book. The thermometer now said 66 degrees and I put on a hoody. My back was hurting and so I lay down on my futon and decided I would nap. I was in twilight when there was like a loud thump followed by the whine of electric motors spooling up. My ventilation fan kicked on, as did the lights and television, cable box. My phone, connected to its charger made a happy tone and said “Droid” in its robotic voice. A low whump preceded a rush of warm air from the registers as the furnace kicked on. In another room, my wife said “yay.”
I made my rounds to the various UPSs and clicked them back to life, which in turn fired up the three computers always running. Then I went from cable box to cable box, resetting both television and converter. If I didn’t, they TV would say that I was unsubscribed and should talk to my service provider until the end of time. When I was done, they all were telling me that information was being downloaded and service would begin momentarily. By the time I was stationed back at my desk, in front of my TV, it was finished and Antiques Road Show was playing. I plugged the Toshiba back into its charger and then collected up all of the lights I’d positioned around the house. A place for everything and everything in its place. If power goes off again, I know right where everything is.
But it also points out just how vulnerable I become when electricity is removed from my reality. Sure, I could have used my smartphone to fill my Internet fix, but my world is one of lights and circuits, appliances and devices. Electricity is a layer of protection around me that expands my reality and sphere by orders of magnitude. What it does, is remind me that I need to buy myself a generator, all hooked in to the house so that it might provide limited service in times of power loss. Pondering it, I think that one fueled by propane is best, since you can usually put a larger fuel tank on and get a lot more time between refueling with LP than gasoline. After experiencing the ice storm back in the mid-nineties with its week long power outtage, long term operation is a big plus. I’ll have to look into it and see how big a propane tank I would need for a week. I know that the big Onan generators in remote mountaintop radio tower sites, they have 8 foot long and four foot diameter LP tanks that will run the generator for three weeks or so. Like I said, I’ll have to look into it.
But it makes me feel old, being without power does. It points out my dependence on electricity to keep me attached to the world, to light my way, and to keep me warm. Microwaves and electric ovens don’t work well without power. I have lived in many different conditions in my life. There have been times I relied on just a candle, adjusting my day to coincide with the sun. Out in the wetted woods of Quebec where a fire was difficult to light or fuel, and seemed to attract more insects anyway. I was comfortable there as I camped my way from Roberval up to Lake Mistassini. But i was also a lot younger, and the forest was my experience and focus. I wanted to be there in those conditions. Today I don’t. Today, my idea of camping involves a desk clerk and dining facilities. Being without power just doesn’t cut it for the way I live today, which points out that there is more to addiction than drugs and gambling. I have an addiction to electricity. Could I live without it? Of course, but I wouldn’t be as comfortable and involved as I am. I wouldn’t like that. So here I am thinking and plotting my moves, for the next time my power goes out.