On this past sweltering Saturday, Kelly and I holed up in our bedroom, the only room of the house graced with any kind of air-conditioning. Around 4 pm the power sputtered and went out. Sprawled across the bed with the cats, we opened the window hoping to cool the room down. Instead, the unrelenting bright sunshine, palm trees, the police helicopter hovering over an adjacent street and our lack of electricity lent a Baghdad-like vibe to what remained of the afternoon. But Armageddon is not without its charms. It turns out that when the power goes out you learn a lot about yourself and the things you depend on.
The good things about losing power
- I felt a sudden feeling of peace. Why? We had no internet. Since we don’t have a smart phone we had no way of checking email, Twitter, Facebook etc. All we had was our always reliable land line. If you wanted to reach us you had to call us. It’s funny how all this connectivity that’s supposed to improve our lives ends up being a burden. I made a mental note to consider pulling the plug on the wi-fi more often.
- I was also thankful to have friendly neighbors. I walked over and chatted. We joked about pulling out the candles and banjos. They told me what was going on, that the power company would not be able to restore power until 1 a.m. the following day. Our friends on an adjoining street that we don’t see enough, came over with their dogs and we chatted.
The bad things about losing power
- I discovered that when the power goes out we have a transportation problem. This is due to our quirky garage, a concrete bunker in the side of the hill our house sits on. When the power goes out the only way to open the garage doors is with a key. The problem is that you can’t close and lock them unless there is electricity. So I could access our car and bikes, but I had no way of securing the garage which is right on the street. I didn’t want to leave it open, so if we wanted to go anywhere we’d have to take the bus. Clearly, I need to fix this.
- While I enjoyed our break from the interwebs, I also realized that a lot of information I depend on is now stored in the cloud. If the power had been out for longer I would have had problems. It was a reminder that I might need to print out and store a few vital documents and phone numbers.
- I also realized that we should keep a few convenient dry goods in addition to the rice and beans in the pantry. I didn’t want to open the refrigerator and freezer. It would have been nice to have some trashy and easily prepared items such as mac and cheese.
- One of the first things I did when the power went out was to pull out my 2 meter ham radio to see if I could figure out if something serious was going on. From the lack of chatter I could tell that the power outage was likely small. But I also realized that I need to periodically use the radio if I plan on using it in a real emergency.
I suppose the final lesson is the realization of just how privileged we are in the US. Most of the world’s people have to get by with unreliable power.
What have you learned when the power goes out?