When a fallen limb knocked out the power to my house last week, it wasn’t the first time that I’d had to temporarily forego having electricity in my house. But it was certainly the longest I’ve ever been without electricity, and the most convoluted such episode.
The details of what ensued over the next several days seem comical now, but they were somewhat stressful (and certainly inconvenient) at the time. Here’s how things unfolded from the beginning:
Thursday, March 9th: Wind and rain throughout the night
Friday, March 10th: Around mid-morning while working in my study at the back of the house, I suddenly hear a loud muffled sound, which I assume to one of the many piles of Stuff in the Attic falling over. A little later when fetching myself a second cup of tea, I notice through the glass in my kitchen door that a rosebush I’ve trained to wind around the pole that connects the power wires from the street to my house is now blocking the door! I open the door to find the power mast has been ripped from the side of the house and is lying on the walkway to the side porch door.
Using my front door to walk around the house to investigate, I am immediately confronted with a limb that had broken off from a neighbor’s tree and fallen across my power line.
All of this is a complete surprise, since, despite the now-seriously-drooping power line and the fallen mast, inside the house I’ve still got lights, heat, etc.
With some difficulty (and great stupidity), I manage to haul the limb off the still-working power line and into my front yard, thus unblocking the walkway.
I phone the power company and they tell me (a) it was very dangerous for me to have hauled the limb off the fallen power line (“Don’t ever do that again, sir!”) and (b) it’s my responsibility to hire an electrician to get the ripped-off power mast back onto my house, and (c) to call back when my electrician arrives, so they can turn off the power before he repairs the mast.
There ensues a flurry of phone calls trying to coordinate an electrician’s soonest available arrival time with the power company’s. (Both are backlogged, coping with other people’s power outages that had resulted from the same storm.)
Saturday, March 11th: I leave my house for various appointments that will take all day, annoyed that I must thread my way through a thorny rosebush to get to my car, but grateful that when I return home I’ll still have power, hot water, Internet access, and – most importantly because it is very cold that day – heat! As I leave the house, I neglect to notify my neighbor (with whom I share a driveway) that All Is Well, Do Not Freak Out about the Downed Power Mast That Looks So Dangerous, Everything Is Under Control.
I blithely drive off to another part of town to attend a half-day calligraphy workshop and then drive directly from the workshop to another part of town to co-conduct an oral history interview at the interviewee’s home. Not once do I check my phone for messages.
Meanwhile, unbeknownst to me, my neighbor has gotten up, noticed the dangerous-looking situation across the driveway, and begins phoning and texting me. Since I’m not checking my phone all day long, I miss every one of his ever-more-urgent messages.
The well-meaning neighbor, unable to reach me, decides the wisest thing to do is phone the power company and report what he’s seen. Power company comes to my house and cuts off the power, leaving me a notice of What Needs to Be Done Before Company Will Agree to Restore Power.
Cal arrives home early evening to find he’s got zero electricity, zero hot water, zero refrigeration in my refrigerator or freezer, zero Internet, and, most seriously, zero heat.
Cal phones friend Charles, who (unlike many of Cal’s other friends) lives a mere mile away, to ask if Cal can crash at Charles’s house for the evening. Charles generously agrees.
More phone calls to electrician and power company are made, each call involving fighting my way through those infuriating recorded phone menus. I also phone my internet service provider: the internet cable wire has also come unmoored from the side of the house, and the power company and electrician tell me they are not allowed to to re-connect it. I also phone my home insurance rep. (Eventually, Cal also makes yet another phone call, to reschedule from Monday to Wednesday a planned rendezvous 15 miles away to show his pickup truck to a prospective buyer. Best re-scheduling decision Cal makes all day!)
Sunday, March 12th: Another frigid day. Cal spends another night at Charles’s.
Monday, March 13th: Electrician arrives at 8:30am. Encountering various mechanical problems, he doesn’t complete his repairs until shortly before 5pm. Since power company can’t come out to restore power until the following day, Cal spends a third night at Charles’s. (We end up playing multiple games of Scrabble all these nights I’m staying at his house.)
Tuesday, March 14th: Power company arrives in early afternoon to restore power. Hurray! Lights and water heater and computer now functional again. Internet service rep arrives late afternoon to re-connect Internet wire to house. Ditto the house insurance company rep, who, much to my astonishment, writes me a check for over $700 to defray the costs of the wiring repair.
Wednesday, March 15th: Cal’s HVAC system stops working. What? I had heat before the power outage, but now there isn’t any. Cal frantically calls HVAC repair guy. He can’t send someone out for repairs until until the following day. The good news: temperatures have climbed high enough for Cal to spend the night at home instead of at Charles’s.
Thursday, March 16th: HVAC repairman arrives at, climbs into attic, repairs the 24-year-old furnace. (A rubber tube had gotten clogged.) Heat restored!
Cal then embarks on trying to catch up on a week-long backlog of emails and Facebook posts. I decide to reorganize the utility closet that I had to empty out so the electrician could work in there. I arrange another rendezvous (on March 20th at 7am) with the electrician, as he forgot to replace the cover to my fuse box when he was here. I do a boat-load o’ accumulated laundry. I do what I can to salvage the mangled rosebush.
The good news is that throughout this exasperating episode of having all my usually-taken-for-granted domestic comforts and routines disrupted, I didn’t, this time, lose sight of how lucky I was that things weren’t worse! I was merely viscerally – rather than theoretically – reminded of how dependent most of us are on our society’s electricity infrastructure to keep us comfortable.
A few of my gratitude-related realizations:
- I own a house that, 99.9% of the time, is equipped with electricity and other easily-taken-for-granted mod cons, like hot water. Not everyone is so lucky – either to own a house or to take for granted mostly continuously-available electricity.
- I live in a part of the country where a power outage in cold weather is an inconvenience, not a life-threatening situation.
- Even after the limb first came down, I had continued to enjoy a full day of electricity service. I could take a hot shower, I could sleep in my own bed in my own heated bedroom, I could work on my computer, the lights in my house came on when I needed them to, I could heat up water for a cup of ice tea, I could warm up a frozen waffle in in my toaster.
- I have friends willing to let me stay with them in an emergency. Several of those friends, like Charles, happen to be neighbors as well – an unusual fact in this sprawling city where friends can live many miles away.
- Charles, like me, loves to play Scrabble. (What if he were a fanatic television-watcher, or had a dog resents strangers, or didn’t have a spare bedroom, or had been out of town when my power went kaput?)
- I own a working vehicle that could transport me to and from Charles’s house. Actually, two working vehicles. Actually (until I sell my pickup truck – one of the chores I was working on when the power went out), three working vehicles.
- With my retirement savings, from working at a job I mostly enjoyed for over thirty years (vs., say, a job I hated or was laid off from), I can afford to pay my electric bills, my internet service bills, and all my other bills, including the fuel and repair bills for my (three) working vehicles. I can afford to pay someone to repair a broken heating system. Not all Earth residents, not even all American citizens, not even everyone living in Atlanta, Georgia are so fortunate.
- I was able to cope with getting things back to normal under the constraints of a retiree’s schedule, rather than trying to cope with power-outage-related difficulties while also holding down a day job. (Coincidentally, the fourth anniversary of my retirement was March 12th. Typing out the latest set of Annual Retirement Reflections is one of the post-power-outage tasks I haven’t yet gotten around to.)
- Although sometimes I think my iPhone may be on its last legs, I still own one of the dang things (a gift from my brother, so I didn’t even have to find the money to buy one); I can afford to purchase monthly phone service; and I had access to my phone during this entire power-outage episode.
- I am still young enough and agile enough to clamber around on ladders repairing rose bushes, to saw up fallen tree limbs, to sweep up my yard’s walkways, etc.
Things at my house are now almost back to normal – obviously normal enough for me to sit down and write a blogpost about this recent ordeal! I still need to borrow a power saw to hack up the fallen limb that’s still lying in my front yard; there are some emails and notes I should’ve written and sent over a week ago. There’s a boat-load of laundry to do. But none of those still-pending power-outage-catch-up chores has prevented me from sleeping in my own bed for the past week, from postponing some of those pending chores to undertake a few early spring gardening tasks, or forced me to reschedule last night’s meeting at my place of a book club I belong to.
In fact, during one of the power-outage days when it warmed enough to do stuff in the house during the daytime hours, I managed to replace my dining room chairs with more comfortable chairs, and to buy (and have delivered), a glass-fronted oak china cabinet that I swapped out with an oak table in my dining room. And last Saturday I lucked onto a nearby yard sale and paid a mere $15 for what surely is at least $250 worth of large gardening pots, four trellises, and two cast-iron shepherd’s hooks! In some ways, I came out the other side of the Power Outage Episode enjoying more Domestic Bliss than the power outage found me in!
In any case, I figure it’s probably A Good Thing to be reminded periodically – as I certainly was a week ago – of how dependent I am on the mod cons that living as a retired and otherwise privileged White Guy in a First World county affords; reminded of the fact that I do have friends; and, most gratifying of all, reminded of how generous those friends can be in difficult-to-manage circumstances.
Postscript: The limb that fell back in late March remained lying in my front yard for several months. By the end of May, I still hadn’t gotten around to borrowing a saw to chop it up so I could get rid of it. On June 4th, a city government crew arrived in front of my house to take down another limb from the same tree that (after another thunderstorm the previous evening) was threatening to fall into the middle of the street. I hauled the limb lying in my yard to the sidewalk, and the cutting crew very generously hauled it off along with the limbs they’d just cut down: a long-delayed end to the fallen limb saga!