I have been feeling like I live in Brazil. Not the country (is it “third world” or not?), the movie.
We were without electricity for four days due to wild thunderstorms. This, 24 hours after returning from a week away with very spotty internet and phone service. It doesn’t sound so hard (and the weather wasn’t as hot as it might have been) but the scenario started to feel stressful for mellow me by the third day when I realized the power utility had no idea what was going on. When I ran out of towels. Oh, and when all of the adjacent blocks got their power back, all within 48 hours.
The power company has opened a special line for this crisis and to provide “service restoration times.” I call and they say they don’t have a time for my address yet, I should call back that evening.
I call back and they say Thursday at 11:30 pm. Conveniently, a time when the call center is closed.
I am pretty sure they are making this up. No one has even been out to look at the downed tree yet. It is Tuesday afternoon.
Why does it have to get dark so early? It’s hot as summer.
Doing dishes by hand, by candlelight, does seem to get better results than we’ve been getting from our dishwasher. Hey, silver lining.
My daughter asks me when we’re going to have normal breakfast again (toast instead of raw bread, real fruit not raisins, butter). I tell her when the power comes back on, we’ll replace all the food we had to throw out of the refrigerator and freezer. She asks, with a big smile, “Are we poor now?”
I tell her that in this country, even poor people usually have refrigerators. Then I recall the 5 kinds of bottled salad dressing I threw out and regret my callousness. But even in Brazil they have internet access. I tell her, no, this would be much worse if we were poor. But Mommy’s still frustrated.
Our home phone, run off our cable, is down. The cell phone is barely working. Whether it’s always being on low power, or a tower is down, I can’t be sure. I am conserving minutes and charge in case of a real emergency.
My mother calls and complains for 5 minutes that she is confused because she got my cell voice mail when she called our home number.
Everything is winding down, and I’m out of clean underwear.
I am a social media consultant preparing a PowerPoint for a conference and two client proposals and I can’t get on the internet except on my phone. It would be nice to fix that typo in my resume and respond to the edits on my catalog essay, but I can’t get online unless I run to Starbucks. Where I already spent all morning. AFTER drinking room temperature, supersweet bottled Frappuchinos.
I can get a few things done, as long as I spend a lot of time driving place to place for power and wifi, but not enough. My kid is delightful, doesn't mind a bit, except that she is pretty sure that I made it up about the TV. She gets extra playdates and that's fine.
I am getting in touch with the helpless and silent rage that fills me at times. This isn’t like someone is dying right next to me, but the uncertainly, the increasing dread that it will never turn, is suffocating. And the heat’s building up again.
My daughter is learning the complex meaning of the valuable term “room temperature.”
Linesmen from neighboring states are here to work 16-hour shifts to fix it. But there are still trucks patching potholes (why do we need roads if all the businesses are closed?). We hear scuttlebutt that the Governor has offered resources for tree removal and the power company said, No, thank you, we’re fine.
There was chatter on our neighborhood listserv saying that the company listed a fallen tree on our block as the culprit in just 5 outages, when there are at least 50. The power company made it clear they were trying to deal with problems affecting the most customers, first. So I called in to be counted.
The automated system asked me to confirm my address. I haven’t lived at that address for 8 months. I punched through to get a person.
“I’m trying to report an outage but your system is picking up my OLD address.”
“I’ll look that up… which number is yours?”
(I told her)
“And you live at (old address)?”
“No, we moved in November, now we live at (new address).”
“And your number is (old home number)?”
“No, it’s the number I’m calling you from, which your system understood…”
“Oh I see, the problem is that number is listed as your work number.”
“How is that the problem? You shouldn’t have the old address connected with any of my numbers. Work or home, I still moved. Can you change it?”
(click click click)
“Okay, that’s done. Now where is your outage?”
(I give her the new address).
“We already have a report of that outage.”
“They said they want every household to file a separate report so you know how many people are affected.”
“It doesn’t matter. It’s already in the system.”
“Would you please make another report or record or whatever? Your online map shows only 5 houses affected and it’s been three days. If someone knew it was really 50 families maybe people would get to it sooner.”
“Oh. All. Right.” She sounded like my exasperated but resigned first-grader.
“Could I please speak to an executive about the confusing orders we’re receiving about whether to call? I’d like to clear up the confusion on my neighborhood listserv. It’s hundreds of your customers chattering about this.”
She might have shuffled some papers. “No one is available right now. Someone will get back to you this evening.”
They never did. Probably called the old number.
On the listserv a neighbor reported: “It seems we may be caught in a loop between the power company and the county. My wife spoke with the power company this morning and they said they can't touch the lines until the county clears the tree. A county employee came by on our street tonight to look at the tree and he said they can't remove the tree until the power company clears the lines.”
Buttle, Tuttle. What difference does it make?
On Wednesday I get an email from the power company telling me it’s best to keep my fridge and freezer door closed because the cold will keep most food okay for 24 to 48 hours. It has been 72 hours.
The email advises us to dispose of meat, dairy, and eggs first and check the USDA web site for details. Eggs don’t actually need to be refrigerated. I ponder using my scarce charge to check USDA.
I don’t know why I’d bother. I’ve already thrown everything out and propped the doors open so it doesn’t get too moldy. The inside of my fridge smells warm and brown, like moss might if you kept it locked up for a while.
I loved that being responsible meant throwing out tons of food. Imagine the rat carnival this will spawn! For the past few weeks our neighborhood listserv has been all about rats, crazy backtalk, energized. Accusations of cheap birdseed and compost piles fly.
We’re too like rats. We like the same things, and they are similarly social and family-oriented. That’s why they’re always around us. People only complain when they see them. If you really want to stop rats, you should stop eating, or at least, stop wasting food. Although rats can live on paper, drywall, and sewage. It’s your damn water feature that attracts them. Rats can’t carry water.
No one is talking about rats any more. A real emergency seems to bring out the best in people without suppressing their charming crankiness.
I fantasize about creating Molotov cocktails out of rotten jars of bleu cheese dressing and lobbing them at the power company’s headquarters.
The power company is expected to announce earnings this week. I’m not feeling much like paying the next bill they send. Listserv’ers suggest calling all the major media outlets but don’t provide the numbers. A newspaper columnist is screeching about his street, too.
Only 10,000 customers still without power. Nine thousand of them are due to one station problem. I start to doubt they will ever get around to our street. Our wonderful street which shoulder-to-shoulder shoveled a path out of 3 feet of snow this past winter. By hand. Maybe the grid is really going down.
The weather report shows more fierce storms headed our way.
There’s an article in the paper about the power company’s social media person, who started full time the morning after the storms. He’s doing okay and has a sense of humor. At least it shows that his bosses believe there will still be an internet in September.
I check my phone constantly for updates. Now there are five trucks on site. One from the power company, four from tree trimming subcontractors. Three hours later the joyous messages begin. A hundred machines washing seven hundred towels start up with happy hums.
I am plugged back in.
It'll be okay.
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