bunt sign

Saturday, September 8, 2001

The worst time to realize that your flashlight batteries need changing is in the middle of the night, just after the lights go out. On the other hand, weak batteries probably wouldn't matter at all if you were sleeping, as most rational people do at that time.

The first time the electricity went out last night it was a little after midnight, and I know I'm not the only person still up then. It was a couple of minutes before everything came back on, and I cheerfully reset all the clocks just in time to have it all go black again. A little less cheerfully, I waited this one out and was just starting to reset the clocks for the second time when everything flickered and died, this time for good.

At first, I assumed the power would be back on within minutes, as it had been doing. I peeked out the window to make sure it wasn't just me. I might have pounded my fist against the wall and howled a bit. I'm pretty sure this happened, because I woke up this morning with a hoarse throat and with sore fingers.

And I know myself well enough to gauge just how much of this I can take without losing control. I'd been watching a Gillian Armstrong drama, almost ready to fall asleep despite my intense interest in what Judy Davis would say or do next, when suddenly I was shocked awake by the plunge into silence. By the third time this happened, I would have been close to the edge and ready to curse the darkness (literally).

When sitting in the dark got tedious, I felt my way around the house until I found the flashlight attached by its magnet handle to the side of the refrigerator. I was dismayed when I pushed the switch and the light I got was dim and flickering and not much more useful than the moonlight coming through the high windows. It was enough to help me find the candles and lighter, though, and that helped.

It was a pleasant shock to discover that I actually did have two spare D-cell batteries, which I installed by candlelight. The transformation was incredible. I'd been thinking I was going to have to buy a new flashlight before the next blackout, but a bit of fresh juice was all this old battered one required. I could even find the number for PG&E's emergency line and dial the phone by that light.

Some time I'm going to have to call PG&E when there is no outage, just to see if the recording always says the same thing: "We are aware of your problem and our crews are working to make the necessary repairs." I've heard this message every time I've called to report a power failure here, and I'm starting to wonder if this is a sincere report of what's really going on, or just an attempt to keep me from complaining.

My eyes aren't good enough to read by candlelight. There are times when I have trouble reading under my hundred-watt table lamp. I thought of all the things I could be doing — paying bills, reading the newspaper — that I wouldn't be doing if I did have enough light. It was almost enough to make me feel guilty for not taking full advantage of the benefits of electricity when I had it. (That's the kind of guilt that goes away as soon as the lights come back on.)

I didn't know what to do except wait out PG&E's repair crew. I could have gone to bed, but I would have known when the lights came back on, and I would have been obsessed with all the flashing clocks and compelled to get up and reset them. So I sat in the darkness and listened to the portable radio.

At first, I was hoping I could find a local station that would let me know about a massive blackout affecting all of Santa Rosa. I knew it couldn't go further than that because I could look out the bedroom window and see the lights of Sebastopol. But there is no news on local radio at one in the morning. There is canned music. There are canned commercials. If there's a live person in the studio, it's probably the janitor.

So I scanned the dial for some music that would get me through the disaster. Rock was too loud and country too bouncy for my current situation. Easy listening was too easy. I settled for the oldies station, KMGG, and was soothed by the familiar sounds of the Beatles and Elvis. Somehow the Beach Boys singing "Little Deuce Coupe" was just the kind of comfort music that helped me cope with the crisis.

After an hour and a half, just as I really was falling asleep in my chair, I heard everything grinding back to full power. The fax machine initializing itself was the first sign that all would be well again. The TV came back on, but it took a few minutes for it to find the satellite signal. During that time I optimistically reset all the clocks yet again. When I was sure everything was under control, I put my movie back on and watched for another hour, before I felt calmed down enough to try sleeping in my bed.

red leaves

This little bush has been many colors over the year, and now it's red.

Naturally, I was useless today. I slept late and didn't have much energy. I decided to give myself a break for once and just let myself mend. I didn't do much in the house or the yard, or try to catch up on my paperwork. I watched some baseball and some tennis, letting my mind and body recover from the ordeal.

As I write this it's getting dark and I'm about to turn on the lights. When you think about it, every time you do that it's a simple act of faith. I trust PG&E to keep nights like last night from happening often. I'd hate to have to get used to an unreliable power supply, even if that would make each blackout less traumatic.

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Dana, Bobofett, September 8, On the Turning Away

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