General · 2006-12-17

Sweet, sweet electricity

Not being the camper type, I can’t recall ever having gone without electric power for this long. It went away for 48 hours, from Thursday 2am to Saturday 2am, and oh, how wonderful it is to have it back.

On Friday I camped out in a hotel lobby in in a tiny pocket of Bellevue that happened to have power and wifi, and was able to conduct my work day almost normally. I was surprised at how inhospitable the ground floor of an Embassy Suites is. The rooms are arranged around a hangar-like enclosed space, half of which has a big TV blaring and lots of tiled flooring, and half of which has a waterfall creating lots of echoey white noise. But kudos to the folks working there; they all pitched in when people, including many families with young children, started streaming in to get some warmth and a burger.

On Friday night we joined hundreds of others in descending on the one city block that happened to be not-dark, and luckily for us, it had five open restaurants and a multiplex cinema. There was that feeling of everybody being in the same boat — along with the sensation of being warm, dry, safe, and full of beer — that made it fun.

I think Eli and I did all right in terms of being prepared and flexible, but we’ve now fully assimilated some of the obvious lessons:

Monocultures are bad. We benefited from having a gas (not electric) stove and wireless communication devices (whose cellular system creaked under the strain but didn’t break entirely).

City living has more dependencies. With no elevator service, we walked the six (in our case) flights from apartment to garage and back lots of times in the last two days, and some residents were finding the going pretty difficult. Even leaving the building was tricky at first, since the electrically operated gates had to be laboriously hand-cranked open. (In the doing, Eli graduated from “junior condo board member” to full-fledged.)

Redundancy is handy. We dug out blankets we normally never use because they’re too heavy, and had enough extra batteries and canned food to be able to offer some to friends. It’s trickier to achieve some kinds of redundancy in a small apartment, but doable with planning.

Blackout survival guides are not very helpful. The several I’ve found online were pretty thin, beyond advice about how long your frozen food will stay that way, so I’ve begun a highly personal checklist for myself that’s full of MUSTs, SHOULDs, and MAYs. One MAY: Grind some extra coffee beans when bad weather is approaching; Maxwell House instant from the emergency kit may keep your core body temperature up just as well, but French-press keeps your spirits up better!

Here’s hoping everyone in the area gets power back soon and stays safe.