Wednesday, August 22, 2007

A Lesson in Vulnerability

I was powerless all day yesterday. Southern California Edison was making "repairs or upgrades" during which time, we were told, electrical power in my neighborhood would be "interrupted more than one time" from 9:00 am to 6:00 pm. OK, I thought, a few minutes here and there. In reality, the power went off at 10:19 am and didn't come back on until 8:23 pm. That's 10 hours without all the things that not only have made our lives livable but are essential to our existence. It made me realize how little prepared I am if "the Big One" should ever hit. (For those who live outside of California, I am referring to the huge earthquake that they predict is certain to happen in the next 30 years or so.)

Until the electricity goes off for some reason, we just don't realize how much we depend on it. The obvious things that upset your routine, to say the least, include no TV or computers, hence no Internet access, no radio unless you have a battery operated one, no appliances like the washer and dryer, the stove, the refrigerator, dishwasher. No hot water after the water in the tank runs out. No small appliances will work either. No can openers, blenders, etc. The garage door won't open so if your car is in there it is useless, or if it is out, it stays out. (I think there is a way to open my garage door manually, but I don't know how to do it.) One very important item that is useless without power is a cordless phone. Luckily, I still have my old phone plugged in and I happily discovered that it still works.

The thing that I worried about the most was the refrigerator because I had just done my weekly shopping at the farmers' market and it was full of fresh food. On my diet, I don't eat any packaged or canned goods so I really would be in trouble if I lost power for more than a few days. If you don't open the refrigerator door much, the food will stay cold and the frozen foods will stay frozen, but then how do you eat? And without the stove to cook, whatever you do eat, you eat raw and/or cold. I had sushi for lunch. I probably should stock up on canned goods, etc. but I just threw away a can of artichoke hearts that had been sitting in the larder for more than two years. Black liquid started oozing out of it. What a mess to clean up!

I was more than happy to be without the computer for a day. I spend way too much time sitting at this keyboard with my right arm stretched out to use the mouse. I have had bad tendinitis in the past when computers first came out so now I have an ergonomic keyboard and mouse pad. The neck problems I am having currently are probably due to the same thing. But yesterday I realized how much I use the computer to keep in touch with my friends and family. I couldn't pay the bills, check the stock prices, work on my photos or this blog. My huge genealogy database is on the computer. I consult the computer for astronomy, choosing what I am going to look at. I use it for knitting ideas and solving problems. I could live without it, I did once upon a time, but it definitely would hurt.

So I sat and knit a lot until evening when it became too dark to see. You can't do much of anything by candlelight. I wonder how our ancestors managed. Of course, they went to bed earlier than we do. My neighborhood was very quiet all day. I think the neighbors went out for dinner. I could hear a motor running somewhere, but haven't any idea where the sound was coming from. It was maddening to have to listen to it. The outage brought back memories of when I was 10 or 11 and we had several hurricanes. Power was out for a few days if I remember right and my mother coped.

When the power came back on, the refrigerator went into high gear and ran for almost two hours to catch up. I could hear creaks and pops as one by one all the clocks and other electronic devices returned to life. Devices with back-up batteries now need the batteries replaced and of course all those clocks need to be reset except for the ones that can "call home" automatically.

Note to myself: if this should ever happen again, take all the half frozen ice cubes out of the ice maker before they have a chance to freeze up again in one solid mass!


  1. I keep some of those rubbermaid blue ice in my freezer. Should something like this happen again, you can pull one or two out and put it into your ice chest with what food items you need from the refrigerator for the day. This way, you'll minimize how often you'll need to open the refrigerator, and still have access to some food.

    Of course, for something like this, I would grab my laptop, book and knitting and head for the nearest library or cafe, or paint supplies and head for the beach.

  2. That is a very good idea. Unfortunately, I had some Rubbermaid blue ice, but it was confiscated by security when I went through LAX on my way to Boston last month. My problem was that all day I kept thinking this could not last much longer. Surely, the power will come back on soon.

    I forgot to mention that without power there is no air conditioning either. Not even a fan. And our afternoons have been very hot lately. I don't have air-conditioning but I am sure some people were very uncomfortable. Since I have been doing more star-gazing, I took a siesta.

  3. When this happened to us we would bar b que at night. I find it a good time to go through the closet and get rid of things. I love all the candale light at nigh but it does get warm. I think i can make it a day or two. However after that I think i would have went out of town.

  4. I'll have to show you how to open the garage when the power is out. Basically there is a rope that hangs down that you pull which releases it from the track. Just remember to use a good old lock on the door since the opener won't keep it locked shut once released.

    As for the backup batteries, they'll be fine. they recharge once the power comes back on unless they are so old that they won't hold a charge anymore?