Confessions of an electricity junkie
Last Sunday we skipped Earth Hour. While others lit candles, our place was ablaze with light. The dryer throbbed, the dishwasher hummed, the TV took us to exotic places. No empty symbolic gestures for us. "It's so easy to sit in the dark for an hour," I've always said. "The hard part is breaking wasteful habits like laundering one pair of jeans or keeping the A/C on all day in summer." I haven't quite broken those habits but I keep making promises to try.
On Wednesday we learned how emotionally dependent we are on having electricity at our command. Around 11:30 that morning, a crane toppled power lines at a construction site just down our street. No more lights, computers or grilled cheese sandwiches until the troubleshooters came to our rescue. How long could it take? A couple of hours? My husband set off on his errands, I hunkered down at our office around the corner. "They'll fix this," I thought to myself. "They know what they're doing."
At 1, with the cleaning lady due any minute, I went home to flick switches. Nothing. Up the street, pandemonium: police cars, hydro trucks, a throng of rubberneckers. They were slogging away in there somewhere, just out of sight---whoever they were. I told the cleaning lady to do the best she could and resolved not to shop for our dinner just yet. With luck they'd sort this out before the market closed.
At 6 I found a notice on the door of our building: no power until midnight. Not for us, anyway. Lights glimmered in the shops across the street. Unfair, unfair! How long could it take them to fix the power lines to one building? That night we went out for a bistro dinner. And then on to a late movie, The Runaways, after driving past our place in an ecstasy of hope, only to find the place in darkness.
I'd like to tell you that we turned that night into an adventure---a light-hearted break from our usual housebound routine. But I'll share the embarrassing truth. We griped and we sniped, as sour a pair as we have ever been. Without electrical power, we felt personally powerless.
The movie ended just after midnight---the hour of light, or so we had trusted. Back home we went, ready to make merry with the lights. Dammit! Still dark. While my husband waited in the car, I approached the site of our troubles, where a couple of guys were still on the case, just out of earshot. "Hello! Hello!" I yelled.
A police officer strode out of the shadows, looking decidedly stern. "Ma'am, people here are trying to sleep!" When he heard my tale of woe, he said, "You'll have power at 3."
People all over town were sleeping, but my husband doesn't fall sleep until he's made a dent in a book. Well, he would read with a flashlight. But where was the flashlight? Neither of us had a clue. Suddenly we needed a flashlight the way climbers on Everest need an ice axe. Have you ever tried to buy a flashlight after midnight? Here's what we learned the hard way: skip the convenience stores (we struck out at three) and make a beeline for the all-night drugstore.
It was well after 1 when my husband got settled with his flashlight and I tumbled into bed, expecting sleep to carry me away like a wave. Instead I lay awake bewildered by the silence: no reassuring purrs from the fridge and the fan. Home was not itself, nor was I quite myself until home began to whisper its electronic endearments. I bounded into the living room crowing, "We have power!" with excitement befitting the discovery of fire. My husband took this in, his big blue flashlight still angled over a book. A number of seconds passed before he said, "I guess I can turn this off now." I looked at my watch: 3 a.m., just as the cop had predicted.
Over breakfast we marveled together at the thrill of power restored after more than 15 hours. The coffee dripped fragrantly, the toaster popped, the computer reported another day of fine weather. I thought of people all over the world for whom the small conveniences we take for granted would be undreamed-of luxuries. I compared our night without power---in a safe, dry home with a soft bed and plenty of water---to a typical night for the citizens of Haiti. I tried to hold onto the gratitude I felt. I might as well have tried to hold a rainbow.
Posted by Rona April 02, 2010 @ 2:30 PM. File in Defining moments