Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Happiness is a thing called electricity

I was awakened at 3:30 this morning by a sudden silence. The overhead fan had gone off. The white noise of the air conditioner had stopped. It was quiet, and with all the house windows closed and no fans, the air was too still, stuffy. The power had gone out, again, for the second time in 24 hours. I knew that the rest of the neighborhood was asleep and wanted to report the outage then and there so the power company would look into the problem and, with a quiet, storm-free night, make the necessary repairs quickly.

A technician finally pulled up in his truck at 7:30--four full hours after the initial call. He roamed around in various back yards looking up at the wires, searching for a break. Then he moved to a transformer down the street. He pulled out a wrench and tightened something. At 9:00 we had power again--for 30 seconds.

The technician left and I sat here in silence for another two hours. Then a veritable convoy showed up. Three cherry-pickers and three big trucks all congregated at the transformer. Guys in hard hats stood around with their hands on their hips, looking up at the wires and the other stuff on the pole, shouting to each other in telephone repairman-ese. I walked in their direction (having already done everything I could do in the house without electric power I had nothing better to do) thinking to ask them something but then realized I probably wouldn't have the slightest inkling of the meaning of their responses--like approaching a native speaker in a foreign land asking "where is a toilet?" in your best phrasebook version of the local language, only to get a very detailed and helpful answer, none of which you understand. I don't speak telephone.

So I went back home. I finished The Washington Post. I read the local county rag. Finished that. I ate lunch. Finally, I pulled out the biography of Julius Caesar I just started. It was Caesar who solved the problem, evidently. The power came back on at 12:30, nine hours after the initial call, made, I repeat, on a quiet, storm-free night when there should have been no other pressing problems to compete with.

We've had more power outages in the last five days here than we've had in the last 10 years. I mentioned brief flashes and brown-outs the other day. Maybe whatever repairs that brought the big guns out today will bring an end to this spate of problems. Thank goodness the heat wave is over and the air conditioning wasn't necessary--at least I was able to open the house and even do my sitting and reading outside.

I could wax nostalgic about how life was better when we weren't so electronically dependent. But that would be a crock. Life with its electrical, touch-of-a-finger conveniences is immeasurably better now, at least when those conveniences work. The problem is our dependence on those wonderful amenities, and how life as we now know it comes to a funereal halt because a wire breaks, depriving us of them. We have become vulnerable to very small, random occurrences, and that, depending on the circumstances, is either a pain in the ass or downright dangerous.

Meanwhile, I've been awake and in a more-or-less sour mood since 3:30 this morning. This is the best company I will be today. Lucky you.


Nan said...

even on a bad day, you are good company, Ralph!

Ralph said...

What a nice thing to read first thing in the morning! Thanks, Nan.

Mim said...

amazing how we 'need' our wireless router, computer cable, tv and all things electric. This has happened to us twice this spring and for over 10 hrs each time with a ruined transformer outside in the neighborhood! Yes very annoying-- how dependent we are on our electric and our gadgets.

Ralph said...

That dependence can give one pause, can't it, Mim? Our forebears must have been just as dependent on something for their ownsurvival....real, face-to-face community?