Lifestyle & Culture > Powering Down

Powering Down

By GREG MAFFETT
Published: September 9, 2011

My power went out yesterday. The first sign came from my garage door opener. It didn't open. That usually means that a breaker tripped in my back yard and took out the garage. Reset the breaker and...nothing. Next check was the power panel. Nothing tripped there...then the really bad news, no power to my smart meter. That meant either a rolling blackout or...

...a loss of power to my street. Sure enough the neighbors were emerging

"hey is your power out?"

Ok, not just me, bigger problem. I have no idea what, but my cell phone still works and its time for a bike ride, so off I ride. All the traffic lights were working on my ride home, but now all the signals I pass are out. All the shop lights are out. This is not just my hood. This is every thing 4 miles south.

Turns out it is the whole state south of LA. Part of Arizona and part of Mexico. Nice. Traffic is now gridlocked. Traffic lights actually do work better than stop signs and that is quickly evident as north south and east west traffic take turns.

I Head to my local pub and figure "probably no food, but they have beer that will go warm soon, they will probably pay me to drink that." I show up and offer my services. They accept, sort of, though they have a different idea on the direction of the cash flow. In fact, it becomes cash only, exact change. Meaning I'm either going to tip really well or have three beers for dinner.

I opt for three beers.

Eventually the owner pops in. She has procured $250 worth of dry ice (all the cash she had on her) and so the food is preserved (they had plans for a large dinner to celebrate their fourth year in business.) There is no food for sale and with all the ATMs out of service, no cash. And with no electric, people can't get gasoline from the gas pumps. Something of a siege mentality is setting in, but not in a bad way. People are cooperating, there are no demanding people expecting miracles, just hopeful people looking to see what might be going on.

Two of the male staff members are running the bar. Two of the female staffers show up eventually and then figure out that the big dinner isn't happening and they didn't need to fight traffic to get here. They tried to call but by now most of the cell phone towers have lost their back up power and they are down.

The lady at the other end of the bar asks for a candle to venture into the ladies room. Yep, people are adapting.

A couple of newlyweds arrive. They came all the way from the East County (ok its only 40 miles, but they are farmers and have been wanting to make the trip for 6 months, but farming is pretty much a full time job.) Anyway, nice couple and they too are clearly adapting as they realize that the outage is just one more honeymoon memory.

I usually have dinner and two beers and then walk home. I've now had three beers and no food. And I have my bike. Hrmm. Well it is time to go and I walk the bike across the busy intersection at Polk and 30th. Once across the risk is lower and I mount the bike. While I may not be able to balance a checkbook in this condition, I can balance a bike. Good to know.

I manage to get back home, somehow. I get the bike back into the garage. (I know this because it is there the next morning.)

I open up a can of soup, eat it at room temperature. I know, I could have lit the gas stove using a match, but there was no need. The soup was fine.

There wasn't anything doing in my house and dark had showed up, so I figured I'd try walking. Good idea. In general, the only people I see outside in my hood are dog walkers. Tonight, everyone was out. I have neighbors! Who knew?

It was the first night of the football season and the die hard football fans were in their cars listening to the games with the windows down. Others were on their porches and balconies. Everyone was saying "hi".

I have to say I was of two minds about my life as an Electrical Engineer and the role of electricity. People do depend on electricity for their every day existence. And yes, there were paramedics racing through town to help sick folks who did depend on power to keep them functioning. But the people who took electricity for granted and spent their days ignoring their neighbors...well for those people, I noticed that they were not powering down. They were powering up.

Those turned out to be some of my best hours walking around this town.

Any Comments?


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