In the Dark
by Susan the Electrified
We forget sometimes how spoiled we are and how much we take for granted: drinkable water running from our taps, telephone service we carry around in our purses and pockets, even computers that fit into the palms of our hands and connect us to the world.
Oh, yeah, and electricity, the stuff that makes everything hum: the AC, fridge, lights, washer, dryer, toaster, PC, water heater, curling iron.
My condo is all-electric. And, when I wrote this piece in my trusty spiral notebook, it was completely unelectrified. I had no power for two days in July. Forty-eight hours without the AC, and I felt severely voltage deprived.
I brushed my teeth by candlelight because the bathroom has no window. I couldn't get online to connect with friends or answer questions posed by the students in my EarthlyCharms.com workshop. We had to toss everything perishable from the freezer and fridge (but not before I ate the melted Minty Chocolate Chip frozen yogurt). I told Ed it was a good thing we hadn't made a shopping run before the storm, which left mostly spoiled yogurt, soy canola mayo, various juices, and hot cheese to dispose of. (If Dominos didn't deliver, we would often starve.) The beer was okay, however, which made Ed very happy.
As I update this piece, it's a week post-storm, and at least 100,000 people are still without power. That's a lot fewer than the estimated 545,000 who were without electricity at one point. The houses of my parents, my brother, and so many others went black as the 40-80 mph winds blew through late on Wednesday. Ironically, my condo made it through the worst of it just fine. My lights didn't go out until the next night when a transformer blew behind the local Bread Co. (Eileen Dreyer called to see if I was okay, as she had lights, being that her grid also supports a hospital and two fire stations. She told me that a Bread Company and Kinkos going down didn't quite carry the same weight.)
I awoke at 3 a.m., some time after the power went out, thinking I should turn the thermostat down (which I always keep around 80 degrees, which doesn't make Ed as happy as the beer). Only when I flipped the hall light on...well, it didn't go on. I looked out the window at my neighborhood and pretty much saw pitch. I moaned loudly, and Ed asked, "What is it?"
"Power's out, and it's a hundred degrees," I whined, as he got out his battery-powered laptop and played Nelly's "It's Getting Hot in Here." Computer dudes. They're hilarious. Somehow, we both managed to get back to sleep, despite the heat.
The next morning, while he headed off to his air-conditioned office, I stayed home, dealing with phone calls involving the house closing and the condo sale, sweating, watching the cats pant, and feeling relieved when another storm rushed through and briefly dropped the temp. It had been triple digits in St. Louis, like everywhere else. I'll admit it. I like my AC when we hit 100 degrees, much as I like my lights.
I remember thinking, as a kid, that the lights going out was fun. Candles were cool. Drinking milk before it spoiled and eating melted ice cream rocked. Since when did growing up mean getting so dependent on being hard-wired? How could I ever imagine that having no power for two days would mean feeling so disconnected?
What I discovered was surprising. How quickly I stopped worrying about emails and blogs and whatever was happening on the 'Net. Since I couldn't use the treadmill, I went up to the local high school with my mom and zipped around the track in the sun, while she walked back and forth in the shade of the straight-away. Ed and I sat and talked by candlelight at night, without the boob tube blaring. Folks who generally emailed actually called on the phone, and I realized how nice it was to hear their voices. My neighbors were out and about instead of being closed-up inside with their air-conditioning. We could hear conversations through the open windows, which was oddly entertaining.
Then the lights went on unexpectedly, and things picked up right where they'd left off.
I consider the victims of horrific natural disasters, and I know how miniscule any temporary discomfort was in the scheme of things. But it did make me realize how much about my life I take for granted, how much more connected I can feel off-line when I don't spend so much time on-line, and how glad I am that all I lost were lights. My family was safe. Few residents of my city were injured, and fewer died. Hopefully, by the time you read this, everyone has had power restored and can fill up their fridges again.
Sometimes there is a bright side to being left in the dark.
P.S. Good news on the book front: As a result of some very serendipitous events, I'll be writing a YA (non-mystery) series for Random House/Delacorte about debutantes in my old stomping grounds of Houston, Texas, sort of along the lines of the "Gossip Girl" books. Ah, another chance to dredge up high school memories! Should be a hoot! Also, thanks for all the good wishes for the Anthony Award nomination for THE GOOD GIRL'S GUIDE TO MURDER. What a truly nice surprise! Oh, and we closed on the house and started moving in...hooray! If I'm off-line a lot these days, you'll know why (um, yeah, I should be writing but I'm probably at Lowes or Home Depot).