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July 31, 2006

In the Dark

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.

Storm 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.  Candle 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).


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I'll be the first to say it: we all hope you used the blackout time for traditional blackout activities, with due care, of course.

Congrats on all the good news, Susan! Post some pix of the new house!

Josh, have no fear. Traditional blackout activities were, um, carried out. We certainly would not want to be a party to breaking traditions. We're old-fashioned that way.

Nancy, thank you! And much as I would love for everyone to see the house, I can't post photos on the Web. I've been asked not to and will respect those wishes. So there you go!

Susan, I was without power in Houston twice, once for two weeks, and once for 1 week. Both times in September. In HOUSTON!!! After the first time, I replaced my electric stove with a gas version, so at least I could have coffee.

We lived in Houston for 14 years, and moved to Atlanta in the early 90's. The storms aren't as severe here, usually.

Hi Susan,
As someone whose AC kicked in at 6:15am today (already 87F at 9:52 am), I don't even want to think about what might happen...and I don't have anything interesting in the fridge except sugar free popsicles and strawberries! I think there's someone down near the end of the court who has a serious medical condition, so we get first look from the power company, even in the winter. Still, there are lots of people in the small towns around Champaign-Urbana who have gone without power for days and days.
Our city has opened cooling stations and one of the local merchants is lending out used AC units (with installation) to those without. My daughter, on the other hand, lives in Portland Oregon where they've had record heat...she says they still have their old AC window unit from pre-wedding days and that's what has saved them and the pets from keeling over.
It is interesting to note that, as crabby as being without power can make me, I can read by candlelight and drink warm soda :o) I'm glad you're back in the Cool Zone. And congrats on the the nomination and the YA series!!

Maryann, it's barely past 10 a.m. here, and it's above 90. We might break the record of 103 today (with a THI around 115). Aack. And Ed's sister's boyfriend argued with me that global warming is hogwash. Oy. (Thank you, by the way!)

Lula, two weeks without power in Houston??? Argh! As a former Houstonian, too, I sympathize. In Houston you get the heat and constant humidity, so you feel like you're in a sauna about 8-9 months out of the year.

We lost power at the new house for several hours on Saturday, and I just heard that hundreds of folks still have no power following that storm. My mom's yard has humongous tree limbs down (she's still waiting on the tree people, who're backed up weeks), and her back porch was nearly pulled off by falling telephone lines. There are still plenty of tree limbs bunched by the side of the road all around town, and it's now 1-1/2 weeks since the horrific storm. Makes you wonder how prepared any city is for anything devastating these days.

Susan, it's the heat index that gets you. We have three huge limbs in our back yard...came tumbling down at 10PM on Saturday, delayed casualties from the earlier storm I guess. Missed the bedroom by eighteen inches...yikes! We'll cut them up ourselves (or Chuck will anyway).
On a side note, my fitness center's fire alarms went off at 9:30 yesterday morning. No one, including the staff, was quite sure what to do, but we finally all straggled out to the parking lot. In a way, I think that describes my city's disaster plans as well.
And if you ever need a second in the global warming debate, let me know. I've been arguing that for years. We're poor custodians of this planet and the planet is getting sick and tired of the abuse.
Hope your heat breaks soon, without the horrid storms.

Susan, how nice to have Ed -- I firmly believe that natural disasters are always better when there's a hot guy in the vicinity.

Harley, you are sooo right! Although, really, it's hot and sweaty in this case! Ha ha.

Susan, I applaud your fortitude and your creativity in absence of voltage. Although I don't exactly understand the running round the high school track in the sun...you lost me there. Is that so you would feel so much less hot when you stopped running?

When it's hot, with or without electricity, I'm a slug.

And right now I'm trying not to envy anyone with AC...it's uncommon to nonexistent in lodge-y lake-y houses like ours in the New England woods. Because, you know, "It never gets that hot in the summer."


Tomorrow it's supposed to be 97 degrees.

Congratulations on all the good stuff, especially moving. Have you found those boxes you didn't bother unpacking from your last move? That's always fun!

Margaret, it was early in the morning, so the sun wasn't exactly overhead...it was more or less peeking out over treetops, and there was a nice breeze. And I had a cold shower to look forward to at home (being that I've got an electric water heater), so getting a little sweaty was okay at that point! As for the boxes unpacked from the last move...oy! I told myself I'd go through those and discard unnecessary items. But, guess what? Yeah, I'm just moving the boxes into the basement and tell myself I'll take a Saturday to go through them later. I know, I know, but it makes me feel better to think I will.

Hey Susan, big congrats on the new YA series, your award nomination, and the new house! All great news.

We hit only hit 98 today, and the majority of the country is in the triple digits? I guess the memo on Global Warming was not passed to people who live in the desert. Did you think we’d scoff, since it’s warm here almost all year around? I’m willing to trade anyone up to 17 degrees for the 33 percent humidity lingering around here as a cruel joke. Any takers?

Gee Susan,
My next article for the Chronicles was going to be about surviving hurricane blackouts, but I think your post said it all today.

Last year,
we had no electricty for at least 10 days, but it was amazingly cool for Florida. People still got a bit stinky from the lack of showers, but I was able to take a VERY cold sponge bath before I returned to work.

The big benefit of a hurricane blackout, reading three books!
"To Kill a Mockingbird"
"Elwood's Blues"
"The Harbinger."
Without the distraction of electrity, I really became absorbed in the worlds created by Harper Lee, Dan Aykroyd and Jose Prendes.

Another neat thing I noticed,
Sam Ashe Music Stores sold out of their acoustic instruments during that time.

One thing South Florida does well,
when we get a lemon, we make lemonade!

Keep me in the loop about you YA book.
The Youth Services section of the libraries division is in the same building my section.

Dave, I will definitely give a holler when I have a pub date for the first book in "The Debs" series! I love that about music stores selling out of acoustical instruments during hurricane power outtages! It's amazing how creative one gets without electricity. My painter said his kids actually started reading and using their brains. Too bad all of our blackout behavior doesn't carry over when the power returns.

Thanks, Ms. Nancie! I don't see how you survive in 'Zona with the constant heat (I know, I know, it's "dry" but it's still hot). Yesterday was 101 actual degrees, and it was futile not to just accept that I'd be a big sweatball all day. Maybe that's why your scorpions stomp. They'd rather be in the air-conditioning (although some probably are, huh?). Yipes!

Susan, congrats on the YA series! Teenage debs--sounds like major chuckles. Ditto on the Anthony Award nomination. Keep those accolades coming....

Thank you, Ramona! I'm really excited about the YA series. I've been digging into the Gossip Girl and Nannies books in particular, and I think "The Debs" is going to be so much fun to do...can't wait to get crackin'. Just have to write this fifth Deb Dropout Mystery first.

Sorry I'm coming to the party late--but congrats on the YA deal! I think that you'll do so well in that genre, which is a growing one.

Thanks so much, Naomi! It's definitely a hot genre, and I was amazed by the growing number of series when I went to the bookstore to check them all out. I'm just aching to get back to writing soon, after all this moving is finished (hopefully in another week or two!). BTW, chica, I just saw a huge ad for your latest in The Strand. Looks so good!

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