So I'm home, tucking into my second bottle of wine after a meal of reheated take-out from last night, and trying to figure out how to shoehorn a little bagatelle about the big Northeast power outage into a blog ostensibly about travel. Let's see . . . I had to travel from my office to get home; being without power for three days is a kind of journey . . . The journey is a sturdy metaphor; it will surely bear the weight of this silly note.
We lost it last Saturday, a little after 1pm. The snow was a distraction. It was coming down like freight containers - fat heavy flakes that stacked up on anything that was even vaguely horizontal. And the novelty, too - this storm came before Halloween. I wonder if the kids struggled with this conundrum; candy or snow. It kept coming and piling up, and after a while we came around to grudging admiration for the weather forecasters for getting this one right. (There is little that compares to the manic glee of the weather forecaster who breaks the news to you that your life is going to get miserable). And at a little after 1pm, everything electric died.
No worries, we thought. It isn't like a blizzard. It was concerning, though, that every snow-coated tree branch was pointing down at the ground. Then came the popping and cracking of branches being stripped off their trunks, and the thuds of next year's firewood hitting the ground. Maybe this was going to be a bit of a problem after all.
Without TV and internet, we had no idea what was happening outside our own backyards. We went to bed in the dark and didn't think about it. It wasn't until Sunday morning, when we woke to still no power, and the coffee jones impelled us towards Starbucks, that we pushed open the front door into a weird snowscape. Jeannie said it looked like Hollywood had sprayed everything to make some other season appear to be winter. After we shoveled the driveway - and this, in October, was keenly irritating - I took my car around the local streets. At least I tried. Everywhere branches were strewn like splintered tinker-toy sticks; uprooted trees leaned against power lines, forked branches hung from them; I slithered my car under cables that drooped low across the street and forged ahead until I came upon a huge tree laid across the whole roadway and had to turn back. And all this within a half-mile of the house.
It was no better anywhere. I drove to my own house through the storm's bizarre aftermath. I made it down several streets that were open only because the police hadn't had time to close them all yet. In my chilly family room I lit the wood stove and took stock. I had lots of wood in the garage. I had, by chance, bought a case of spring water the last time I ventured to Costco. I had a gas range, and matches. My son had already buried stuff from the refrigerator in the snow on the deck. And there was plenty more snow to melt for water. What I also had was a generator that has never worked when I needed it to. I last ran it during Irene, and it fried nearly everything electronic in my house. This, too, was keenly irritating.
Jeannie and Will drove up later with a pot of fantastic soup she had made the day before. We heated it up and ate in the light of a bank of candles. The wood stove raised the temperature to 60 degrees, and the glow of the fire and the candlelight made the whole scene pretty pleasant, like camping inside. But Jeannie and Will left for home, and reality set in as I piled the dishes in the sink under the faucet that didn't work. I sat by the fire until I couldn't see the point of doing that anymore, and then went in to get ready for bed.
By now, my room was about 45 degrees. Fahrenheit. I thought briefly about just getting into bed fully clothed, but I really needed to wash my face. Washing your face with Poland Springs 1-liter bottles is probably about as expensive as going to the spa, but these were uncertain times and I needed some comfort. Mumbling curses, I shivered into my hi-tech Patagonia underwear and socks, got under my down comforter, and slept like a baby, a baby that could have seen its breath had there been any light in the room.
All day Monday, while at my office, I checked the utility company website for news. I discovered their "outage map" that showed my state divided into all 169 towns. By floating my cursor over any town I could see how many customers the utility had in that town, how many were without power, and the percentage that the unfortunate ones represented. The towns were color-coded by how badly off they were. I noted glumly that my dark-shaded town was 91% without power. In the southeastern corner of the state were a number of pale mustardy-yellow towns, where the number of customers without power was in the single digits and the fractional percentages had to go out several decimal places. This was a source of some anxiety for me, as I watched my town's numbers for any movement. There was none. Somewhere, 9% of my neighbors were watching TV in their warm homes and taking hot baths not from pots of snow-water. What had I done to displease the electricity gods? Was buying my generator a kind of punishable idolatry?
I picked up take-out on my way home. I made a fire in the wood stove when I got into my dark house. I lit a few candles, opened some wine, and ate in the wavering light. This was not as magical as it had been the night before. My son wasn't home; he had lit out for a bar with food, lights, heat - all the goodies - so I tried hard, unsuccessfully, to imagine that my solitude was somehow romantic. I piled my dishes on top of the ones from the night before, under the faucet that not only still did not work, but mocked me with a gasping sound when I turned it on out of habit. I sat in front of the fire and read The Snow Leopard (written by another guy pondering reality without a hot bath) until my flashlight died, and then went to bed.
When I got off my highway exit, I saw that the traffic light at the end of the ramp glowed green. My heart beat faster, but as soon as I turned I saw that the houses that lined the road ahead were all dark. I took a breath and sought the zen mind as I rolled down the long hill. Still no lights. A mile further on, I turned again, and there they were! Shaded lamps glowed behind half-closed curtains. Driveway lampposts gleamed. I was in the land of electricity. I scarcely breathed all the way down the road that leads to my house. When I made the final turn, and saw more lights, I knew that heat and hot water awaited me. And so it was.
Surprisingly, it's not so easy to move on from this little side-trip away from the creature comforts I take for granted. At least not tonight, in the first hours of their return. What I keep thinking about is the guy on the sidewalk in Kolkata, bathing with his pot of water.