Happy 2004 or how we spent New Year’s Day in the dark

#448 in a series of true experiences in real estate
January 2004, Hills Newspapers

About eight in the morning on New Year’s Day, the lights went out. I was drinking coffee and reading the newspaper and suddenly, no light. As she always is, Anet was prepared, with candles and working flashlights. She laid a fat flashlight on the kitchen table for me, and I continued to read the paper.

The kids weren’t up yet, the rain was loud, and it started to get cold. Even with the light from the flashlight, it was getting dark for reading. I wondered how long we’d be without electricity and what we’d do while we didn’t have any.

I had planned to work on the computer that day but of course couldn’t. And watching TV was out. It would be a good time to walk on the treadmill but no, it’s electric, too.

We haven’t had many power outages at my house but I remember the last one a couple of years ago caused by a tree falling just a few houses away. That time was actually kind of fun. It was evening and we were all watching TV, the kids in their rooms. Through the sudden darkness, they showed up in the living room asking what had happened, and we all went outside to see.

All the houses were dark and so were the street lights. Neighbors gathered to talk. Before we’d slowly made our way to see it, we were told about the tree that had fallen over. It landed on a neighbor’s brand new car. He didn’t know about it yet, someone said, because he wasn’t home. Of all the things the tree might have hit, it was a shame it had to be that car.

We went back inside to light candles in different rooms and Anet remembered a battery powered TV she has, never used, a very tiny TV. She rooted around in a closet and unearthed it, found batteries for it, and the kids and Anet and I sat close together on the couch and watched whatever was on.

But we quickly were bored and turned to the street again where, by now, a city crew was sawing the fallen tree into large pieces, some neighbors were still out chatting, and a P.G.&E. man was climbing a pole. We heard that we might have power in the next hour or so.

We ran into the house to get a candy bar gift for the pole climber. We thought he might need it for extra energy. Then we talked about all the things we can’t do when there is no electricity.

And now it was true again. I could take a shower, I thought, and get warmer. But it’s dark in the shower. I could do a jigsaw puzzle – that would be fun – but it would be a challenge by flashlight. I got out some candles and built a fire in the fireplace. That was cozy. And I put a teakettle on the stove (fortunately, it’s gas) for cocoa or tea.

And then I wondered, where are the grownups?

Has this ever happened to you? I am a grownup, have had my own house for many a year, have been the one responsible for roof leaks, plumbing clogs, warm food, clean floors, and yet, here I was yearning for the grownups, my parents or someone to take care of things. To take care of me.

The rain continued to pour down. It was dark and getting colder in the house and I wanted someone to fix it, to restore my life to what it had been shortly before, with all modern conveniences, right away.

I’ve had this feeling before when things went wrong. Like the time Anet and I went to our office and found it under water. A pipe had burst, we discovered later, and a flood was all over the floor. Lots of boxes of paper and a rug and its pad were soaked.

I stood inside the door, my feet getting wet, looking at the volume of water and wondered, where are the grownups? Where are the people who have experienced this sort of thing before and know what to do?

I suppose that Anet and I did all that anyone could have done that day. We figured it out. We moved boxes out of the water, called the water company for help, did some detective work and discovered the source of the leak. Then Anet, by calling a local hardware store and getting some good advice, found a way to cap off the pipe. And she hired a water damage fix-it company to come.

On New Year’s Day we did approximately the same. That is, we did what could be done under the circumstances. We waited, not very patiently, called the P.G.&E. number to get updates, added wood to the fire, and clasped blankets to our laps.

We talked, we read magazines, we ate Christmas candy and tangerines. We watched TV on the tiny battery powered set. Anet suggested we go to the movies, but I kept expecting the power to come on. Then I could do what I’d planned to do that day, and so we didn’t go. Instead, we waited.

It took 12 hours. Suddenly the lights came back on, and were we all glad. The power was very low, the lights quite dim. Not enough juice for the big TV’s, but power nonetheless. And along with the small amount was the expectation that we’d be completely back in business before long.

The grownups at P.G.&E. were taking care of things.

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