Yesterday morning, the Saturday before Christmas, I got up with all sorts of plans for the day. I fed my cat, read my email, fetched my newspaper, and cooked myself an egg and sausage sandwich for breakfast. (Have you seen the “Easy Eggwich” on the nearest As Seen on TV rack? They really work!)
I had barely sat down with my sandwich and my morning newspaper when the power went off. Lights, television, computer, microwave oven. All dark. And unlike the usual aggravating ten-second glitch, nothing came back on.
I couldn’t see to read the paper, so I ate my sandwich and wandered over to the one telephone that works in a power outage to call CenterPoint Energy, which handles all the line maintenance for the Houston area. I reported the outage at 9:45 AM, and even gave the new voice mail system a five star review on their little survey. Little did I know how annoyed I would be by the third time I called for an update and was told they knew of no outages in my area, and would I like to report one.
That first call, though, told me that the outage should be corrected by 12:15, so I decided to go run errands while the lights were off. I wrote and addressed the last of my Christmas cards on the kitchen counter by the questionable light of a battery lamp. I went for a short walk, discovering that the only sign of electrical power on my block was the across-the-street neighbor’s generator. So much for CenterPoint’s warning about the fee I’d be charged if the outage was my equipment’s fault (yes, I should probably have that antique circuit breaker box in the garage replaced).
Fortunately the garage door was up when the power went off, so I didn’t have to disconnect it (and just as fortunately, I live in a neighborhood where I don’t mind leaving the door up if need be). So I went out and mailed my cards, finished (I hope) my Christmas shopping, and visited the grocery store.
When I got back, about 12:30, there was a CenterPoint truck parked near the corner a long block from my house. Not a good sign, and I wasn’t surprised to see that my house was still dark. So much for doing the laundry, writing (at least on the computer), or wrapping Christmas presents. I did put my groceries in the refrigerator, trusting that the outage surely couldn’t go on long enough for anything to spoil.
Called a friend to complain (she was sympathetic—her Internet and cable had been off all morning). Sat by the only window in the house with anything like enough light to see print, and read the newspaper. I had more success reading on my Kindle, which has a light built into its case.
By 2:30 or so I had given up on the possibility of a telephone update, but I was grateful that the dispatcher had better control of the situation. I braved the rather chilly day (if this happened in nicer weather I could have been reading outdoors) and walked down the street to the CenterPoint trucks, where I learned that a tree had fallen across two yards and taken with it the line carrying power into the neighborhood. They knew what the problem was, and there was someone up a pole, probably shutting off the broken line, but there seemed to be no one equipped to cut up the broken tree, and one of the men said it would probably be dark by the time it was fixed.
What is one to do when nothing in the house works, including the electric controls governing the gas heat? One gathers up a blanket and the cat (by now the indoor temperature was down to 65) and takes a nap.
I woke up when the lights came on at 4:45 PM. Seven hours. With the exception of the aftermath of hurricanes, I think that’s the longest the power has been off at my house in decades.
Losing power for seven hours is enough to remind me how little I can do in my house without electricity. But it also reminds me how much more comfortable my house is, even without power, than living conditions in much of the world. Maybe a reminder now and then of just how First World most of our problems are doesn’t do us a bit of harm.