Reading in the Dark

This past weekend we had a Rain Event in the Houston area. Around here a Rain Event covers a lot of meteorological territory. Last Memorial Day an unexpected storm flooded roads and underpasses and a great many homes, stranding people in cars and houses. Now and then an expected storm doesn’t materialize at all, to the suspected disappointment of the local weather reporters.

This weekend we waited for torrential rains resulting from Hurricane Patricia, but thanks to the Mexican mountains that shredded Patricia on her eastward journey from the Pacific to the Gulf, our Rain Event did not live up to predictions.

There were high water spots scattered around the area, but most people know where to watch for them. No houses flooded, and no one was hurt

Some places got as much as nine or ten inches of rain; my backyard picked up five inches, much needed. By Monday morning the standing water in my yard was gone.

But Sunday morning the wind picked up, and about 10:20 my power went off. And stayed off, unlike the occasional five-second glitches that knock my computer and cable box off.

Understandable, with all the bad weather. I called in the outage (although my smart meter is supposed to report such things) and found a window where the light was just about good enough to finish some paperwork I had started. Then I switched to reading on my near-antique Kindle—no back lighting, but there’s a small light built into the case.

By noon I was getting a bit impatient. I know, this was a first world problem. It wasn’t even warm enough for the lack of air conditioning to be noticeable.

But the voice mail system at CenterPoint Energy had already called once to say the problem was fixed (it clearly wasn’t), and again to change the predicted time from 12:15 to 1:30, and then to 2:45.

So I went out to lunch and did a little grocery shopping. When I got home about 2:15, I was not surprised to find the house dark.

I was surprised to find a voice mail message saying that I should have electricity. So I called in the outage again, went through the whole recording, including the bit when the cheerful recorded voice suggests checking your circuit breakers (mine are old, but they don’t pop by themselves) and the end when she wishes you a great day. Hello? I just called to say nothing in my house works. I’m not having a great day.

KindleI finished the book I was reading on my Kindle, so I picked up the hardback I’ve been reading and began looking for a book light—you know, those little gadgets that clip onto a book cover and purport to light the pages. I could have sworn I had half a dozen of them, but I could only find one. Made do, near a window, with a battery lantern nearby.

2:45 came and went, as did 4:30, and 6:15. After that it was “we are assessing the outage,” and my eyes were tired from a day of reading (Good) in bad light (Not Good).

So around 7 I gave up, fed the cat (who seemed surprisingly disturbed by the whole situation), and set out to find a dinner that I could see and didn’t have to cook.

Down the street I spotted a gaggle of service trucks (do three or four qualify as a gaggle?). I parked my car on the side street and walked around two of them—both empty. So I drove around the block, and by the time I got back to the trucks, I saw lights where there had been none a few moments earlier.

So I headed back to the house, where I found all the lights on. 7:20 PM, only nine hours after they went off.

Oh, joy, everything was back to normal. I took a shower (my hot water supply does not require electricity, but the light in the shower does), microwaved my dinner, and settled down to watch a movie.

And at 8:45 the power went off again. This time it wasn’t the whole neighborhood, though. The power circuits around here probably look like a nest of snakes on whatever chart exists. My neighbor’s lights stayed on, as did the street lights. Great, an even smaller outage. How long would this one take to fix?

Called CenterPoint again—at least the obnoxiously cheerful voice admitted there was an outage, and didn’t tell me to check my circuit breaker. I think she did tell me to have a great evening, but by then I was too frustrated to care.

Fortunately that outage only lasted one hour, and the house was back to normal by 10 PM.

This evening I’m watching Castle. The ice maker in the refrigerator just refilled with water. My computer is on, and the email bell rings from time to time. I’m typing this on my (battery powered but unlit) AlphaSmart with a 200-watt table lamp next to me. I made dinner in the microwave. I have a candle burning, but only for the scent.

I do love electricity. It’s too easy to take it for granted.

Kindle and book

My thanks to for one of my favorite cartoons!

Let There Be Light — Please!

One evening last week I pulled into my driveway a few minutes before 8 o’clock and clicked the button on my garage door opener.  And clicked again.  And again.  Until I finally realized that my house was dark, the power was off, and the door wasn’t going to open.

This wouldn’t have been such a surprise if I’d driven past a block of unlit houses, but my neighbors’ windows were bright, their Christmas lights glowing.  I live in a neighborhood built up over decades, and the electric circuits must resemble a nest of snakes.  And my circuit was out.

I ‘d left the chain on the front door, which I seldom use, so I had no choice but to walk around the house, through my sadly overgrown side yard, to the unlocked back of the garage. There was a flashlight in my car.  It didn’t work.  I only tripped on the vegetation once.

Even with the back door open, it was pitch black in the windowless garage.  I felt my way along the junk table, loaded with leaf bags, tools, and demoted bedspreads, to the basket containing a couple of flashlights.  Neither of them worked.  I felt my way to the door, let myself into the house, and found one small functioning flashlight.

A call to the power company (that’s why I hang on to one land line phone that plugs into the phone jack and requires no electricity or recharging to work!) told me that the problem was a line fuse (whatever that means), reported at 7, should be fixed by 11 o’clock.  The big flashlight that had, in better days, served as a lantern, gave off a pale yellow light with a radius of about two feet.  I knew there were more flashlights around, but it didn’t seem worth the trouble to look for them.

I fed the cat,  stuffed my Kindle in my purse, disconnected and opened the garage door, and went out to the nearest Wendy’s for light and a cheeseburger.  On the way out I passed a utility truck heading up my street, so I was pleased but not surprised to find my house well lit and fully functional when I returned at 9:30.

Out With The OldNow I have lived in hurricane country since I was a little girl, so I know what I should have in the house.  Battery-powered radios, check.  Bottled water, check.  Flashlights–well, I had them, all over the place.  They just didn’t work.  One in the car, one on the back porch, two in the garage, eight scattered around the house, not including two small LED lights purchased last year and assorted clip-on book lights.  When I gathered them all up, I found two small ones that revived with new batteries, but most of them suffered from dead bulbs, corroded contacts, or just plain age.

In With The NewSo today while countless other folks swarmed through the local Target doing their Christmas shopping, I was hanging out in the flashlight aisle, restocking my supply, spending fifty bucks on two lanterns and four flashlights (all but the smaller lantern with batteries included).  All with Light Emitting Diodes (I had to pull the cardboard from one of the lanterns out of the recycling bin to find out what LED actually stands for) instead of bulbs.  Even color coordinated.  And much, much brighter than the old ones ever were.

The big lantern is in the living room, the small one in my bedroom, and the others are sitting on the kitchen counter awaiting their assignments.  I promise to check their batteries from time to time.  And I suppose I should either clean up the side yard or leave the chain off the front door.  I’m betting on the chain.  The yard’s going to need professional attention.