Wednesday, June 27, 2007

The Night the Lights Went Out

Being a chronicle of my first evening without power in a while.

We've never had major power problems at our house. Usually the lights go out a few minutes and then come back on without us calling to report an outage. Does make the smoke alarms beep and the cats scurry, but that's pretty minor.

In Louisiana, when you called to report a service outage, you got a busy signal. I always figured that indicated either A.) Other people were calling too or B.) "We know, we know, stop calling!" Either way, you could rest assured the problem was getting fixed.

In my idylic fantasy world, I envision a power company that looks like a James Bond villain's control center. There are lots of big screens and grids and when power goes out at my house there's a little blip that lights up on their screen, prompting a technician to notify someone who flips a switch and makes my lights come back on and my alarms beep and the cats scurry.

I don't think it really works that way.

In the dark
After a couple of hours, in which we determined all of the people immediately around us were also in the dark and the guy a couple of houses down was watching The Closer, Christine said: "Do you think we should call?"

"I dunno," I said. "The lights usually come back on, and besides either the neighbors have called or they've figured it out at the power company."

We decided to call anyway. I was starting to remember the movie "The Trigger Effect." Wasn't it a power outtage that pretty much made society break down in that flick?

"Have you checked your breaker box?" asked the customer service rep. No James Bond villain lair, just a woman in a headset in a cubicle farm, possibly in New Delhi.

"No," Christine said. "We kind of thought since the street lights and all of our neighbor's houses are dark that there might be a bigger problem."

"We'll take it under advisement," the operator said. "We cannot give you an estimate at this time as to when your lights will come back on." Gotta have some wiggle room.

"They're never off this long," Christine said. "Something bad must have happened?"

"Yeah, I saw that is this movie called The Trigger Effect," I said.

So I'm reading a Robert B. Parker novel by flashlight a while later, and I get a strange sense of deja vu: Bad experiences the first time I had power connected to our house. It was delayed and I had to spend a weekend on auxiliary power.

The guy who assigns crews skipped over us, and the rep I talked to explained: "He's already assigned his crews. He won't reassign them. He'll just put you on tomorrow's rotation."

"Tomorrow's Saturday," I said.


"And he won't correct the problem today just because, what? He has no imagination? Think outside the box."

"Well you see, he's already assigned his crews..."

I figured if we were relying on that kind of bureaucrat they might be waiting until morning for action. After all he may already have had things fixed at the house of the guy who was watching The Closer. So I called New Delhi again.

"We have logged your report," the rep said.

"Yeah, but are you actually, you know, doing something about it?" I asked. "You didn't forget to fix our area when you fixed the others in our neighbor hood and then send the crew off on some unwavering path to other problems?"

"Your estimated time of having your lights back on is 1 a.m."

Ah, progress.

Flash forward another couple of hours. I'm in the back room at the Bada Bing. I don't know why. The phone rings and wakes me before Paulie Walnuts breaks my knee caps.

It's the service truck driver looking for the house. Guess my neighbors didn't call or at least didnt' call twice, or he wouldn't have called me.

I talked him through the neighborhood and he arrived at my doorstep.

"We're going to have a look at that box in your neighbor's yard."

"There's a box in my neighbor's yard?"


"What are they doing?"Christine asked as I watched them through the utility room window.

"Poking a box in the neighbor's yard with a stick."


"No wait now they're digging."

"The problem's a little more isolated than in The Trigger Effect," Christine said.

"Good thing, society would have broken down by now."

Forty-five minutes later, an hour ahead of the estimate, the service man, who was a nice guy and clearly was working all night, had my lights back on and the lights of all those around me. I guess you could say they had me to thank since we called first.

"I guess it could have been worse. Wonder what caused that?" Christine asked.

"I don't know, but we can check the paper in the morning," I said. "My editor when I was a reporter always used to say: `When people's lights go out, they want to read about it in the paper.'"

Geeze, I guess on that point he was right.


Charles Gramlich said...

I'd pretty much forgotten what it was like to have the electricity go off regularly until we moved back to the country. Fortunately it's usually back on fairly soon each time, though we were without power for almost six hours at one point.

Sidney said...

Yeah, you kind of forget. Generally it could have been worse this go around. We had an ice storm once when we were still in an apartment. Somehow our appartment unit was connected to some nearby houses rather than the rest of the complex. Our lights stayed on while everyone else's apartment was dark, so we survived it all without getting chilled.

Anonymous said...

I just went through this power from 11am to 6:20pm...Went out again right before 7pm. Making me think of getting a generator. No power, no water in this house. No phone, either. It was actually a nice break.

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