Reports are that the lights are out in Puerto Rico. It’s not that some power is out or that sections of the grid are down. The whole damned island has apparently found itself relocated back to the 19th century. Let that sit with you for a minute. You can’t pilfer electricity from your neighbor. You can’t swing a few miles down the road to a motel that’s left the light on for you. You’re one a rock in the middle of the Caribbean Sea and the only places with power are the ones whose generator housings were hardened and high enough not to get flooded – and those small points of light in the darkness will only last until the fuel on hand runs out.
I’d bet that not one in 10,000 of us have a plan for what we’d do if the lights went out and didn’t come back. One night sitting in the dark was enough to convince me to run out and buy a generator – of course it only runs as long as someone is keeping the backyard fuel supply topped off. Running flat out 24/7 I might get ten or fourteen days out of it… assuming the set doesn’t need any service beyond basic maintenance.
I don’t know how long it takes to restore power to 3.5 million people living on a rock in the middle of the ocean, but I’m guessing it may take more than a week or two. Here on the continent it’s a fairly easy thing to stage thousands of men and trucks just outside the danger area and surge them in on their own wheels when the winds subside. It’s an order of magnitude more complicated when getting that support to the people who need it requires both the people and the equipment to arrive by either air or sea.
Although the coverage of our friends in the Caribbean are much on my mind this evening, the wheels are already turning on what more I can do to stave off the 1870s if the power ever well and truly goes out here at home.
As I was sitting at my desk this morning going through the usual early Saturday routine of paying bills and administering the other minutia that goes along with running the household, the power cut out briefly. Looking out the window towards the woods, annoyed, I counted the seconds – fifteen of them before the genny cranked over and sent it’s homemade electricity surging down the wire and taking life from the 19th century to the 21st in a matter of no more than 30 seconds. From time to time I regret purchasing a big ticket item that isn’t strictly a need, but I can tell you true that I’ll always consider the cash sunk into that generator money well spent.
It’s probably a good day when the most annoying part of a power failure is having to turn the coffee maker back on and wait for the cable modem to reset. Momentary inconveniences though they are, I suspect I’ll be spending some time this weekend looking at battery backup options for some of those “key systems.” Because once you’ve eliminated the big inconveniences, the small ones somehow become even more obnoxious.
Yesterday wasn’t the first snowy day I’ve had here on the homestead. Compared to last winter’s big storm, this one hardly rated a blip, except for the part where the last half of the storm turned to ice. It’s pretty to look at, makes for some interesting watching the dogs try to find traction, and cuts down trees and utility poles like nobody’s business. It’s that last bit that served to set the stage for the most important of the day’s lessons.
I’ve always known my AT&T wireless signal at home was spotty at best. Since I don’t make all that often, this fact was largely hidden by my home Wi-Fi picking up the slack for data purposes. It’s a system that works well enough under normal operating conditions. With Comcast having gone MIA due to any number of local lines being down, operating conditions yesterday were less than ideal. By “less than,” I mean that my fancy new iPhone was utterly and completely useless as a means of communicating for almost the entire duration of the cable outage.
Also learned yesterday was the fact that every penny I spent installing and maintaining my generator was money well spent. Twenty seconds after the lines came down, it roared to life and kept the furnace blower blowing, the well and sump pumps pumping, the dryer drying, and the lights lit. I cooked a normal dinner and settled in to watch The Hunt for Red October and then Master and Commander… while occasionally seeing candles dot the windows of the house across the street. It kept right on chugging through 18 hours without a moment’s complaint. With that I am well satisfied.
Aside from a few other minor details, yesterday’s experience was one up and one down. Over the next few weeks, I know I need to beef up my communications capability. That’s good info to have before I find myself in a position of really needing it. Once the ice melts off and I get a decent day, I also owe the generator an oil change and a pat on the proverbial head.
Last night I once again woke up to the the neighborhood’s generators sputtering to life and then keeping their homes heated and lit for the duration of the five hour outage. By contrast my generator, perfectly capable of performing similar, if more limited, activities stayed warm and dry in the garage – mostly because 12AM in the rain is a really shitty time to drag it outside, tarp off a spot that will be dry enough to keep the direct weather off the running equipment, run extension cords, fuel the contraption, and then get it up and running.
So instead of noting the outage and waiting 20 seconds for backup power to bring itself online, I woke up once an hour from midnight to 2AM to serve as a one man bucket brigade. At 2:25 every smoke detector battery in the house gave up in unison. I chirping smoke detector under normal circumstances is unpleasant in the middle of the night. Five of them giving off their low battery call in a house that has no other items making noise is waterboarding for the ears. At that point it was off to the garage to drag in a ladder, replace the dying batteries, and restore peace and tranquility to the small hours of the morning. By that time it’s about 3:15, another bucket comes up from the basement and I’m staring at 3:30. Forty five minutes of dozing on the couch later and lights start to flicker. Somewhere ’round about 4:30 they come on to stay (so far).
It’s in that 30 minutes between “first light” and the scheduled alarm to wake me up for work that I decided to avail myself of the proffered allowance to take unscheduled leave due to the expectation of a snow storm that didn’t materialize locally. It’s safe to say I was in no fit humor to be around people – or perhaps that should be that my humor was even less fit than usual.
I’m forced to the undeniable, if obvious, conclusion that I am a creature of the 21st century. I expect the predictability of power coming more or less uninterrupted from the wall. Unlike that far off cabin I dream of in retirement, this place just isn’t built to operate in the absence of electricity.
The 20kW solution to that problem is coming sooner rather than later. Still, I find myself growing more impatient to arrive at the day when in a pinch I can be my own prime power provider and eliminate one more of life’s small annoyances.
Most of the people who read this blog are a captive audience tonight. I feel like I should use the opportunity to say something insightful or at least drive up the weekend’s hit count.
This is the first snow since I took possession of the new homestead here and most of my stray thoughts tonight are given over to how the place will handle the weather, how robust the neighborhood electric grid will be once the wind cranks up, why they built this place without a secondary heat source, and generally coming up with ways to entertain myself for the next couple of days. Somehow I think that regardless of circumstances I’ll manage to find something to while away the hours.
If you don’t hear from me in a few days you’ll know the lights went off and took my painfully weak cell signal with them. So far as I can tell that’s really the only down side of living back here off the beaten path… and it’s a problem I’m doing my best to remedy in the coming weeks but that will come too late for this particular party.
Stay warm. Enjoy a day or two of enforced seclusion however you choose to spend them. I’ll see you once we get started with the big melt. Or maybe before, depending on how quickly boredom sets in and other circumstances.
1. Delmarva Power. There’s an issue with my power bill. I called their “customer service” number Monday night and was met with a 50-minute estimated wait time. That’s not going to happen, so I called back Tuesday morning. The wait time for that call was a sleek 27-32 minutes. They split the difference and I waited half an hour to be immediately told by the CSR that the system is down and they can’t answer any questions. They did offer to call back when their system is up, which is fine I guess, but what I really want is to determine when I talk to my vendors myself rather than sitting around looking forlorn like a 14 year old girl waiting for her true love to call. After blasting them on social media, someone did reach our to me and promised I’d get a call back “sometime” in the “next few business days”. Fifty hours later. Still waiting.
2. Staffing. In order to send any information outside the organization you need approximately 4,587 separate lines of approval. It’s not necessarily hard work, but it is what some might call tedious. Reaching the point where something is approved for release always feels like something of any accomplishment… but the best part is when you get something fully staffed, vetted, socialized, and approved only to be notified two hours after you hit send for the final time that someone at Echelons Higher than Reality has decided to “go a different direction.
3. The sky is falling. Look gang, I’m not a fancy big city investment banker, but despite the thrashing Wall Street has taken this week the sky really isn’t falling (yet). The Dow made its high in May of last year. We’re down in the neighborhood of 10% off that high – that’s the operative definition of a correction – but still a ways off from a bear market. If you haven’t jumped out well before now, the only thing cashing out in this market does is lock in whatever loss you’ve suffered. If I were in danger of retiring next year I’d be a little more worried. As it is, I’d say it’s time to stack some cash and do a bit of hedging. If that doesn’t work for you, just win yourself a Powerball Jackpot and you’re all set.
1. Everything being bad for you. Sunscreen is bad for you. Sun burns are bad for you. GMO crops feed the world, but they’ll make your kid grow a tail. Egg whites are ok. Egg yellows steal your soul or some such foolishness. As much as I appreciate living in an age of seemingly limitless information, I need to break down one cold, simple truth: We’re all going to die. Some will die young. Some will die old. It’s been that way forever and there’s no current way around it. Everything is bad for you. Everything in the world is trying to make you sick and speed you to your grave… As much as I appreciate people who honestly want to live a healthy lifestyle I just don’t have the mental energy to worry about whether the tomatoes at the Amish market was raised without pesticides or antibiotics in a free range, organic environment. Maybe it should concern me more, but it really, really doesn’t.
2. Delmarva Power. Yes I know I can save money on “peak savings” days by turning off my air conditioner between the hours of 2PM and 8PM when demand is highest. No, I’m not going to do that, though. Your job is to produce and distribute power to satisfy demand – yes even on the hot days – so no I won’t be sweating my ass off in my own home on the next 97 degree day so you can avoid lighting off the last few boilers or skip buying energy from a 3rd party producer. I’ll keep doing my job so I can pay the bills, you go ahead and do yours so we don’t unexpectedly plunge back into the 1870s.
3. Manual signature required. We’re in the year AD 2015. It defies imagination that there is still a situation where I would have to print something out, sign it with a pen, scan it, and then send it back to someone in order for something to be “official.” It’s even more fanciful when we decide to send the same document around for electronic signature “so we have both on file.” Two exact copies of the same document. One signed by pen and then sent back electronically, the other signed by ID card and then sent back electronically… both then printed out and stuffed into a manila folder to be deposited in a file drawer and then not to see the light of day for potentially a decade or more. The fact that this is still how we do things is, sadly, not at all a cause for surprise.