I started this blog last night while the power was out, writing with pen on paper by candlelight. My power was out just 45 hours, but some people on my block still don’t have power. I think after the storm Monday as many as 60,000 homes were affected. We’ve had our power out as long as 13 days here in Memphis. Memphis is a sea of trees if seen from the air, and when we get high speed windstorms lots of them blow over. Down the street I saw where one tree fell and knocked another over. My power was out because on the next block over a tree fell on the power line and pulled the pole over and the wires down. Two houses over they had their power line pulled off their house.
The first night without power my nephew was visiting and we sat up playing rummy by candlelight, but he left first thing in the morning, to continue on his trip from Portland, Oregon to Lake Worth, Florida. I thought my power was going to be out until Friday, so I was bucking up for two more nights of darkness and cold but MLGW fixed me. Having these incidents are very educationally, and even though I hate when things like this happens I try to make the best of them.
I spent a lot of time last night thinking about being addicted to the grid. I found plenty to do in the dark. I have an iPod touch with 22 unabridged audio books on it. I also found an old Walkman and a box of old time radio shows on cassette, so I listened to a 1950 episode of Philip Marlowe Detective. But I spent most of the evening thinking about how we live on the power-water-gas-information grid and how ill-prepared we are for when things go wrong.
When I came home yesterday I had plan to take my frozen food to my friends house, but by then it had gone mushy. I had to toss out most of what was in the refrigerator and all the stuff from the freezer compartment. So I started thinking about how I would eat for three days. I figured I could eat out, or buy food that doesn’t require refrigeration. I didn’t want to mess with an ice chest because we had just thrown away two that had gone mildewy. A neighbor a few doors down was running a very loud gas powered generator, and I thought about buying one of those for the future but I decided against it too. I hate the noise. It does protect the food but they take a lot of gas, so I figure it would be a breakeven deal.
What I wanted was more light. I had three flashlights, two candles in glass lanterns and a giant block candle with seven wicks, but even with nine flames I didn’t have enough light to read comfortably. I once read a wonderful book about America in the 1800s and it chronicled how people’s lives were changed by the technology evolving past candle light. Whale oil made a huge difference. I did some research on Amazon and found there are LED lanterns now, so I’m going to order one of them to be prepared for future blackouts.
I also wanted a radio or TV to listen to the news. I have two Walkman cassette players with AM/FM/TV tuners, but the TV part doesn’t work anymore since they phased out analog signals. And I couldn’t find any news on the AM/FM bands. I didn’t have much patience though. I plan to buy one of those emergency radios that have a crank to recharge the batteries and l want learn which radio stations are worth tuning before the next power outage.
Some of these emergency radios have hand cranks that will charge a phone or USB gadgets. My cell phone ran out of power just after the storm. This event taught me to keep my phone and gadgets well charged, keep the dishes washed up, and don’t let the dirty clothes pile up either.
Luckily the house only got down to 60 degrees – just a touch cold. I put on a hoody jacket and slept in my clothes under one patchwork quilt and was fine. I have been in the house without power in the dead of winter and in August, so it could have been much worse. But being addicted to a favorite temperature is a bad habit to have.
Most of all I was annoyed by having my routine disrupted. That’s really being a pussy I know, but I’m a man who loves his rut. If I owned an iPhone 4 instead of an iPod touch I think I would have felt connected to the net and felt less of a sense of net withdrawal. The funny thing is I saw this PBS show last Friday about a family in England being forced to live with 1970s technology. I never would have thought the 70s as the old days, but when I saw how different they had to live I realized how much life has changed just in my lifetime.
I tried to imagine what life was like for Jane Austen at the beginning of the 19th century, two hundred years ago. No toilets, electricity, running water, central heat and air, safe foods, etc. Dark was dark back then. If I only had candles last night and none of my gadgets I would have been closer to Jane Austen times. What the hell did they do in the evenings?
Just listening to the old time radio tapes reminded me of stories my mother and father told me about how they grew up. Radio shows aren’t very sophisticated entertainment – and neither is television once you get used to the internet. I think our modern minds have become addicted to complex stimulation. Listening to the Philip Marlowe mystery was quaint but I’d hate to return to those simple story days.
Since I gave up cable last year my wife constantly searches the local channels for something to watch when she’s in town. She likes to watch Antenna TV, a channel with old TV shows from the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s. I loved The Monkees as a kid, but seeing it now makes me wonder if I was mentally handicapped as a teen. I grew up back then but I wouldn’t want to return to such primitive entertainment. I can’t imagine what young people today think of us when they see such shows. But then I was talking to a young woman (in her thirties) and she told me how much she loved The Adams Family because it was something fun to watch with her 4 year old daughter.
Of course I did a lot of thinking about the poor people in Japan who are having their routine lives diverted for probably months if not years. I was having no trouble adapting to life without power – it’s not life threatening, but I wouldn’t want to go all Thoreau and choose such a lifestyle. I’m reading Edward Abbey’s Desert Solitaire and he makes living out in nature sound exciting and romantic, but reading between the lines I don’t think the desert heat comes through well in just words.
I also thought about what it would take to live with less, and wondered how much less is acceptable. Could I live without the Internet? Sure, but I really wouldn’t like it, but that’s weird to think about. Why is the Internet so important? I spend Sunday afternoon to Friday evening living alone, so I use the Internet to socialize at night. The computer, phone and TV make me feel in touch with the world and people. If we fell back to Jane Austen times, work would be my only social contact and I’d probably read in the evenings. I’m too tired after work to be socially active. But if we didn’t have this modern world I don’t suppose my wife would be working out of town.
I wonder what our married lives should be like without our electronic addictions? And yes, my wife has her addictions too, like Farmville and Angry Birds. When Nicky was visiting we talked, and then we played cards. I can see how simple games like chess, checkers and cards could be so valuable to people in the old days.
My first night back with electricity I’m typing my blog, listening to Miles Davis’ “So What” from Kind of Blue and enjoying unnatural light and heating. I just got in the 5th season of Friday Night Lights, one of my all time favorite TV shows to watch later, and I’m back in my routine. However, I’m not as inspired to write like I was last night. See, being forced to do something different has it’s educational value. Thinking about being out of my rut was stimulating in itself. I should try to do it more often. Yeah, right.
JWH – 4/6/11