Thrown Off the Grid Kicking and Screaming

by James Wallace Harris, Friday, June 2, 2017

Last Saturday, Memphis was hit by a storm that knocked 188,000 customers off the grid. As of Friday evening, 17,514 are still without power. I’m one of them. However, I’m not doing too bad. A neighbor lets me run an extension cord to his carport. When the storm hit I was without power for several hours, and then it came back on partially. Evidently, one of my two 110 circuits coming from the transformer had problems. So I turn off everything that I could. Things that took 220 just wouldn’t run at all.

On Tuesday I got an electrician to look at things and he suggested I shut down all my circuits that weren’t getting a full 110 volts. He checked each at the breaker box. I had fans, TV, computer, and even the refrigerator (but I had to run a cord to an 110 socket that worked.) Then on Wednesday an MLGW guy came by and told me and my neighbor that our circuits were not working right and he had to pull us completely off the grid for safety reasons. I was bummed. Losing my partial electricity felt like being thrown out of the lifeboat. However, I called my other neighbor and he threw me a lifeline. I’m able to run a fan, a lamp, the refrigerator, and my internet router off one orange extension cord coming through the window.

Several of my friends were without any power for days. Back when we had Hurricane Elvis, Susan and I went without power for 13 days in July and August heat. I’ve had the power go out at this house several times for 2-3 day, in summer and winter. I’ve written about these adventures before “Living Like Jane Austen,” “Blogging by Candlelight and Paper,” and “Are You Prepared for a Natural Disaster?

Living without electricity is no fun but very educational. I’m extremely glad to have my lifeline to Ernie’s house. A fan makes all the difference between misery and comfort. I’ve been reading many books written in the 19th century these last few years and I can’t imagine how people survived without electric power. I would never time travel back to their times. I wonder what future Americans will have that they believe they can’t live without but we don’t know about yet?

This time I have LED lanterns, which are much nicer than candles. And I have a smartphone. One time the power was out I got out an old Sony Walkman and played cassette tapes of old radio shows for entertainment. Having an iPhone 6s Plus has made all the difference this outage. I don’t feel isolated from the internet.

I guess I’m addicted to two grids: electricity and the internet.

Having that extension cord means I’m just barely on the grid. It teaches me what I really want most when it comes to flowing electrons. I have chosen four items: a fan, a lamp, a router, and a refrigerator. The fan is the most essential. I’d let my food go bad before I’d give up the fan.

I’ve been thinking about buying a generator for next time. I hear my neighbor’s out behind my house. They are noisy as all get out. I’d want one that’s quiet or could be made quiet. So I’ve been thinking about how to build a little doghouse for a generator that would protect it from rain, thieves and baffle the noise.

26073005

I bought The Grid by Gretchen Bakke but haven’t read it yet, but I’ve read enough about the book to know the grid will be even less dependable in the future.

I know of five times this house has been without electricity for more than 2 days, but that’s over a twenty-year period. However, with climate change, this could happen more often. We’ve been told this is the third worst outage in MLGW’s history. The main problem is trees and straight line winds or ice storms. This will always be a problem because we have lots of trees and power poles. Moving to a newer neighborhood would help. [Note to self – make sure all future living sites have underground power cables.]

During the storm, I worried about trees falling on the house. More than a hundred came down to block roads around the city. I’ve read about people with holes in their roof trying to survive without electricity. I’m thankful I don’t have that problem. I’m surviving okay, but it’s wearing me down slowly. I can’t cook hot food. I’m down to my last pair of clean underwear. It’s so dark I have to take a lantern to the bathroom. But I shouldn’t whine. Much of the world has it worse than this all the time.

We really should vote to raise our taxes to update and renovate the grid.

JWH