Lights Out

The power came back on around eight o’clock Sunday morning. It had gone off Friday night, catching us off-guard in the middle of New Rules, much to my brother’s dismay, striking a viscous blow to a planned weekend of fun-filled, electricity-dependent activities.

 My brother and I were aware of the source of our outage; a fallen tree had downed some electric lines on the street in front of the house. I thought someone had come in the night to clear away the debris, but in the morning there were rows of extinguished flares and orange traffic cones in the street in front of the house, blocking traffic from the downed lines. Someone left behind a huge box of flares.

 I entertained myself Saturday morning sitting at the front window watching motorists avoid the cones by driving up the sidewalk; each slowly coming to a halt (and no doubt some sort of revelation about the cones) upon approaching the downed lines. Half of the cars proceeded over the lines, but, though nothing noteworthy happened to those cars, the other half made a big show of turning around. Curious neighbors stood all along the road, watching the cars, waiting. Traffic quickly backed up in the street. A police officer arrived. He put the box of flares in his trunk and drove off.

 I walked up the street to the 7-Eleven. Though they were without power too, they were allowing people with cash to scoop up the last of the melting ice cream bars and lukewarm Gatorades. I didn’t have any cash and the ATM required electricity, so I walked home.

 My brother and I stayed holed up in the house for most of the day. I read a book in the basement, where it stayed relatively cool until late afternoon. I decided to go for a drive with the air conditioning and my phone charger. Scattered pockets of town were without power for miles; Route 1 was crowded with people trudging along the scorching sidewalks: some were wearing wet towels around their necks, and almost all were carrying water bottles. As the temperature climbed, I watched as families scrambled onto public buses, desperate for air conditioning. The high reached 95 that day.

 Saturday evening, instead of seeing Pirates of Penzance at Wolftrap, I ended up falling asleep shortly after dark on the basement couch, as the temperature in the upstairs rooms had already become unbearable. Perhaps the show went on; the internet and phones were down, so I couldn’t find out without driving twenty-five miles through NOVA sans traffic lights. That seemed unwise.

 The next morning, the power returned, but not before delivering this final, crushing disappointment: My friend Colleen, having read enough of the Song of Ice and Fire series to watch Game of Thrones without fear of spoilers, had planned to travel visit from Williamsburg to make a day of Sunday watching Season 1, courtesy of HBO On-Demand, on our sixty-inch flat screen with Bose surround sound.  The life. Unfortunately, despite the return of the power, the delay to Sunday and the travel hazard caused by the widespread outages forced us to cancel.

 I also learned that just because our power was on, neighbors in surrounding areas were not so fortunate. The 7-Eleven didn’t get power back until this morning. Every grocery store and gas station within miles is still sold out of ice. I spent Sunday cleaning out the fridge and freezer and tidying up the rest of the house, which had been neglected during the day of basement hibernation.

 Despite this seemingly endless lamentation, I am appreciative of the experience. Hundreds of thousands in Virginia, Maryland and Washington, D.C. are still without power, and the utility companies are estimating it could be a week before everything is restored. Falling trees have killed people, and there are already reports of a number of heat-related deaths. Additionally, I conduct research everyday on countries that lack infrastructure; countries where living in intense climates without power is a normal way of life. This weekend, albeit uncomfortable, left me all the more grateful that I had four walls and roof… not to mention a cool basement and a good book.