Sunday, June 8, 2008

The Speed of Modern Life

Have you ever noticed how fast we all live today? With electricity humming all around us and giving us climate control, we now move at a frenetic pace no matter what time of day it is or what the weather may be doing. Of course, all that comes to a screeching halt when there's no power.

Last Wednesday we got hit with an afternoon thunderstorm that came through like a tropical storm. Now thunderstorms are not an unusual occurrence in my area. We get them nearly daily in the summer, but this one had some real punch to it. In case you didn't know, most t-storms come through at about 40-45 mph, this one was around 65 mph, the news people said. And it came with tornados, which are not the devastating kind you see in the midwest but they do their fair share of damage all the same. The storm came in and we lost power almost immediately.

On Thursday morning, I learned through the fancy automated phone system the power company has that my power would be restored at 8 p.m. on June 7th. That would put me out of power for over three days. Wow! When hurricane Isabel tore through the area a few years ago and took out power we only lost power for eighteen hours, now I was looking at three days? For a little thunderstorm?

The forecast was for temps in the high eighties with humidity levels making it a very sticky time. Of course, most of the businesses, government, and schools had power restored the first night. Unfortunately, I live in an older home, one of three that are on above ground lines in a neighborhood of underground fed homes. We came pretty low on the list for getting fixed.

We bought a generator.

We thought we'd be able to buy it, set it up and my husband could still make it into work midday.

That didn't happen.

One, we were working in 80 plus degree heat. Two, setting up the generator proved to take more time than we thought it would. And three, my youngest son's school called, he was having asthma problems.

I know everyone jokes about heat and humidity, but if you've never experienced high heat coupled with humidity levels in the eighties and nineties, it really is worse. I have been in desert heat, with temps over 105, and I've been in heat here with high humidity. Neither is easy to deal with. One you feel like you're baking, the other you feel like you're melting. But it's hard to move with any speed in either. So getting the generator set up was not a quick process.

When you get a generator there's a break-in period for the motor. This particular one needed an oil change after a two hour run time. Now, I can change the oil, but I don't like to do it. My husband, bless his soul, understands this. He called his office and rescheduled the presentation he had scheduled so he could stay home and play with his new toy. Yes, it was under the guise of freeing me from changing the oil, but let's face it, he got a new toy in the deal.

We also retrieved my son from his school and took him to my Dad's house. He's retired and lives nearby, and he had power. We were able to give my son the nebulizer treatment he needed and get him into air conditioning. He's fine now, but all three of my kids slept over there for a couple of nights.

And did I mention we were one of three homes with no power nearby? That means everyone else is still operating at that frenetic pace I mentioned earlier. I felt like I was moving in slow motion and I couldn't catch up to anyone. It was very odd. But it was also quite interesting.

There was no way for me to do my usual routine. It involves a lot of electricity I've discovered. I read email, I catch up on my favorite blogs, I do the laundry, run the dishwasher, maybe bake something or make dinner (using my electric stove or my electric microwave), or maybe I vacuum the house. All these activities require electricity. Now, I could still mow my lawn, but it was well over eighty degrees so that wasn't happening. There were a few things I could do.

I did hang up the wet laundry to dry outside, something we never do since there's a ton of pollen in the air and I have three asthmatics in the house, but luckily the clothes were almost all mine and I don't have allergies. I could read. I could certainly straighten up the house, which I tried to do, but it was just too hot and sticky to do very much of that. I could write, but not on my home computer. I could go shopping, but did I mention we bought a generator? Yeah, $600 that wasn't in the budget. So no shopping. Usually I would do some grocery shopping, to stock up for the weekend, but without electricity, I wasn't adding more perishables to my refrigerator. We did hook it up to the generator, but I wasn't up to risking it, and my kids weren't staying at our house anyway to eat the food.

So, instead, I spent some time thinking about how we rely on electricity to go about our daily lives, and how we all are always on. There's no time to just go with the flow of nature and slow down and relax a bit when it's hot, or even when there's a few feet of snow. I even felt compelled to tell people we had no power so they would understand why I wasn't operating at the same fast pace of everyone else.

We used the generator to power our refrigerator and our internet server system. Yes, we're computer geeks, but we run a server for an international car club and all its chapters, if our power is out, so are their websites. Of course, generators make a lot of noise. Deafening levels of noise really, so it has to be shut down at night. Well, ours does, but evidently the cable company is allowed to break the law because at 2 a.m. on Thursday morning they set up a generator across the street from our house.

Did you realize that when the government decided to let the cable companies offer phone service that they couldn't offer phone service without relying on a power utility? They need power to give phone service. They have batteries that, as we were told, hold an eight hour charge, but after that, they need a generator. So, in addition to eighty plus temperatures and horrendous levels of humidity, we got to listen to the motor of a generator sitting about 120 feet from where we were trying to sleep. I didn't get much sleep.

I can't complain though. I didn't have any damage to my property during the storm. No trees fell on my house or car. And everyone I know came through unscathed. Not bad. Could have been worse. Many homes had trees fall on them and many vehicles were damaged by trees and limbs, one person was even killed as a tree fell on the car he was riding in. So, an absence of electricity and a night of noise from a generator was a small price to pay. And I got the opportunity to think about how much electricity rules our lives.

Do we really need to be moving so fast so much? Are we really doing that much more? Or are we missing some of the things life has to offer by constantly being on the move? I have mixed feelings about it. I like being able to do things all the time, but I think we may have taken it a bit too far.

We used to at least have one day a week when things were more leisurely, but now, even Sunday is packed with activities and businesses are even opening for longer and longer hours. A mall near us opens at 11 a.m. and closes at 7 p.m. I remember when they couldn't open at all on Sunday. Blue laws prevented it, and then they opened from 12 to 3, and over time the hours have lengthened. Pretty soon Sunday hours won't be any different from any other day.

I think we need to reevaluate a bit and give some thought to how we live our everyday lives. Vacations are great for a complete get away and a chance to relax, but shouldn't we be able to relax a bit in our everyday schedule? Do we have to be productive 24/7? Of course, some of us use the guise of activity to look like we're being productive. Surfing the net is a great pastime that looks productive but rarely is. But when there's no electricity you can't easily fake it. And you shouldn't have to. Lazing away on a hot afternoon shouldn't be viewed with scorn, it should be okay and maybe even envied.

We got our power back late Friday afternoon. I called again just to see if we had gotten moved up any and it was a good thing I did. Turns out the worker that had come out and discovered it was a fuse out on the line hadn't written that in the report. My call and my telling her that was the problem got action. A crew was out an hour and half later, I had power an hour after that. There were still about 8K other customers without power that evening, but the numbers dwindled quickly.

How much does your life revolve around the electric company? Would it upset your routine if you were suddenly without power for a few days? What would you do differently?

My schedule changed a lot without electricity, but I'm glad it's back on now.


BernardL said...

You covered the many inconveniences and hazards resulting from power outages very well. You’re right, humidity can make it seem like you can’t even breathe. Temps in the eighties with high humidity can feel like it’s really over a hundred. Multiple days without power can really be a stunning reminder of how much electricity means to us today. I’m glad your Dad had a place with power for your kids to go to, and the outage didn’t go on any longer than it did for you.

Virginia Lady said...

Thanks, Bernard. It was an experience. I've been very fortunate, it's very rare for the power to go out and even when it does it's usually only for an hour or so. And now, we've bought a generator so it won't go out again for years, I'm sure. And I definitely appreciate my Dad and all his help. He's a life saver, literally at times.

Bernita said...

We were without power after an ice storm for 5 and 1/2 days in January.
One's focus is on heat entirely.

Virginia Lady said...

Bernita, I'll take the heat over the cold, I think. I'm not one for cold weather at all.