Saturday, August 18, 2012
Snapped awake early this morning by the sudden loud slamming of the emergency fire door a few yards down the hall, the noise was our first clue that the power had failed. Naturally, the first thing you do after realizing you won't be able to make coffee or turn on the news, is to look out the window to see if other buildings may be affected or if it's just the one you happen to be inhabiting. Since it was daylight it was hard to tell. It's not the first time the electricity was lost since we came to live here (one event lasted more than ten hours) but it was one of the more mysterious episodes. Had there been a wild storm going on outside, it's understandable even if not acceptable, but this was a quiet summer weekend morning, just normally warm for the time of year.
In a neighborhood of family sized houses and small apartment buildings what usually happens is that people go outside to ask each other about what might have caused the problem. Some might even have news or funny stories about where they'd been or what they'd been doing when the lights went out. Such is not the case when you live in a high-rise apartment building, especially if you live above the fifth or sixth floor. First, since there are no windows, other than those in the apartments, the hallways are pitch dark. Naturally, the elevators won't work even if you have a flashlight to help you find them. The enclosed staircases may or may not have emergency lighting but even if they do, the walk down to the lobby won't be easy and, depending on which floor you live on, the climb back up will be worse. Should I even mention the lack of running water?
So there I was sitting in bed this morning drinking juice instead of coffee considering how reliant we are on electricity. I wondered if it was just our building or if it might be the whole city. What if it was one of those cascading blackouts similar to the one in the northeast in 2003 or the storm system across the US this summer? What if a massive solar flare had caused a modern day Carrington Event like the one that happened at the dawn of the electrical age in 1859? That time a geomagnetic storm lit up the sky with aurora borealis lights all the way to Florida and also burned out every telegraph junction in the Northern Hemisphere.
You've probably decided by now that I can get carried away by my imagination more than might be absolutely necessary but it doesn't take flights of fancy to consider how changed our world has become in this past century and a half by having easy access to electrical power. What if it suddenly went away for longer than a few hours, or more than a few days? We're all aware that the infrastructure built in decades past whether for highways, bridges, sewers, water mains, or power grids are much more difficult as well as expensive to maintain or repair these days. In regards to the North American grid, major budget cuts proposed by Republican politicians in the U.S. could have disastrous implications on both sides of the border. We're all more connected than we know.
Ah well. It didn't happen this time and our power was restored a few hours later. If it hadn't been, I certainly wouldn't be sitting here drinking my ice tea and writing as the fan blows a gentle breeze across the room. Maybe I shouldn't worry so much. There's fun to be had even without electricity:
Holi from Variable on Vimeo.
..but it sure would be nice to have a warm bath after the festivities.
Do you have a power outage story to share?
top picture is the Forest Spiral House in Darmstadt, Germany by Hundertwasser
(much more attractive than the building where I live)