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Reflections on Powerlessness

The author reflects on what 50 hours without power tells us about ourselves and how we live.

Recently, Mrs. O'Roscoe and I had visitors and we met people from Boston, Philadelphia, Montreal, and San Francisco over the last couple of weeks; they were all going on a bit too much about how we don’t have weather here.

Then, we got one night of wind.

Mrs. O’Roscoe and I had already gone to bed on Wednesday night when she reminded me to turn off our ancient computer, which I did. Then when we heard the winds topple things outside, I went out to batten down some hatches, and out of the corner of my eye I saw our transformer blow, and I looked at the Arroyo and saw many more transformers spouting fountains of sparks--kinda like the Fourth of July in November.
 
In the morning we saw that we were very lucky, no large damage, only a large clean up. Under a pine in our back yard the needles and other leaves were so thick on the ground that it felt like a forest floor.

Our neighbors lost a carport; others lost trees, and one found his car under a tree.

I had an appointment in South Pasadena on Thursday, and I went to it on the train.

On the walk to the station I was looking at the debris and destruction. A fence toppled here, many trees down there, but what had the biggest emotional effect on me for some reason was all the bits of roofing shingles I saw everywhere. The effect these winds on our lives for months to come will be great.

I got to the station and was pleased the trains were working, and also that the ticket machines weren’t.

In South Pas I was surprised to see much more tree damage than what I saw in Highland Park, many more fallen trees and branches, higher drifts of leaves, and the most impressive, a medium sized palm tree snapped in half.

I took my cell phone with me to charge, but they had no juice there either, so no luck. We weren’t getting any cell phone signal at home, so I thought there may be reception in South Pas, but no luck there either. As I was on my way home, I got a bit a of signal and texted my freshman daughter to tell her all was well.

An interesting social thing I saw was the traffic. As I walked a few blocks on Figueroa Thursday morning, I saw the cars doing well with no traffic lights.

Pedestrians had no problem crossing; cars from side streets had no problem entering the flow onto Figueroa.

In South Pas I saw jammed traffic. Pedestrians (me) had to cross streets carefully, and cars on the streets I saw weren’t letting cars from side streets enter. Rolling stops through stop signs. And intersections where there weren’t traffic lights needed referees.

Thursday night Mrs. O’Roscoe and I lit candles and made dinner. We had a philosophical difference of opinion on what it means to briefly open the refrigerator door. We read for a bit, talked a lot. I wished our kids had all been there with us to talk and read.

A friend from down the street came over for dinner and we had good conversation in candlelight. A very, very nice evening.

After 33 hours our lights came on again. Then off and on and off until Saturday morning. Don’t know how many times I re-set clocks and things just to have to do them over again. And our cable TV is only working about a third of the time the TV is on.

Life can be so rough.

I know there are folks in our community who still don’t have power, that some have experienced destruction, and that we in our house have been lucky. And that our corner of the country we have it very easy in terms of weather and what it can bring. And that in our corner of the world we are blessed with riches and comforts.
 
What has impressed me over the last few days is how we are all over-indulged bunnies, dependent too much on electricity for work, entertainment and communication.

But much more importantly, I was surprised that our water depends on pumps that are powered by the same electricity. Why don’t those pumps have emergency generators?

And why don’t our cell phone towers have generators for when we will need them in emergencies?

We behave as if our lives are so regular and stable. But we live on the surface of a soap bubble, and one gust of wind, one accident, one virus, one rubble of the earth, and the bubble bursts and we are at best reduced to the life of a three legged dog.

Thanks for letting me cheer up your day!

Josie Roth December 05, 2011 at 02:56 PM
Maybe we need to push our leaders and cell phone companies to make this a priority lest we fall back into a sense of false security until it happens again. Next time there could be no gas, no water, and last longer too. City council meeting anyone??
Scott Rubel December 05, 2011 at 04:23 PM
We don't need a council meeting. Los Angeles is notorious for power going down in a light sprinkle. No meetings. Just stock up on supplies. The first message from my neighborhood, after almost 48 hours of powerlessness came to an end, was, "We have cable TV!? Not "Our lights and heat came on." Not "thank goodness our food will be safe now." The first sign of power in our neighborhood was someone excited about the TV.
Alberto December 05, 2011 at 05:58 PM
Of all the people who post to this Patch, I appreciate David O'Roscoe the most. Very nice reflection. I agree that water delivery systems should, as part of strategic planning, incorporate redundant back up power systems. I'm not so worried about cell phone service though; I understand that, having become accustomed to being in touch at all times, we can become panicked if we can't reach someone Right Now. But I don't know that it's priority for everyone in all big weather situations. However, for those few who need it for emergency situations (trapped, isolated, or otherwise in immediate danger), I believe that some special national cell service would be good for use only to 9-1-1 systems by any person with a functioning cell phone, regardless of plan or bill status. More than anything, I'd hope that this experience made us a little more thoughtful of our neighbors. How many people in your neighborhood checked on each other? I didn't think about it until after power was restored, 28 hours later. We are our neighbors closest available first-responders and to remember that would serve us all well. Let things like this bring us closer together in our local communities: that'd be a good lesson-learned. City council meetings are fine - but what about neighborhood meetings, informal and intimate? (PS: "rumble")
Katie December 05, 2011 at 06:25 PM
The fact that we have so little in terms of emergency generators and equipment infrastructure in the 21st century is astounding. I fear for what will happen when we have a big earthquake...
David O'Roscoe December 05, 2011 at 09:37 PM
Josie, Pushing our leaders, and ourselves is a good idea. Maybe this is too much philosophy, but I think most security, like most modesty, is false.
David O'Roscoe December 05, 2011 at 09:40 PM
Scott, we are a bunch of babies. My "inner tube" just got back online, and here I am instead of raking the yard or reading, which is how I spent the morning.
David O'Roscoe December 05, 2011 at 09:43 PM
Aw, pshaw, Alberto, I blush. Using Patch services might be a good way to organize meetings. Give it a try!
David O'Roscoe December 05, 2011 at 09:46 PM
Katie, A trip back to the 19th century is only an emergency away!!
Milla Goldenberg December 05, 2011 at 10:06 PM
nice viewpoint, David. i also sorta enjoyed the one night i went without power. it was like camping in my living room, bundled up in a sweater with a flashlight on a book. (two+ nights i'm sure i would have enjoyed less.) but it doesn't hurt to slow down and unplug once in a while.

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