Sunday, December 21, 2008
Little House on the Glacier
Winter got an early start on us this year. Not content to wait until the actual solstice to start inflicting cold and misery on us, Mother Nature dropped a horrendous ice storm on our unsuspecting heads in the wee hours last Thursday night. We awoke to find the power out and everything coated in at least half an inch of ice. Since losing power is nothing out of the ordinary here in the hinterlands -- the power goes out here every time a cloud passes across the moon -- we simply waited for the lights and heat to come back on.
Only it didn't. We and about 220,000 of our neighbors in Maine alone got smacked by the storm, and the power company had all it could do to try and restore electricity by working around the clock and calling in the cavalry from places like Ohio, Maryland, and Quebec. In the meantime, we froze and our food thawed. At one point, it was warmer in our fridge than it was in our house.
At least the doggers enjoyed the weather...
...which is more than I can say for ourselves. We did explore the deeper meanings of what it's like to endure three-dog nights, since we happen to have exactly three dogs and they all insisted upon sleeping in the bed -- and on top of me. I can report that bedtime was about the only time I was warm -- well, then and dinnertime, when we made the pilgrimage to the Panera Bread in Biddeford for hot soup and Internet access. Some friends of ours in Scarborough invited us up on Saturday night for showers and a hot meal, in that order.
If we hadn't been freezing all the time and in the dark for half of it, it might almost have been a nice change. Greg got some reading done. I made significant progress on my dad's socks -- finished the first one and made some headway on the cuff for the second. The quiet was astonishing -- not just the lack of traffic noise, but also the lack of electrical and appliance hum inside the house. We could hear for long distances, and could tell which neighbor's generator was on by its distinct sound. Although our crank-powered lanterns could get AM radio, we abandoned all sound from it except for the weather report. It might have been restful at a warmer temperature, and with hot coffee.
We finally managed to buy one of the last available generators in all of southern Maine last Sunday, approximately 5 minutes before I started to crack. I'd called around to various hardware stores and big-box outlets and had located a source of generators in South Portland -- but by the time Greg got there, they had sold out. He decided to stop by the Biddeford Home Depot on the way home, even though I'd already called there and been told that the only generators in the area were in South Portland.
As he was leaving the store, a truck pulled up with a shipment of generators from the South Portland store. He managed to score one and called me to bring the larger car, since the box wouldn't fit in his hatchback. As he waited there for me, people offered him cash to give it to them so they could buy it. Everyone appeared to be reaching the frayed ends of patience and sanity by that time. That night, we enjoyed warmth from a space heater and light from a lamp in the bedroom for the first time since Thursday. Sweeeeeeet.
The next day, Greg experimented with the microwave and the electric teakettle while I drove to work. Since I couldn't work from home and I couldn't not work, I crammed as much productivity (plus a shower in the company gym) into that day as I possibly could. Saw my very first power company truck headed south on the Turnpike while driving south myself. Although the power company kept calling and leaving tantalizing "just checking to see if your power is on" messages on voicemail, we were still in the dark.
Our power finally returned on Tuesday night, just as I had resigned myself to another night of sleeping in four layers of clothing after watching a power truck drive slowly past the house and around the corner before it disappeared. Greg noticed my alarm clock flashing. "The power's back on!" It took me a few minutes to react. Did we dare to get our hopes up? It was with no small measure of gratitude that we turned off the generator and started turning on heat and lights in the house. The food in the fridge and freezer were losses, but we were back, baby!
This power outage is probably the most effective argument I know of against signing up for VOIP phone service -- it may be massively cheaper than maintaining an old-fashioned phone line, but when the power goes out -- and it does around here frequently -- then you don't have a phone. We at least had phone service while everything was out, and couldn't reach our friends with VOIP unless they also had cell phones.
The power crews worked almost around the clock to restore service, and some people in NH still don't have power. Let's hope they get it back soon!