Janet Sheridan: When the lights go out
Last summer, during one of my Sunday morning walks, a power outage undid my husband, Joel. When I arrived home, I found him in the alley, looking beleaguered and whacking a hedge. With waving shears, he beckoned me near and then began a tale of woe: “You won’t believe what happened. When I started to fix my breakfast, the power went out, so no bacon and eggs. Then my coffee was cold, so I thought I’d reheat it. Nope. No microwave. I couldn’t even defrost blueberries to eat with cereal.”
I attempted a sympathetic smile as he continued to describe a truly tragic morning: “I decided to watch the morning news while the blueberries thawed themselves. Nope. No TV. Then I thought I’d get on the computer to print out our boarding passes for Monday. Nope. No power. So I decided to use your laptop. Nope. No server. Then I thought I could read the news on my cell phone. Nope. We get lousy cell service here; I’d have to drive two blocks down, park in front of a stranger’s house and try to read the news while irritated dogs barked at me.”
He paused, sighed mightily and summarized, before turning back to his task, “You know how much I enjoy my Sunday morning routine. This is hell.”
I thought I saw his eye twitch.
Joel renewed his attack on the hedge, and I edged around the corner of the garage, scurried into the strangely silent house, found my laptop and went to the patio to write. Within minutes, he walked by, mumbling about shaving.
Five minutes later, he returned, looking rabid: “I can’t shave. The bathroom’s too dark. So I decided to pack for our trip tomorrow. Nope. I couldn’t see the color of the shirts in my closet. So I thought maybe I’d see how much I weigh, but I couldn’t read the numbers. I didn’t realized how wired we are. I can’t do anything. I guess I’ll sit, think important thoughts and twiddle my thumbs.”
For as long as I remember, power outages have wreaked havoc with humanity’s routines, and people have responded to them predictably. First, we deny there’s a problem: ”What do you mean, the power’s out?” When young, my siblings and I ran around flipping light switches to double-check until somebody thought of testing the light in the refrigerator. Then, oh happy day, peering into its cold darkness, we found food that would have to be eaten before it went bad and rescued it.
After proving we have no electricity, we wonder if our house is the only one to suffer an outage. If it’s dark, we peer out our windows to see if the rest of the neighborhood is lit. If the sun is shining, we call our neighbors: “Do you folks have any power? It’s off? Oh, good!” Upon learning others are also without power, we feel a mixture of relief and happiness. How neighborly is that?
Finally, we settle in: trying to find a flashlight or searching for candles, worrying about the meat in the freezer, vowing to stockpile the emergency supplies we’ve been meaning to buy since 1992 and rejoicing that we’re not in an elevator.
The day an outage mangled my husband’s routine and equilibrium, the electricity came on after a couple of hours. He responded by having an anxiety attack: “For two hours, I couldn’t do anything. Then, suddenly, everything’s pinging and beeping and flashing, and I couldn’t decide what to do first: print the boarding passes, watch the morning shows, shave, pack or weigh. So I decided to finish the hedge.”
Sheridan’s book, “A Seasoned Life Lived in Small Towns,” is available in Craig at Downtown Books and Steamboat Springs at Off the Beaten Path Bookstore. She also blogs at http://www.auntbeulah.com on the first and 15th of every month.
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Routt County’s Human Resources Coalition has outlined a three-year plan to help vulnerable county residents, putting particular focus on affordable housing, transit and mental health.