The Connecticut power company has restored both electricity and heat to my house. It became clear in the last 24 hours of the power outage that two things were true:
1) I was capable of managing things quite well for myself in in the cold. I protected myself at night with multiple layers of blankets and sheets, long underwear on my body, and socks. I never lost the ability to have hot water, so I stayed clean and didn’t get sick during the power outage.
2) The electric rheostat in my apartment was what was keeping me from being warm in my apartment. When the electricity went out, I lost power AND heat, because the gas heat was dependent upon the electricity that ran the rheostat. I’ll be replacing that rheostat with a mechanical one as soon as I’m able to learn how to do it, and acquire the necessary parts.
A curious thing also happened this morning. I walked downtown to get coffee (hot liquid inside definitely made it easier to ignore the cold in my house), and what with one thing and another, I was on Main Street for several hours. When I returned, I noticed that a power cable had sprung loose from a building at the foot of my street, and was lying on the sidewalk. The downed power line from the church across the street was also still down.
So, I got out my phone, and called the power company, and navigated through their options menu to “emergency, downed power lines” option. A robo-voice who said ‘her’ name was Madeline answered my call, and said, “this is the emergency line, please state the nature of the problem.”
And I reported the street junction, the number of the house, and the fact that this cable was down on the sidewalk. A human voice cut in at this point — the robo-voice’s purpose is apparently to help them filter out which calls are important! Who knew!? The real person then asked me a couple of open-ended leading questions, and then some very precise detail questions: was the broken power line coming off the house (yes) or a pole (no), what was the number of the house (I had it for them), how did I know it was a new break (because I’d walked down this street at 7am, and it wasn’t down on the sidewalk then)?
I then mentioned that it was right across the street from the local meeting house of a church, which also had a downed power line. She asked me the address (I couldn’t tell her, but I could tell her the street intersection), and why the wire was down (there was a broken branch on top of the wire), and was this a recent downed wire. I said,
No, this wire’s been down all week, actually. It’s a big thick wire, and it leads from the pole to the church’s meter-box, and it’s lying across the parking lot with a tree branch sawn up next to it.”
I was told “thanks very much!” and a few minutes later the power company hung up. Half an hour later, the power company truck was here, and the wires were repaired. And then the power came on, and my heat started working again shortly after that.
The line to the church that was down was so obvious. It was attached to a semi-public building; it was brought down by an obvious downed tree limb; it was so clearly a live wire on Sunday, and then a dead wire by Sunday afternoon, that none of us in the neighborhood gave it a second thought.
But could it be that I was the first person to report the break at the church, by being the first person to report the recently-downed wire, today on Thursday?
I feel so lame. Maybe we would have had power all week, and had the ability to post internet messages and communicate with students during their own blackouts, if I had called the power company on Sunday.
So yes, I have power. But I also learned that I have responsibility, particularly in crisis, to keep my eyes open, and help ease the crisis. Even if I overreport a broken power line, at least I know it’s been done.
Next time, I’ll know. In the meantime, I don’t just have power. I feel powerful. And that’s an amazing feeling.