Saturday, July 25, 2009


It's a beautiful summer's day, a Friday morning in July, and I'm working in my home office on a project... phone calls, emails, the usual. There's not a cloud in the sky, and the humidity hasn't kicked in yet. The weather maps say that afternoon thunderstorms are on the way, but that's for later. For right now, save for the occasional sound of a truck that rumbles by, all is quiet, and there's nothing to distract me from concentrating on my desk and wrapping up early to get a head start on the weekend.

Nothing, that is, until the power goes out.

No warning, none of the usual precursors like thunder or lighting. One minute my monitor is on, the lights are lit and the refrigerator is humming. The next, nothing. Like the famous Zen koan "What is the sound of one hand clapping?" the sound of no electricity at our place is the sound of squirrels skittering in the tree outside my window.

Thankfully, it s a much rarer occurrence than it used to be. When we first moved to the area, about 20 years ago, it was a disturbingly regular happening. Whenever there was a heavy snow or some ice, or a line of storms marched through the area, it was at least an even money bet that we would go dark. For better or worse, it seemed to happen with incredible consistency whenever I was out of town. It got to be a running gag with me calling in from the road and hearing, "you're not going to believe this..." to find out the juice was out at home. It was one severe winter storm which knocked us out for several days, a fact that I discovered while in Iowa for a week, much to my wife's chagrin.

But while New York State Electric couldn't control Mother Nature, they could equalize the odds a bit more with some prophylactic maintenance. And so over several years they trimmed branches and tightened lines, pissing off more than one homeowner who came home to find their beautiful overhanging trees not so overhanging. They had been pruned to nubbins, the better to protect the right of way that brought juice to others farther down the line.

The result was far fewer outages. And that was a good thing. For living where we do and progress being what it is, when it goes down there is little we can do but read a book. We try not to flush toilets (we can't draw water from our well), we don't open refrigerators (we don't want to let out the cold and have the contents spoil), and we can't use the regular phones (all our lines run through our modems). It's a good... or bad... as camping out.

And so was the case this time. A cell phone call to the help line said it would be a 45 minute outage. But an hour later when it wasn't on, a follow-up updated that to 5 hours in the future. Our son, who is a volunteer fireman, heard that it was a car accident in the adjoining town that took out a pole. No matter: the result was the same. We were powerless.

Thankfully, my laptop had a full battery and my cell phone also gets email. But we're in a dicey area for reception at best, meaning that the phone spends a lot of time hunting for a signal. Between that and actually using it, I knew its juice wouldn't last the duration. So I retreated to the one place in our abode that had reception and power: my garage. Or more specifically, the passenger seat of my car, with the car adapter at the ready. For the next 4 hours I conducted conference calls, typed proposals and did research online from what felt like a ride at Disney World. Thankfully, "It's A Small World" wasn't playing in the background over and over and over.

Of course, once I got most of it in the can and wrapped things up, there was a loud pop and the power roared back on. Like a dying man who sees an oasis, I ran to my office and quickly pressed every button, convincing myself it wasn't a mirage, and the lights were indeed lighting up and staying lit. True, it was hardly as bad as in Bangladesh, where they cope with power outages 249 days out of the year. But for those 5 hours, I felt like Bedford and Dhaka had at least one thing in common.


Marc Wollin of Bedford has thought about a generator, but the power always comes back on. His column appears regularly in The Record-Review and The Scarsdale Inquirer.

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