Saturday, March 19, 2011

Give Her Power

For some women, it's jewelry. For others, it's shoes. Handbags do it for still others, and cars certainly figure in as well. It's not that any of those don't have a special place in my wife's heart, but she had her eye on something else entirely. So the question is posed: What do you give the woman who has (at least from my perspective) everything? Or more accurately, as the Spice Girls sang, "Tell me what you want, what you really, really want."

In her case it was a 10,000 watt generator.

Some background. We live in an area that suffers a fair amount of power interruptions. Back when moved in 20 years ago, it was a serious issue, with the outages occurring whenever the weather turned nasty. These breakdowns could last anywhere from several hours to several days. But we chose to move to a semi-rural, very wooded area, and so learned to accept a certain amount of inconvenience as the cost of doing business.

To their credit, the power company embarked on a concerted effort to improve the situation, and over the intervening years trimmed trees and strengthened poles. And indeed, the outages seemed to decrease in frequency and duration. Sure, a major weather event could still cause the lights to go dark, but if Mother Nature really wants to be a bitch, there's only so much you can do.

More recently, however, we've noticed an uptick in the blackouts. Maybe it's the result of the increasingly erratic weather we've been having. Maybe it's the economics of the power companying trying to stretch manpower and resources. No matter: the results are the same. On any given day we might hear the hard "bang" of every appliance and light shutting down at the same instant as all goes dark.

So we learned to cope. We kept flashlights at the ready, and our computers had battery backups. We trained ourselves not to open refrigerators, and to pull down shades to keep heat from escaping. We even had small pots ready to put on the grill to boil water (we have an electric cooktop).  With cell phones and car chargers, we found we could even keep working from home for a short period. The one major headache was water. We get ours from a well, and so no electricity means no aqua. That means no washing, no showering and no flushing of toilets. We could deal with all the former headaches; the last, however, was the deal breaker.

And so we discussed the idea of the generator. Since I was out more, and might even be away on business, the outages usually affected me less. She, however, was more likely to be stuck in the middle of them. And so our sense of need for said device broke along predictable lines: I saw it as an expensive luxury, she as more and more a necessity. Back and forth we went, with the final verdict being "if you want it so bad, you figure it out." It recalled a former neighbor who gave in to his wife on a swimming pool, then calculated the cost per lap. On a purely economic basis, each dip was exceedingly expensive. However, on the marital bliss scale, one could argue it was a prudent investment.

So she called, shopped, met with electricians and generator companies, and explored options. Eventually she found the best price, the right guy and in it went. A big propane tank, a self starting motor, a new electrical panel and an automatic transfer switch to kick on if the juice went out. Hidden on the side of the house, it was all but invisible save for the hole in our bank account.

Then last weekend, on a clear day in the middle of the afternoon, suddenly came that "bang." The lights winked out, and if got very quiet. It took a minute to realize what had happened: then, "here we go again," I thought. But not ten seconds later, outside my office came a "whoosh" as the genie started, the lights came back on and order was restored. I heard a flurry of feet as my wife ran from her own office, down the stairs and burst in to mine with a grin on her face like she had won the lottery. As a friend said, I should kill the power more often. Or to paraphrase Mastercard, cost of 10 KW generator: too much. Look on my wife's face at that moment: priceless.


Marc Wollin of Bedford didn't think they needed the generator, but is happy to be able to flush the toilet when the power is out. His column appears regularly in The Record-Review, the Scarsdale Inquirer and online at  

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