Tuesday, March 21, 2017

End of Days: 99 Houses Off the Grid

Again I woke early. There had been no change. It was totally dark. The temperature within the house was nearing 40. I was praying for a sunny day once the dawn appeared, before the thermometer slid down to freezing to match the atmosphere about us. I expected when the sun came through the front windows it would rise some, maybe back to 43, like that was some tropical goal.

I did my usual cleaning routine. One must carry on even in bad situations. When I walked out on the back porch to tote down the birdseed I quickly stopped myself going further. One foot tentatively down on the top step told me it was too ice covered and risky to try to go down the stairs. I retreated inside, through the house and out the front door. Now I went around the car port and across the rear yard.

The snow was still frozen solid, but this morning I saw some tracks upon it. Cat paws ran from the bushes high in the yard, down to the under house storage bin, back up along the rear walk to the steps. Also coming out of the bushes lower down were the prints of a raccoon. I assume both beasts feasted on the cat food sometimes during the night without meeting and going into battle mode. 

It did not take long for the birds to flutter down once I placed the seed in the tray at the top of the yard. No sense bothering with the birdbath; it had been froze solid all week. That flock of Robin red-breasts that landed Tuesday morning probably wish they had stayed down in Dixie further. These arbiters of spring wandered about. They were fat in their winter feathers.

I came back in the house. I asked Lois if she would like some coffee.

"Yes," she said, "but a smaller cup. I couldn't finish that one yesterday." 

I got in the car to drive to Wawa, but went up our hill in the opposite direction, taking the scenic route. I wanted to see if the electric workers had returned anywhere. They were down on Honeywell setting up for another day. I circled around and out Glenrock then. At the top of Glenrock another crew of trucks had just pulled in almost blocking the street. I counted 10 vehicles, big and small, and workers milling everywhere. I have no idea what was down at that point.

I parked at the Wawa and headed in. Over by the side was a policemen, hand on the head of a guy in handcuffs, placing him into the back seat of his patrol car. I went in and got one 24 ounce cup for myself and a small cup for Lois. At the register I said, "Busy morning."

The kid, probably still in his teens, just stared at me.

"Cop has a guy in handcuffs in your parking lot," I said expecting the kid would say something about this, but he didn't. He just stared at me blankly and told me the price of the coffee. 

Back home we (my wife and I, not the Wawa kid) sipped away our coffee and finally I suggested we go get
breakfast at this new restaurant that had opened not too long ago. The time was something just past 6 o'clock. I wasn't sure when this restaurant opened, but I guessed it opened early for the breakfast trade. We drove over. It replaced a Pizza Hut that had occupied that spot for decades. The name of the restaurant was The Sage Diner. It had a crowded parking ever since it opened, whether for breakfast, lunch or dinner.

But not crowded this morning.

There were two cars in the lot and some lights on inside, but it wasn't open yet.  My wife said no one was there, but I suggested they were, probably prepping. So, we drove around some more. The car was warm. By 6:30 I was back to the restaurant lot watching one more car pull in and park near the door. A man in a uniform, a cop on his way to his shift or a security guard getting off his, got out and went in. Lois pointed out the neon sign in the window was lit with the word OPEN.

I parked and we went in and sat in a booth, just us and the cop in the room. (It was not yet swarming as in the photo.) A man, obviously the manager came over immediately with menus. We asked for coffee and he fetched it. He appeared to be operating alone. A bit later a waitress came in and went around making sure all tables were ready.

We both ordered omelettes, my wife a Spinach and I, a Bacon. I also got a large V-8. It sat like a 12 ounce glass of blood. The food was pretty good, and a lot. Big omelettes with much home fries and slices of toast.

A bit after we got home, Ron from down the street came by. He repeated his offer if we should get cold we should come down to his place. I figured if this continued into night I would, but prayed it would not come to that. He started my generator once more.

I tried an experiment. Rather than run extensions from my one cable to the refrigerator and lamps, I just plugged a space heater directly into the cable. This time it stayed on. Of course, it was directly in the power source, not that the little heater gave us a great amount of heat.

A story in the morning News Journal was an interview with a spokesman for DP&L, some high mucking-muck. He was saying how much they cared about the customers still without power. Yeah, right.

I called DP&L again.

I was so shocked at having a real person answer instead of the automated system, I almost couldn't speak. Every time before in my memory of calling DP&L I got a computer generated voice telling me to choose from a menu of numbers. One such selection is for updates on known outages. This was not a computer, this was a living, breathing woman. She said, "Emergency Line, what is the nature of your emergency?"

 Perhaps I should have said, "We be two old people freezing to death," but instead I told her I called for an update of when the power would be fixed. My last report, by automated computer-generated voice, was by 12:00 noon.

"The estimate is between 12:00 and 1:00 PM," she said.

Great, another extra hour! Okay, Mr. DP&L-executive-so concerned-about-your-customers, stop changing the time of power returning. How can we people trapped out here in the dark and cold plan what to do when you keep moving the target? If you don't know, tell us you don't bloody know, not torture us with ever changing hopes. 

Well, at least she had given a shorter time frame, another hour.

I had finished the Ty Cobb biography and started reading The Fellowship, a book about C. S. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien, Owen Barfield and Charles Williams, a group of English writers known as "The Inklings".

After a chapter I dozed off.

When I awakened my son was there on his lunch break from Total Wine, where he works. I told him about DP&Ls ever changing estimates and that the most recent put restoration between Noon and 1 PM. 

"It's 12:35 now," he said looking at his phone (wherever would the younger generations be without their smart phones)?

How wonderful, and no electric yet. Once more into the abyss. I called DP&L and once more a live person answered, a male this time. 

"The estimated time for your power to be restored," he told me, "is 6:00 this evening."

Oh good grief, yet another 6 hours!  I gave him my complaint, rambling on about the ever shifting times, as if he could do anything about it. I also asked why suddenly was I getting live people answering my calls. He hadn't the foggiest. 

After my useless call, I drove down to Honeywell and saw the trucks were still back there. I parked on Glenrock and walked to where all the action was. There was a lone worker in a hardhat moving a cherry-picker platform with a hand held control tethered to it. I was thinking of following him into this yard when one of the large trucks pulled round the corner with two men inside and stopped where the street curved.

I tapped on the driver's window and he rolled the glass down. My guess is this guy was the crew chief; can't swear to it. I told him how DP&L kept changing the times and what their latest estimate was.

"Whose telling you this," he asked, "the Call Center?"


"What'd'a they know? They can't see it."

"Hmm.  I know there was a crew earlier up by my street. They're gone."

"Yeah," he shook his head. "We gotta big mess here. Back there," he pointed between the corner house. The guy moving the cherry-picker was between them now. Beyond was a big field that ran all the way back to where I-95 crossed the development.  "We got 3-4 poles down,  lot of wires back that field. Problem is we can't get a truck in there. Make it easier if we could get a truck in there."

"You think you'll get it working today?" I asked.

He nodded. "Look, I guarantee you'll have lights tonight."


"I promise, you'll have lights tonight. We won't leave here today until you do."

I thanked him and left. I had more trust in these guys on the front that those call center clerks.

My wife was somewhat doubtful. She swore she couldn't take it anymore once again. I'm afraid she really didn't have a choice.

We went out to dinner again late that afternoon, leaving a little after five. Things were still dark. I peered down Honeywell to see if the workers were still there. They were.

We got back in our development just at 7:00 PM. Down Honeywell I could see they were still there. That didn't seem promising. We pulled in the drive. I had left the entryway light on, but nothing was showing. The security light in the car port hadn't lit. 

It was disappointing. As I turned the key in the lock, my wife exclaimed, "The light's on."

It was. It had just come on. I hurried in. She was excited. I felt for heat.  I went to the thermostat wondering why hadn't the heat come on? I feared the furnace might be broken. I looked at the thermostat. Why was the thing on hold? I hit the set schedule button and heard the heater kick on. Hot air flowed from the register. The temperature was down at 42. Soon it began to tick upward. It took until 9:00 to get up to fifty, but by the time I went to bed it was at 60. We were back, baby!

The 33 hours of living in dungeon chill and darkness were over.

When I was a teenager we had a power outage from a snowstorm that lasted five days. It struck on March 19, 1958, and lasted through the 23rd. We lived in a rural area and had no electricity, no heat, no way to cook and no water, because the well pump ran on electricity. We couldn't even flush the toilet. We couldn't escape either, the main road by our place was shut down by the drifts. Even the county snowplows and salt trucks couldn't get out. I survived that inconvenience and it was like an adventure in my mind.

I have been through a number of such things in my life since March 1958. They were annoying and inconvenient and little else, a part of life. But this one left me shaken. Part of it was the terror and depression it put my wife through; part is knowing I am an old man. I also have a devastating disease called amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. I have a respirator now, but it is to build up my muscles for pushing air in and out, not for breathing. I barely use it, yet I know eventually I might need a respirator to breath. What happens then in a power outage? The thing has a battery, but how long does that last?

I couldn't start my generator because of weakening muscles. Shoveling snow was an effort that fatigued me. Who will look after me when I can't look after myself? I am my wife's caretaker. I was busy looking after her concerns and needs during this three days. I doubt she will be able to care for me when the disease demands it.

There are things that will need to be done, minor repairs about the house, lawns to be mowed, bushes to be trimmed, cracks in the driveway that will need patching again, and I wonder if I will be up to any of it. Several people came and aided us during this, but I avoided asking for too much help. It is so hard to ask people to do what you feel you should be doing; things you always have. I'd much rather go help others, as I did for the young woman across the street trying to dig her car out, then expect someone else to come dig me out.  Some people say that, "I'm sorry" or "thank you" are the hardest words to say. I disagree. I think, "Help me" is.


  1. Thank you for the honesty of your writing.

  2. Lar,
    We are at that time of our lives Larry when we will have to have help. This is something I have feared, perhaps more than death. Both of us have always been very independent but age takes its toll. I used to do all my yard work myself. Now I need help. Bill lost his license last year. I still have mine but what will happen to me if I lose my license. That's when I move into the city (Philadelphia) like my friend Don where you don't need a car. I notice a lot of old people live in his co-op. No way am I going to go into assisted living where they drain your resources then put you on Medicad. Then the Republicans shut off Medicad and you're screwed. This is what we have to look forward to. Better hope the Democrats get back in power. They care for the average person.