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Power lunch

In my line of work (writing and the teaching of writing) one of the main tenets of the genre is that good writers avoid sweeping generalizations. But another tenet is, when you’re going to break a rule, break it good and hard. So here goes:

81,000 Appalachian Power customers learned how not fun it is to party like it’s 1799.

I think that was the final total; it was a bit of a moving target, but in Virginia and West Virginia, well, it was not a good weekend to be dependent on electricity. Even as I write this, on Tuesday, I checked the APCO website and there were still 20,396 people without power, including over 14,000 in rural Pulaski and Montgomery counties.

That’s a lot of folks sitting in the dark. On Saturday evening, we had some blinking of lights, so I lit an oil lamp and some candles and went to take a shower. I’d been out of the shower about 30 seconds when a.) the electricity went away, b.) I said some unladylike words, and c.) a transformer somewhere in the whirling snow started arcing with a truly eerie green light. Here’s a tip: green lights are NOT thundersnow. Trust me on this. Natural lightning is never green, not even in tornados.

I need to add d.) my heart sank into my still-damp toes, because I knew it would be days, not hours, before we got the juice back. It’s one thing when a thunderstorm takes out a big line; that’s an easier fix since you fix one thing and lots of people are back in the light. But this time . . . did y’all SEE the damage?? Holy Hannah, there were downed trees and tree limbs EVERYWHERE, and some poor power company employee had to go out and FIND all those and assess how bad it was and then put it on the list. AND it was snowing like two inches an hour, AND the roads were terrible.

Our electricity was off for just shy of 45 hours. We were not prepared for this.

We knew we needed to be, since in 2016 we the fam gave my beloved a saltwater reef tank for Christmas. It’s beautiful. It has a cast of characters like a novel—the elegant skunk shrimp named Lo Mein, the cardinalfish Roderick and Keith (go read Terry Pratchett’s Feet of Clay,) two adorable clownfish sometimes called Brooke and Jeremy, something purple named Duke, a tiny yellow fish named Goldie, a neurotic but beautiful fish named Blue, and two new fire gobis that we haven’t named yet. There is a supporting cast of Kenya trees, soft corals, starfish, hermit crabs, and sea anemones. We love them. And they were in mortal danger.

They depend for survival on filters to clean the byproducts of, well, being a fish, and they have to have heat—they’re tropical, for goodness’ sake. It seemed like a good idea at the time, and for a year and three months, it was. Now we were about to have an ecological disaster right in our study.

So on Sunday morning, as soon as he’d dug out the cars, my Beloved and our son were at Tractor Supply buying a generator, along with a lot of other people. Our whole neighborhood bought generators. I bet Tractor Supply sold out of generators twice, maybe more. You could walk through the ‘hood and hear the multi-decibel growl of generators from every point on the compass. We all knew it would be days.

The guys hooked up the power source and turned it on. It ran the fridge and the fish tank just fine, so our fish were warm, our food was cold–and so were we. We don’t have any auxiliary heat source, so by Monday afternoon I was a kind of cross between a jawbreaker and a Popsicle, wearing three shirts, two pairs of pants, ski socks and a jacket. In my den. At three in the afternoon. Do not talk to me about what it was like when it got dark.

We are not prepared to live like this, people. We missed that Duke-Kansas game, which everybody who had electricity was raving about. Heck, we missed our TOES, because we couldn’t feel them. We had stick-up LEDs in every bathroom, and let me tell you, they don’t help. I came to loathe the chimney of the oil lamp, and the ONLY saving grace downstairs was the gas stove, which can be lit with a match if you have nerves of steel and a good sense of timing. (If you DON’T have those things, you also have no eyebrows and a permanently surprised expression.)

When the power came back on Monday evening (after I’d resigned myself to Thursday), I wanted to go hug a lineman. I wanted to buy APCO dinner. I wanted to throw the oil lamp a long, long way away. We lost no fish (thanks to the generator) and no toes (I have no idea why). We already had a lot of respect for power company workers before, but we have a lot more now. It was a horrible mess, and they’re still out there, gingerly reconstructing our power grid. They risk their LIVES, folks, to pull us out of the 18th Century, and no thanks are enough, but thank them when you see them. Buy them coffee, or lunch, or a condo in Belize. They deserve it.



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