Hollie Grimaldi Flores: Feeling the power
Following the recent series of PG&E power shutoffs, I am sure I am not alone in rethinking my dependence on the utility company. It is unsettling to feel so powerless about being powerless. It was certainly revealing to understand how vulnerable I, along with my family, friends and neighbors are, when it comes to relying on one powerhouse (excuse the pun) for a vital part of our everyday existence. Sure, there are many who live without it, but in my privileged world, I was a little surprised at the level of disruptiveness caused by the lack of or limited use of electricity for me as well as my community.
I was out of town during the first round of power outages in my area. I listened to my husband tell me what he was doing to keep from losing the freezer full of food and how he was keeping warm and what he was doing to pass the time sans television, computer and limited cell phone. I offered to bring home more ice and extra water when I returned, but on my way there a couple of evenings later, the power was restored. I had managed to avoid the entire episode and feigned sympathy.
I was lucky enough to be out of the area again when the power was turned off a second time. This round, my husband had a better idea of what was needed to do more than just get by without electricity. Ice, water, flashlights and candles were all at the ready. He had a good book, a nice fire, and a lead on a generator. Naturally, a bit of a homebody, we made the most of the inconvenience.
Unfortunately, the town I was visiting was not spared, and I found myself in the dark during a weekend retreat. The drive home was difficult as there were several fires between there and home, but my friend and I made the most of things with a drive up the coast. We stopped for gas and saw the first signs of “end of days” behavior as people quickly grew impatient at the pump. Further up Highway One we stopped in a beach town that was without power and quickly understood the need for cash, when a single Taqueria running on a generator turned out to be the only food source in the area.
By the time we got home, it was dark and the only sound on my street was the hum of many generators. I feel fortunate to have had several offers from those with heat and hot water to come by for a shower or just to wait until the outage was over. I went home and crawled under the blankets, hoping it would be a mild and short inconvenience.
Meanwhile, I heard reports of local businesses having to throw away thousands of dollars’ worth of food and in addition to thousands of dollars in lost business. My own offspring, in the service industry, lost shifts and the subsequent tips. The economic effects are still being determined.
When another shutoff took place, I decided I needed to find some rose colored lenses for my glasses. There is no question that turning off power to hundreds of thousands of homes and businesses is not a solution for the long term. While those wiser than I figure out what to do, I am going to focus on the parts that worked for me and mine.
First, the sense of community, with people reaching out to one another, offering assistance was staggering. It was soon very clear that we are part of a network that will look out for each other.
Next, turning off devices lead to some meaningful conversations. Even though a good majority of the time we were talking about the issues surrounding the power outage, there were moments of real connection between some of those I love as well.
Third, I got a lot more rest. I am a night owl. I love to stay up late to write or read or watch. With limited lighting and the quiet that comes when appliances are not running, I found myself drifting off early and sleeping late.
Last, I realize I look so much better in soft light! Without the harshness of 100 watts, the lines on my face and bags under my eyes were nearly invisible. There is certainly something to be said for that.
Back to the reality of an uncertain future, my husband and I did discuss more thoroughly what we value in terms of possessions. We are a little late to the party but until the outages, had not really put together a list of what we would want to pack in case of the need to evacuate or created the much discussed “go bag.” I realize there is always a chance that the next fire could be close to home but am also find comfort in a little thing called denial.
Hopefully, we will not have to go through the same drastic steps again. Each outage we all learned a little bit more about what it will take to get through it. If it continues, we can take comfort in belonging to a community that cares so much about each other and does so much for so many every day. That is our superpower.
Hollie Grimaldi Flores is a Nevada County resident and freelance writer for hire. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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