Tuesday, November 01, 2011

The Year Without A Halloween

Last Wednesday: turned on the heat for the first time since last winter.
Last Friday: sunny, warm-ish and gorgeous.
Last Saturday: giant monster blizzard slams the Northeast and knocks out the power to my city.
Conclusion: Old Man Winter is a lazy selfish fuck who just rams it in without bothering to engage in foreplay.

I haven't had power or internet access since 11:55 Saturday night, and still don't; I'm writing this from the home of one of my partner's colleagues, who kindly offered to let me shower and work from here today while my partner is at work.

Our apartment, fortunately, is very well insulated. Even more fortunately, I always keep on hand a large supply of candles and lamp oil, which have been our only source of heat these past few days. I cleared off the coffee table and loaded it with enough lamps and candles to keep the room temperature at about 62 degrees (of course I extinguish all flames before going to bed, and indoor temps drop to the low fifties by the time we get up next morning). I've also been using two metal coffee cans as makeshift radiant heaters, by burning four or five tealight candles at the bottom of each one. Even at the rate we're burning through them, my candle and oil supplies should last at least another two weeks, and even the most pessimistic scenarios predict we'll have the power back by then.

The one problem I'm having is gasoline, since I stupidly neglected to fill my tank before the storm. I went out yesterday morning because I'd heard the business district one town over still had electricity. That was only half-true; when I drove I'd see one block with full power, including traffic lights, but then the next six blocks or so would have nothing. Intersections without traffic lights were treated as four-way stop signs, so I needed over two hours to make a drive that would ordinarily have taken about twenty minutes, and burned a lot more gasoline as a result (I only had a quarter-tank -- about two and a half gallons -- to start with).

The few gas stations open for business had lines upwards of a mile long, with police there to prevent riots and line-cutting. I didn't bother trying to buy gas, not because I lacked patience to wait but because I seriously doubted I had enough gas to make it to the front of the line. (Near the end of my journey, I wondered if I even had enough to get back home. But I made it--barely.) Thus, my car is effectively undriveable until the gas stations near me are not merely open for business, but open for normal business, the kind where customers can pull right up to the pump rather than wait in a long line.

My partner sometimes complains that I'm difficult to buy Christmas presents for, but this year will be easy since I've been drawing up a survivalist wish list. I want one of those fancy battery packs that you charge in an ordinary electrical outlet, and then plug small appliances into it. (My partner still goes to work each day, since his job still has full power; he'd be able to recharge the battery pack at work if we had one.) I want a small, low-power TV which I can plug in to said battery pack (do such things even exist, now that TVs all have to pick up digital transmissions?). I want a battery-powered radio better than the one I have; it hasn't been able to pick up any of the all-news AM stations in my area, and what stations it does pick up are utterly useless to me: yeah, I already know Def Leppard gets hysterical when I'm near. I know Jim Morrison wants me to light his fire. (There's over twenty open flames on my coffee table every night; he can damned well light his own fire off one of them.) What I don't know is, what useful businesses are open near me? When is the power supposed to come back on? What is going on in the larger world outside my immediate line of sight? None of the high-power rock stations my cheap radio can pick up have deigned to tell me. But the radio has served one useful purpose: my partner finds it difficult to sleep without some sort of background white noise, so we keep the radio tuned to an all-static station. I rather like the idea that cosmic radiation left over from the Big Bang now lulls us to sleep at night.

The mayor canceled trick-or-treating on our city last night; most cities in the area have done the same. The official excuse is that there are still live power lines down in many places, but if I had kids I wouldn't have let them trick-or-treat last night anyway, since our neighborhood is in pitch darkness: no streetlights, no porch lights, nothing but the occasional glow of a candle or battery lantern dimly shining out of the occasional window. Most of the other people who live in my building have either gone to stay with friends who have power, or moved into the shelter the city opened in a nearby middle school.

I'll end this now because I still have actual paid work to do; I'm supposed to turn in two stories for a certain magazine by this Thursday, but will only be able to do one, since the second required me to do phone interviews with certain people yesterday, and they have been incommunicado since Saturday. For the first time since I started my professional writing career, I will not be giving my editor a story expected of me, and this fact has me more pissed off than almost anything else about this storm.


Anonymous Wayne said...

Passing along that we got an Eton Red Cross radio from Radio Shack for about $30. It uses AAA batteries, is rechargable, has a hand crank to charge it up and has a solar panel for charging as well. It is AM/FM, has a flash light and emergency beacon. It also can charge your phone via the USB plug that it has. We've used it quite a bit over the past few days, even when our power came back on! (No TV stations as we have town cable).

9:30 AM  
Anonymous smartass sob said...

All that about candles and lamps,no street lights and pitch darkness, a Year Without Halloween and trick-or-treating - but not so much as even a mention of jack o'lanterns? One would think that would have been inevitable; but perhaps you intentionally avoided such hackneyed predictability in your post.

Be sure to crack a window or two with all those lamps and candles burning - it's easier to aphyxsiate oneself with CO and CO2 than you might think.

I'll second the advice about the hand-crank radios and flashlights. I don't yet own any, but they're really cool. Just be sure they're the kind that can operate without batteries.

Hope the power comes back on soon. Stay warm!

11:09 AM  
Anonymous smartass sob said...

Forgot to mention: I don't remember where, but I recently read an article on the internet about using a cordless drill or other power tool as a handcranked generator. I don't remember the exact details of how it's done, but apparently it can be used to recharge a cell phone or even a laptop battery. 'Twould probably take alot of handcranking though.

12:03 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Check with RV sales offices for 12V devices including TV's. Also truck stop stations usually have a sales area with many 12V appliances.

7:45 AM  
Anonymous smartass sob said...

Still no electrical power? I sincerely hope this is not to become "The Winter Without Lights And Heat."

I fail to understand what the power company's problem is. Doesn't it snow every year in the northeast? Why is it such a problem this time?

1:06 PM  
Blogger Jennifer Abel said...

Woo-hoo! It's Friday and I finally got the power back. I won't update my blog for awhile yet, though, because I have so much work to do at home -- my living room looks like a refugee camp (which, if you think about it, is pretty much what it's been these past few days), we need to do some serious grocery shopping since all my refrigerated and frozen food had to be thrown away, and I also have to get around to interviewing people for the story that was originally due today (though I got a deadline extension from my editor).

Smartass, from what I understand, a lot of people (including the governor) are asking that same question. I do know one problem has to do with trees - this storm hit the rich leafy neighborhoods worse than the concrete and asphalt cities, in part because (before the storm) it's not uncommon to drive down roads and see tree branches actually growing THROUGH the aboveground electrical wires. That's why this storm cut off so much power -- the snow was very wet and heavy, and branches fell everywhere. And even my libertarian self is saying "There oughtta be a law" -- if you have a tree, don't let its goddamned branches grow over or through aboveground power lines, because fallen lines don't just affect you, but EVERYONE on that circuit. (It's one thing if your tree outright falls over; I'd consider it unreasonable to expect trees to be far enough away from wires to cause no damage if it topples. But branches that fall straight down should NOT bring down any power lines with them.)

I also have heard allegations that out-of-state work crews were reluctant to come help because they still haven't been paid from when they came out her after Hurricane/Tropical Storm Irene. Dunno if that's true, though.

I managed to keep my apartment -- well, the living room -- fairly well heated with candles and oil lamps, and even convinced the editor of the magazine I write for to buy a story on how I did that. The money I get for the story should about cover the cost of the food I had to throw away. So, there's that.

Christ, I have a lot of work ahead of me.

2:05 PM  

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