Power Back: 6:30AM, Pleasantville, NY
Service Interruptions


I guess we don't really need terrorists to bring the system to its knees. The system can do it all by itself. What does Tom Ridge have to say about all this? After all the billions of dollars spent to make the Homeland more Secure, one would think that vulnerabilities in the power grid would have been addressed. Perhaps less money should be spent on enforced patriotism and more money devoted to the system's real security holes.

At 4:06 PM yesterday, I was nursing Elizabeth and web surfing, reading Penis Removal Just Latest In Series of Surgical Mistakes, But Patients Can Protect Themselves. At 4:09, I arose from the computer and went outside to the car. Elizabeth wasn't done nursing and was outraged. But if I waited longer, I'd be late to pick up Peter at Teatown's nature camp. I strapped the squalling infant into her car seat, started the car, and pulled out of the driveway. I think I turned on the radio before pulling out and was annoyed that I couldn't get WFUV, the local folk station. I left the radio on the station for half a mile, hoping WFVU would come back, but it didn't.

I searched the dial, finding stations, though not the ones I expected. For a couple of minutes I listened to an NRP broadcast about the death toll of the French heat wave which described how the record heat had overstressed the power grid, causing power outages which left people without air conditioning and fans, leaving the poor and elderly vulnerable. A man who had written a book about the Chicago heat wave was being interviewed when I lost the station about a mile and a half from home.

I got music on a staticky station which claimed to be 92.3 but didn't sound like it. I momentarily wondered if something 9/11ish were happening, but shook my head, deciding that it was probably just a localized power outage in the vicinity of a major transmission tower. I kept changing stations and losing stations as I drove. No mention was make of power outages on the stations I could get.

Elizabeth was still howling io the back seat. She wasn't giving up. I turned off the radio and tried singing to her, which didn't calm her.

There was a lot of traffic in downtown Chappaqua. When I reached the first traffic light of my journey, it was out of commission. I drove on in unusually heavy traffic. I turned the radio back on, getting stations only faintly and momentarily. Another traffic signal out. I concluded that the power must be out in Chappaqua (though I was actually now already in Millwood). As I waited in traffic, I noticed that it was taking me a lot longer than usual to get to Teatown and that I was going to be late picking up Peter. When I reach the intersection, I saw that yet another traffic light was out. Traffic moved more smoothly toward the forth traffic light of my trip where a woman in purple shirts and T-shirt wearing a baseball cap was directing traffic. Where were the police, I wondered. Shouldn't they come and direct traffic?

I arrived about 5 minutes late to pick up Peter. Walking toward the door, I passed a car with its radio turned up loud. Four camp counselors and the camp director were clustered around. There was a mention of power outages. New York City, counties in New Jersey and also Westchester County were mentioned. That was the first I'd heard of major power outages, but I still didn't really get it. I apologized to Peter's camp counselor for being late, remarking that traffic was bad because none of the traffic lights were working in Chappaqua. He waved me off saying power was out for the whole Eastern Seaboard. One of the other kids in Peter's group was talking about how his daddy who worked for IBM was going to fix the computer worm that did this.

Peter said he had something really important to show me. He took me in the bathroom and flipped the light switch on and off. Nothing happened. See? I explained that the lights weren't coming on because the power was out.

Peter wanted to look at the animals in tanks before we left, but the tank lights were out, so we couldn't see much. In the parking lot, I tried to call David at Tor on my cell phone, but it didn't ring. I loaded the kids in the car and listened to 1010 WINS was we drove home. Peter was shouting from the back seat that I should turn it off because there was too much static, but eventually I convinced him that they were telling me something I needed to know. The station was coming in badly. It was not the local 1010. Probably it was one in Connecticut.

I switched back to FM and got a Connecticut station which came in very clearly. They were reporting that their power had just come back on and reported for the whole 15 minute drive referring to the event as a "brownout." Brown for whom, I wondered. Still no police directing traffic on the return trip. Cars were now treating the intersections like 4 way stops, which improved traffic flow. I wondered why no police. On the trip out, the lack of police directing traffic was understandable. But half an hour later, five block from the police station, the lack of a policeman direction traffic seemed to me a serious lapse. I saw no police anywhere. What were they doing? The location of traffic lights should be well-known to them.

Once at home in our driveway, I tried to call David again. It still didn't ring. I tried my parents number in Seattle. It rang and my mother answered. I told her about the blackout, which she had not known about.

Once in the house, Peter was anxious and sulky. I explained to him that the power outage was a big problem but that he should not be scared. It was like when the roads were bad because of too much snow. Daddy would not be able to make it home, but that he was fine and we all were safe. Then I sent him outside to play with the hose and fill the kiddie pool, a surefire distraction.

Since the regular phone lines require electricity, it had not occurred to me that our phone service might be intact. But at about 5:30, the phone rang. It was David, calling from Tor. The phones worked until about 7. I guess Verizon's backup generator ran out of fuel. Using my cell phone, I wasn't able to get Tor or the apartment where David said he might be, so I presume their phone service gave out, too. (As of 8:30 AM, Tor's phone system still doesn't answer, so I presume the phones in Manhattan are still out.)

NEWSBREAK: David just called from Tor. One cannot call in. They have some very bad phone service going out -- I had to speak very slowly and repeat words three times to be understood. David, Jim Minz, Jim's wife, and a guy named Gavin from production spent the night in the Tor offices. David had me try the MetroNorth web site to see if trains were running. I could not get the MetroNorth web site to load.

Returning to our story: Before dark, Peter and Elizabeth played with the girl next door until she went in for dinner. It was very quiet out. No air conditioners. No planes overhead.

Then we went back to our screened porch. Periodically, I called my mother for news updates. The kids were both a bit insecure and I had to be very insistent to get some dinner on the table and get candles lit. We had plenty of candles available, plus a good kerosene lamp, but I had to keep childproofing concerns clearly in mind, and there were not a lot of easy places to put candles where the kids couldn't reach.

Peter set one of his veggie sticks on fire when I was trying to put more food out. But after a stern talking to, he behaved well with the candles after that. After the sun set, the kids and I watched the bats and watched the stars come out. I'd hoped we might be able to see some shooting stars, but the air was too hazy. Also, despite the lack of light pollution from the ground, because there was a full moon to rise later, the sky never got truly dark.

I called my mother for an update. she said that some official had said that the outage had been contained. Yeh, I said. Contained in a larger container than its ever been contained in before! I saw a flashlight bobbing in the living room: Geoffrey and Annie. We talked for a little while and they helped me get the kids to bed.

It was tricky figuring out what to leave burning. Until I was ready to go to sleep, I left the kerosene lamp burning in our bathroom's shower stall, the most fireproof place I could think of. Peter was afraid to be in the dark and so I put a candle in his window over his sliding glass door. It cast a pure cool light over the whole room and down the hall. It was the same spot I'd burned a candle after 9/11. I'm sure it was visable throughout the neighborhood for lack of competition.

After the kids were asleep, I stood out on the deck and watched the moon rise. There were no mosquitoes about, which was great. It was a much more comfortable temperature outside, and it also smelled better. (Because of the humidity, mold in our basement is flourishing.) A bit after 10, I called my mother again. Still no real news about what was happening.

At 2:38 AM I head the one and only MetroNorth train that I've heard so far. Shortly thereafter, something happened than set off a number of alarms in the area. A momentary power surge? Because I heard alarms and sirens, I got up to investigate, but there was nothing really to see. I tried watching for shooting stars, but the moon was very bright.

As I mentioned in my pervious post, the power came on about 6:30. The adventure continues.

Can I just say how self-righteous I feel about our lack of home air conditioning? We are part of the solution, not part of the problem. Come on people: You don't need to spend your whole lives in temperatures below 75 degrees!