February 10, 2010
The worst part, at first, was the boredom. Or maybe the lack of coffee.
No, definitely the boredom. When we woke up on Saturday to discover we had no power, I immediately groaned at the prospect of keeping the snowed-in kids occupied without the television. And then I groaned again, wistfully thinking of the weeks' worth of unwatched programming our TiVo had recorded while we were away. LOMFGST! Project Runway! Big Love! Assorted sitcoms! A good dozen or so competitive cake decorating shows! DAMMIT.
No, wait. The coffee. Definitely the coffee. By 11 am I had a raging caffeine withdrawal headache, the likes of which I hadn't experienced since the first trimester of pregnancy (i.e. the last time I gave the slightest asscrap about improving my health and tried to cut back).
No, wait. The boredom. I'd gone to bed without charging my phone or laptop, leaving my time to muck around on pointless computer games and/or complain about our lack of electricity to Twitter painfully limited.
No, wait. The battery-backup feature on the Verizon Fios Boxamajig in the basement. That was the worst thing, at first. I have no idea what purpose the battery-backup actually serves, except to beep every few minutes to alert you to the fact that the Boxamajig is operating on battery-backup power. You know, just in case you also had a battery backup on your wireless router (WARNING: YOU HAVE PRECIOUS LITTLE TIME TO FINISH READING THAT WIKIPEDIA ARTICLE) or on your television (WARNING: YOU SHOULD JUST FASTFORWARD TO THE PART WHERE THE CAKE DECORATORS HAVE TO MOVE THEIR CAKES TO THE TABLE SO YOU CAN SEE WHICH ONE FALLS OVER).
Every few minutes: Beep. Beep. Beep.
And every few minutes, I would hear the beep and think, "Ooh, maybe that's the power trying to come back on." Just like the lawyer in Jurassic Park said, when the water cup started vibrating on the dashboard, shortly before the T-Rex came around and ate him off the toilet.
(Speaking of which: I was absolutely SHOCKED to discover just how cold the average toilet seat gets after just a few hours of no heat. It's like, BRACING, you guys.)
I took a shower, only to break out in a vicious attack of cold urticaria the instant I stepped out of the warm-ish water. Raised welts and red hives covered my face and hands. "Look at how weird I am!" I told Jason. We ate tuna fish sandwiches for lunch. We put on extra sweaters and socks and stressed about the lack of firewood. (We'd made a fire the night before and burned through half our supply, you know, because it was SNOWY OUTSIDE. Never mind that it was 72 degrees INSIDE. Snowy! Make a fire! I might feel subliminally chilly!) We kicked ourselves for not having any propane for the grill. We all took naps because we didn't know what else to do. We kept flipping light-switches on and off. When Jason and I decided to stay warm the -- ahem -- old-fashioned way, I realized the distinct disadvantage the Hitachi Magic Wand has over other battery-powered -- ahem -- personal massagers.
My headache finally went away (must have been that -- ahem -- fantastic massage), so I started re-reading a couple of my favorite books. At some point, while halfway through The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, I realized I was squinting. Oh, right! Darkness. That. We scrambled to light a motley assortment of scented decorative candles and shoved cheap Ikea taper candles into empty wine and beer bottles. I was a little embarrassed to find that we had PLENTY of bottles.
When faced with tuna fish sandwiches again for dinner, we revolted. I remembered Alton Brown (our personal culinary lord and savior) had an episode about cooking over an open fire, and we eyed our three or four sticks of firewood with inspiration. And hunger.
Ezra got chicken sausages. Noah ate a grilled cheese. We ate a couple awesomely smoky turkey burgers.
We chilled some white wine out on the back deck. You know, for the CANDLES.
We were feeling triumphant. The snow had stopped, clearly we had weathered the worst of it.
Then the fire went out.
The next morning, Sunday, the power still wasn't on. Our street wasn't plowed. The plows weren't even running. The number of people in our county without power was about 75,000, and climbing by the hour. The weight of the heavy, wet snow had caused an alarming number of branches to snap off a pine tree next to our house (but on common neighborhood property, that we've repeatedly, unsuccessfully lobbied for removal). Luckily, they'd missed our roof...and Ezra's bedroom window.
Jason dug and dug and shoveled and shoveled until he was able to get our car out. There was no way around it: We needed firewood. It was getting pretty cold.
Jason drove to our local hardware store: they had eight small bags of sadly damp wood, TOTAL. Jason couldn't bear the thought of someone else arriving after him and finding no wood, so he only took a couple. He brought it back to us, along with the Other Greatest Thing Ever:
Then he went back out in search of more wood.
A nearby Whole Foods indicated they would be open on their answering machine message, but when Jason arrived they'd lost their water overnight and were closed. While he was standing outside counting his cash and wondering where he could leave it before taking some of the bags of wood stacked outside, the manager came outside. Jason explained that we had no power and needed some firewood. The manager told him to take as many bags as he needed, and refused to take any money.
Meanwhile, I started moving essentials out of our rapidly-warming fridge.
A few years ago, Jason's mother gave us a wind-up radio/flashlight thing, in preparation for the End Times. Or maybe Terrorists. I forget which kick she was on at the time. We used it to listen for news from the power companies, which was not good. "Multiple-day event," they admitted. Probably another full day without electricity.
At some point, another Whosawhatzit started beeping. The power! It's the power! I stared expectantly at the TiVo, waiting for it to light up back to life. Nothing. I went off in search of the beeping. As I got closer, I realized that in between the beeping was an electronic voice saying WARNING! CARBON MONOXIDE! WARNING CARBON MONOXIDE!
We stared at the detector for a couple minutes, like...seriously? Seriously seriously? We have no gas or kerosene sources in the house, no garage...the fireplace? Oh my God, do you think it's the fireplace?
Suddenly the alarm changed its mind: WARNING! FIRE! WARNING! FIRE!
Being a woman of action, I yanked it out of the ceiling and replaced the batteries. Everything was fine.
But cold. Frigging freezing, man.
Jason and I had an old bag of ski clothing to dig through -- long underwear and fancy moisture-wicking layers and such -- but the boys were woefully unprepared. We prepared to go out again in search of warmer clothing to get them through the night, but alas, stores were either closed or sold out of all kids' sizes, having been cleared out that morning by more prepared, on-top-of-the-situation parents.
Instead, we went out for dinner, in hopes of getting warmed up temporarily, and maybe getting to see a little bit of the Super Bowl, which was bumming Jason out in particular. He'd been pretty dismissive about the road conditions, which shocked THE HELL out of me on the way to dinner. I gripped the door and the dashboard and closed my eyes and made all kinds of annoying, involuntary gasps and squawks because OH MY GOD, WE ARE ALL GOING TO DIE FOR THE SAKE OF GETTING A DAMN CHEESEBURGER.
On the way home, in the dark, it became easy to spot who had power and who didn't. We played spot-the-lights all the way back though nearby neighborhoods, learning that the outages were not huge chunks of houses, but instead dozens of small, concentrated spots. We turned our final corner and I saw that the single family homes ACROSS THE STREET had power...but the townhouses were still completely cloaked in blackness. This was the psychic equivalent to getting kicked in the head. I stomped my foot. I said it wasn't fair.
Jason wondered if we were making a mistake by not getting a hotel room that night. I worried about it too, but whenever I thought about putting the boys back in the car and taking them out on those roads...no. NO. We were staying put. The power would be back on tomorrow. We could do one more night. We all slept in the same bed for awhile, until it became clear that nobody was getting any sleep, so Jason and Noah went in one room and Ezra, the pets and I stayed put in our bed. This may have worked, except that Noah spent most of the night wailing about unspecified complaints (which turned out to be too-small footie jammies), and Ezra refused to sleep under the covers, choosing to stick his head in my armpit and the kick the blankets off, leaving my torso exposed and freezing and my brain convinced that I -- a one-time experienced cosleeper! -- was going to inadvertently smother him.
On Monday, our neighborhood was plowed, but the power wasn't back on. While Pepco publicly promised "the majority of customers" would be restored by Tuesday night, multiple people were getting told a different story directly. Friday by six. FRIDAY. BY SIX.
Our electric toothbrush was slowwwwwly losing its charge, reminding me of that mournful dying cassette player from Apollo 13. I was perhaps kind of definitely getting a tad over-dramatic.
Back out, like it or not, in search of warmer clothing. We loaded up on kids' heavy-duty layers and socks at REI (where we noted, somewhat suspiciously, that it seemed like most of the stuff had been put on clearance racks to make way for spring merchandise, but the marked-down price stickers were mostly missing and everything was full price). We ate lunch at our favorite weekend breakfast place, surrounded by fellow power refugees -- we all had the same slightly dirty, greasy look about us, thanks to no hot water. We were all ridiculously overdressed for the warm restaurant but no one took off any of their extra layers. What have you heard? Have you gotten through to a person? Have you heard by tomorrow night? Have you heard this Friday by six nonsense? You have? Oh, my God.
I spent the whole meal fighting back tears. I was tired. I was cold. I was tired of feeling my children's icy cold ears and fingers, no matter how many layers I dressed them in. Everyone's nose was running and I was coughing. Our faces were bright red and chapped. I was tired of dark cold rooms and my shivering dog and fretting about how much food we were losing in the freezer. I started thinking about families who routinely escape to low-cost breakfast joints just to escape cold houses because they couldn't make the utility payments and, naturally, this healthy dose of perfuckingspective pushed me over the edge and I went into a bathroom stall to have a mini-cry.
We decided to get a hotel room. A bunch of people on Twitter had suggested that hotels would likely have a "disaster rate" for families like us. We called around and found no such thing. We booked a room anyway at a decent-ish rate, at a pet-friendly Kimpton near Dupont Circle where we'd stayed once upon a time, with the sad little fantasy that we'd maybe be able to take the boys out and enjoy the neighborhood. Once we got there, of course, it was all treacherous, unshoveled sidewalks, closed stores, and we couldn't leave Ceiba in the room ANYWAY, as she just barked her fool head off the instant we tried to do anything, like retrieve a bucket of ice down the hall. We were essentially even more shut-in than at home, where at least we could run errands without fear of dog-noise-related eviction.
After overpriced room service meals and morning breakfast buffet, plus the exorbitant cost of a one-time viewing of The Princess and the Frog (the hotel's one lone DVD player was broken [WTF] and the bag containing toys for the boys had accidentally been left in our foyer at home, so we had zero other entertainment options), the hotel room was much too expensive to book again, particularly with another storm coming.
Yes. Another storm. Predicted to be even worse. If we stayed at the hotel we risked being snowed OUT of our house. If we went home and power wasn't restored, we'd essentially be completely fucked for the rest of the week as the house got colder and colder.
We decided to go home, pack up a few more essentials and head up to Pennsylvania, to our families. The storm was set to hit them a bit later, albeit worse. But our parents' power lines ran underground and they never seemed to lose power, no matter how bad the weather. We packed and turned our water off, and Jason stopped to shovel our elderly neighbors' car out. We gave them a bag of firewood, though they said they'd been unable to start a fire because of the amount of snow covering their chimney.
I was buckling Noah in, not feeling super great about undertaking a long drive, or the prospect of being stranded away from home for Godonlyknows. Jason had the baby and was about to the lock the front door...
"Babe, the power just came back on," he said.
And it had! Oh my God! I ran back in and started flipping lights on and off. Jason turned on the water and cranked up the thermostat. (Interior rooms near the fire: 45 degrees. Bedrooms: in the fucking thirties.) Noah stood just outside, terribly confused. "Grandma and Grandpa's house?" he asked, near tears. I felt badly, but LOOK LOOK LOOK I CAN PEE WITH THE LIGHTS ON.
I started the dishwasher, drained the sink of all the crap we'd absentmindedly dumped in the garbage disposal, put a load of diapers in the wash, freaked out on Twitter and called my mom, in that order.
Jason went outside to start unloading the car...
"Oh my God," I said to my mom. "It just went off again."
And it had! Barely 30 minutes had passed and poof. Gone.
I went outside and shrieked to Jason. He came in. I kept shrieking.
Jason wanted to know what I thought we should do. I wanted to him to STOP FUCKING ASKING. He wanted me to calm down. I wanted him to STOP TELLING ME TO CALM DOWN.
It was not my finest moment. I was just...furious. Devastated. Exhausted. And oh, so fucking cold.
Some random Old Guy was wandering around outside, railing about Pepco, our own equivalent to The End Is Near Sandwich Board Prophets. He claimed to know that the power thing was a fluke, a mistake, the result of a repair being made elsewhere. He also claimed that the crew was getting pulled before the next storm started.
Jason jumped in the car and drove off, in search of this mysterious crew. To beg? Bribe? Offer his services as a human electrical conductor? I don't know.
He returned a few minutes later. The crew was indeed working around the corner. They were not even from Pepco, but from another utility company in Delaware, in town to help with the insane number of outages. They were very tired. They were especially tired, apparently, of people like Jason knocking on their windows in search of news. Jason tried to not ask too many questions and to be unfailingly polite, lest they pack up and leave us to our crotchety elderly messengers of doom.
"They said it will be another few hours." Jason reported.
I had so many more questions: Like, for sure? Like, they aren't leaving until it happens? Like, the repair they're working on is OUR REPAIR, and not like, another repair BEFORE our repair and then a couple more hours after that?
Jason was all, that's all I know, crazy lady. I decided to leave and LET THEM WORK instead of pestering them to death.
So we decided to give them two more hours. In two hours, if the power was still off, we'd leave for PA after all, hopefully still staying ahead of the storm.
In the meantime, Jason assessed my mental state and offered to go get me some Chipotle. It's pretty much my Prozac, he's learned.
He was still in line when I called him.
"It's on. It's back on."
And it still is. For now. For hopefully good. We're at about three feet of snow and counting.
Stay warm, everybody.