The snowfall we had here last week was more than enough to close schools and screw up traffic. I didn’t rush out for bread and milk like the crazies. Instead, I pulled out sugar, vanilla, and a can of Carnation evaporated milk, scooped up a large bowl of snow and made snow cream, like my mother and my grandmother used to. Dearly Beloved always laughs when I do that. He wouldn’t touch the stuff.
At 10:28 AM, the electricity in our neighborhood blinked about a dozen times, then went down in a final gasp. After about 30 minutes, I phoned Duke Energy, knowing that I wouldn’t reach a human. I was right, of course. Voice informed me that a power outage in our area had been reported at 10:30 AM and they were investigating to have an approximate time when power might be restored.
I’ve always assumed there was some huge, high-tech interactive map on a wall at Duke Energy whereby alarms beep and lights blink to alert personnel of any neighborhood outages, but apparently they’re more like the Maytag man, only without the guy waiting by the phone.
As DB puts it, the power company doesn’t seem to know much unless someone tells them. In fact, let DB tell you about it, since he had most of the dealings with them for the rest of the day. He insists on telling things so they’d hold up in court, so believe it. This is what happened.
The Written Testimony of Dearly Beloved:
About 2:00 PM, the snow has stopped and the weather has been clear for several hours. I think this should be a simple problem for the power company to identify and solve, so the dog and I walk outside to see what’s going on. Ambling down the middle of the street comes this guy with a hard hat and a neon vest.
“Howdy”, I say. Howdy seemed to fit the mood of his gait. It must have, because “Howdy,” he says back. My conversation with Hard Hat guy went something like this:
Me: What’s going on?
HH: Nothing much. How’ya doing?
Me: You with the power company?
Me: What are you doing?
HH: Walkin’ the line. Got any power?
Me: No. What are you guys doing about it?
HH: Walkin’ the line.
Me: What does that mean?
HH: Lookin’ to see where the line is down.
Me: Any luck?
HH: Seen another guy like me?
Me: No, what’s he doing?
HH: Walkin’ the line.
Me: Don’t you know where he is?
HH: Not exactly. He’s around somewhere.
Me: When do you think you’ll find the problem?
HH: Not sure.
Me: Good luck.
MML: If I can interject here. . . the utility lines on our street run between poles along the back property lines where our houses and the ones on the street behind us meet. The same applies to the residences across the street from us. Their lines run between their homes and the ones on the street behind them, so it’s not unusual for us to be in darkness while the neighbors across the street are cooking, watching TV, and opening their refrigerator with impunity.
The utility lines have probably been like this ever since the neighborhood was built. So have many of the trees and shrubs that homeowners planted to hide those ugly utility poles; now they’re growing into the power lines. Wind and ice break the limbs and snap the wires, a decidedly un-21st century situation.
I took this picture from a back window. See the lines? Imagine trying to see them from the middle of the street, with houses and more trees blocking the view.
Okay, back to DB’s report:
I waited around for an hour or so, then decided I’d “walk the line”. Down a couple of blocks I saw four guys standing beside an orange truck. Other than two smoking cigarettes; there was no other activity. One of them was the Howdy guy. We all gave each other the “guy” nod.
Me: Find the problem?
Me: So what’cha doing?
HH: Waitin’ on the power company.
Me: That’s not you?
HH: Naw. We just cut the broken trees out. The power guys ground the lines first. Waitin’ on them.
Me: When’ll that be?
HH: Not sure. They’re finishing a job behind the college.
Me: That’s not far. So after they ground, how long will it take you to get the trees out?
HH: Maybe an hour.
Me: And how long for them to get the power on?
HH: Maybe an hour.
Me: So around 5:00? My wife wants to watch Curling. It comes on at 5.
HH: Sounds about right. We’ve been watching some of that curlin’ stuff, too.
Me: Good luck.
HH: Yeah, thanks. We drove up from South Carolina.
Me: Thanks for making the trip.
At almost exactly 5:00, the power came on. Across the street. The four guys obviously hadn’t walked all the line. But once they found each other, they did have the orange truck to guard.
We were still without power at 9 PM, so we went to bed because by then, it was 59 degrees inside.
The electricity came back at exactly midnight. We know that because the lights came on and simultaneously, the power surge set off our next-door neighbors’ burglar alarm, which screamed just outside our bedroom window for ten minutes. I walked around, turning off lamps and appliances which had been on in the morning and climbed back into bed. We couldn’t do anything about the alarm; the neighbors were out of town.
Then the phone rang. It was an across-the-street neighbor, wanting to know what was going on over here. I assured her we were okay and climbed back into bed a second time. A few minutes later, the police, answering the alarm call, walked around shining their spotlights all around. That set off our alarm: Scout the Wonder Dog.
A couple of days later, the power company announced they had made $4 billion in profit, much of it due to rate increases. The article didn’t mention anything about technological investment and advances in outage identification. Made me wonder how much of the rate increase and profit margin goes for “walkin’ the line.”
That was DB’s report. I figure I’d better have some photos to go with my part, or you might not believe it.
Sometimes when they repair a line, the guys leave parting gifts, like these logs, which have been balancing on the wires for several years now, a rustic sword of Damocles,
See that bottom wire that looks like it’s so low that I can touch it? I can. I don’t, of course, but I wouldn’t even have to stand on my toes to do so.
In the 20 years or so that we lived in the Midwest, I don’t think we ever experienced a power outage. They’re far too frequent here.
But what can we do?