Jul 28, 2014

Power and Other Failures in Altadena

Life off the grid, day by day

Power and Other Failures in Altadena

On Thursday last -- Altadena’s first full day without heat, light, telephone, internet -- I think we all expected power to return at any moment. Rather than wring my hands and fuss with the light switches, I decided to leave town. As they say, a watched pot never boils.

Driving down the tree-littered streets, we all seemed to be on our best behavior. Take, for instance, the  out-of-service 4-way traffic signals. Everyone stopped and waited patiently, waving the other driver through.

“After you.”

“No, please, after you. I insist.”

I returned at 8 p.m. to a dark house. Apparently the pot hadn't really cared whether I watched it or not.

On the second day without heat, light, telephone, Internet, I, as well as other neighbors, found there were only three local activities at our disposal – raking leaves, asking if anyone had heard anything, and going toe-to-toe on indoor temperature. "Your house is 50 degrees? Why, that’s practically a sauna. My house is 38." "38 degrees? Paradise. Ours is..."

Many of us spent most of Day 2 in our warm cars, renewing old friendships with someone, anyone who lived outside the San Gabriel Valley.  

On the way home that night, I noticed most of us were no longer driving with our best party manners. 

On Day 3 my mind started playing weird games. Paranoia ran rampant.  I wondered, with half the Valley dependent on the good graces of Southern California Edison, which city topped the power list. My exacta had San Marino to win, with Flintridge a close second. I imagined Altadena and Temple City in a dead heat for next to last place.

In any case, no one in the neighborhood had heard much of anything. And our local public radio station was no longer any help. With Pasadena already back up and running, KPCC found the whole power outage so yesterday’s news. “For current outage updates,” said the voice on my hand-cranked radio, “visit us online.”

Once again, I spent most of the day in the car. And it became increasingly apparent that, suddenly and effortlessly, we drivers were shedding the last vestiges of civility. At the dark intersections, some cars failed to stop at all. I laid on the horn and chased one transgressor for a block or two, until I pulled to the curb and stopped. What was I doing? What the hell was I doing?

On the fourth day, my neighbors and I looked soundly defeated. Defeated and really, really cold. We were also too stressed and tired to drive much, which was probably just as well. Now our only shared activity was to ask, "Have you heard anything, anything at all?" Usually the best we could get was a time frame provided by someone who had heard from the friend of a friend who knew the second cousin of the mother-in-law of an Edison employee that ...

But that night, a miracle happened. Our neighborhood hit the electric jackpot. 

There would have been dancing in the streets, except we were all inside, switching on lights, powering the phones, cranking up the furnace. Forgetting for the moment, there were still people in town without lights and heat.

There may be reasons, good reasons, why this whole thing is taking so long, yet we've been told so little. But as to what those reasons are, I'd say we're still in the dark. 

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