Powerless In Oakland


Editors note: To give this some context and for those who may not know, Simone is 92 years old and lives alone in her home

At 6 o’clock on Sunday evening, just as I was settling down to watch the Russian news, the image on the TV screen suddenly disappeared. I sat staring at the blank screen waiting for it to start talking to me. When it wouldn’t, I walked around the house and noticed that the radio had no display and the hand on the clock did not seem to be moving either.

The ultimate and conclusive test was to try the light switch and when no lights obediently showed up, my brain finally registered what was happening. No doubt about it. It was a power outage. How suddenly one plunges from the age of convenience to the dark ages before civilization. Perhaps not quite the Stone Age but the Candle Age. (Was there such an era?)

Well, thought I, at least there are plenty of candles in the house. I even found lots of matchbooks in a kitchen drawer. but I had the greatest difficulty striking a match and not having it break in my hands before it caught on so it took a while before I had a real candlelight feast on my dining room table. While pondering my other choices I found that my flashlight seemed to be missing some essential parts. Only my dumbphone still had a very bright display end told me what time it was. I then found the “Power Outage” number for PG&E and decided to call them while I could still see what I was doing.While I was waiting on the line listening to a lot of useless information, the recording was trying to convince me that I could get quicker service by going to their website. I wanted to tell it: Have you ever been able to get to the Internet during a power outage? But you can’t really talk to a machine except on a predetermined path. It finally got down to business and confirmed the outage and gave an estimated time for service to resume.

So I sat down to read the Sunday New York Times by candlelight.

The whole experience only lasted one hour and a half but gave me ample time to reflect on our total dependence on technology beyond our control and our utter powerlessness when the unexpected strikes.

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  1. Hi Simone. I used to think that in the “Candle Age” people went to sleep with the sun and woke at daybreak. But then I read that many stayed up late into the night reading, writing, and talking by the light of candles or around a fire. So life was much the same as today, only dimmer.

  2. I’m sorry that happened to you!

    We feel this way every time the power goes out in my business. I run a business based on computers, and when the power dies, suddenly we go from 15 people rushing around, helping customers, fixing problems, to 15 people realizing that *everything we do* requires electricity.

    We usually get beer and chat while we wait for it to return. Try to make the best of a bad situation I suppose! It’s stunning to think that we’ve only had electricity as a regularly available daily convenience for about 120 years.

  3. Dear Simone,

    After reading your blog, I remembered reading a news story about a CEO of one of the high tech companies. Power at his home was out for at least two days. He read by candlelight and was not bothered by frantic emails. He enjoyed it so much, that he refused to have his power restored!

    How long he lasted, living so quietly, I don’t know. The story has always remained one of my favorites.

    Hope all is well!

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