In the city of not much light

While sitting in the dark last week, it came to me that I'd never before lived anywhere described as being in "a state of emergency." One goal to cross off the list, I guess.

Would that all people caught up in an emergency were as fortunately situated as M and I were. We had no electrical power during the hottest week of the year, true, but we still had water and gas service. We had four walls and a roof, a working auto and valid credit cards. We even had a couple of good friends who quite literally saved our bacon by providing refrigerator space in which to store, well, our bacon. And milk. And vegetables and frozen salmon. M and I were occasionally grumpy and often uncomfortable, but just as often amused by our situation. Not everyone who was, or is, blacked-out could say the same.

At the moment, about 230,000 customers in St. Louis metro still lack power, and you can feel their frustration in the humid air. It's a weird feeling indeed to be on the outside of that now, looking in. One aspect of being without power is the feeling of being closed off from society apart from the trusty battery-powered radio. And then you venture out on an errand and find that the city is going about its business, seemingly like always. Very disconcerting, partly due to the scattered nature of the blackout. One block seems fine, shops and restaurants bustling, and then the next one is utterly dead. Cars motoring along unimpeded, and then two or three intersections where the traffic lights are out and the veneer of civilization is worn thin as drivers try to remember how to cooperate with one another.

A funny moment came when I drove one evening to our friends with the working fridge; I had a load of frozen stuff to store with them. They live in the city's posh Central West End, and I was surprised despite myself to see bright lights and marquees, eateries overflowing with patrons, people walking along busy sidewalks, everything vital and alive. It was like suddenly driving into Paris (and this is the only time you'll ever hear any part of St. Louis compared to Paris, I'll bet). And then I drove back to my neighborhood, silent and cloaked in darkness, and it was like entering another world.

I understand that it's in vogue just now to list things that you learned while going through a blackout. I like being in vogue.

  • "Justifiable homicide" is a phrase made for those sweltering nights when neighbors stay up late outside, guffawing like idiots, while others are having a hard enough time trying to sleep in a sauna.
  • Candles do indeed put out a surprising amount of light. They also generate a distressing amount of heat.
  • Just as rain often comes just after you washed your car, blackouts often occur soon after you restock your refrigerator.
  • During periods of great warmth and humidity, cats turn into throw rugs.
  • The movement of clouds becomes of paramount importance.
  • The words "severe thunderstorm watch" produce a knotted stomach.
  • The idea that your power might go out a second time produces a knotted stomach.
  • You become very sensitive to the rumble of large trucks. The heads of residents pop up like prairie dogs out of holes, watching hopefully to see if a utility truck is passing by.
  • It's almost never a utility truck that passes by.
  • Great amusement results when the mutter of a nearby portable generator suddenly stops. This is invariably followed by a man with a gas can quickly getting into a pickup and racing off to find a station with working pumps.
  • It comes as a great wonder that events unrelated to the blackout are taking place in the world.
  • National Guardsmen and women are solicitous and courteous. Not that you thought they wouldn't be, necessarily; it's just nice to see.
  • Blackouts provide opportunity for reflection on all those emergency preparations you kept putting off.

What's going on in St. Louis doesn't qualify as a disaster except in certain specific, tragic, and individual aspects. It does qualify as an emergency, albeit one that is abating - slowly, but definitely. And it qualifies as an opportunity, as such events always do: an opportunity to learn and plan and prepare for another time, a worse time. The next time. Because it's coming. It's always coming.

(Cross-posted next to the spare batteries and tins of SPAM...mmmm, SPAM....)

Shakesville is run as a safe space. First-time commenters: Please read Shakesville's Commenting Policy and Feminism 101 Section before commenting. We also do lots of in-thread moderation, so we ask that everyone read the entirety of any thread before commenting, to ensure compliance with any in-thread moderation. Thank you.

blog comments powered by Disqus