The wind howled as night fell and the cold grew even more frigid. Ice had long formed into icicles hanging from gutters and tree branches as the cold had been gripping the city for days. There were cars filling the streets as dusk turned from amber to indigo. A line of headlights stretched down the street as vehicles idled while waiting to enter the parking lot. In the lot, cars lined up against curbs in front of a giant pile of split firewood with their trucks and hatchbacks open as an older man tossed 20 pieces of wood inside each one in exchange for 20 dollars. Business was brisk today.
I was in this line waiting for my share of wood. My wife had called while I was still at the office to tell me that the power was out at the house. As I drove home, I noticed that traffic lights were out more than 10 miles away as traffic was at a standstill at every major intersection. When I walked in the house, it felt only mildly less cold that the air outside. My wife was cuddled up in our fur blanket trying to keep warm. The power had been out for two hours and we anticipated it would come on at any time as Centerpoint rarely took that long to restore an outage—hurricanes notwithstanding. I was wrong. The power came back on for 15 minutes then went out again—and stayed out. I knew we needed something to keep us warm. It looked like it was going to be an uncomfortable night.
We have a fireplace but have only used it a total of eight or ten times in the four years we have lived here. Because of this, we had no firewood. Also, the stores that sell bundles of wood for 5 or 7 dollars had already closed because of the power outage. Also, with no power, there was no access to banks or ATMs to get cash to pay for it. Fortunately, I keep cash around for just such an emergency. Occasionally, there will be a person selling firewood for cash roadside out of the back of a truck, but none were to be found. Fortunately, I knew of one place that would have some. Evidently many people knew of it, since the line was so long.
It took 20 minutes and 20 bucks to get my 22 pieces of wood home. With the fire roaring and supper cooked by lantern light, we sat down to a nice candlelit dinner in front of the fire followed by a nice game of chess. The rest of the house was still quite cold, but the den was comfortable. We were debating the merits of sleeping in bed with extra blankets or camping in front of the fireplace for the night when the power finally came back on to stay. It had been seven hours in the dark.
No TV, no internet, no computers for seven hours. Many who know me would probably think I was pulling my hair out from digital withdrawal. Cell service was even out for a while. We were living like it was the 1900s for seven hours. But contrary to the assumption, I was just fine without power, although it was disconcerting to be so disconnected in that there was no way to know why we had no power. Suppose the outage was because of a terrorist attack! Suppose world war three had started! Suppose there was a coup d’état! What other disasters could have caused the outage that was lasting so long? Turns out that a main distribution line was down somewhere in the grid that affected Katy, Brookshire and some of west Houston.
I was fine without power. No withdrawals and no fits. I didn’t even once go catatonic. Michelle and I enjoyed each other’s company and talked and played chess and cuddled for warmth. It was a very comfortable evening after all.