“Oye, que paso? Blackout! Blackout!” This is the start of the song Blackout from the Tony-winning Broadway show “In The Heights,” which went through our heads for about 20 hours last week while the electricity was out during the recent snowstorm. “We are powerless, we are powerless” is a recurring theme in the song and the show, and it provided an interesting backdrop to the kids’ reactions to our blackout. You can tell that this is a complete novelty to them:
Kid: “Daddy, what will we do with the food in the fridge if the power stays off? It’s getting warm in here!”
BUMD: “First, quit opening the fridge to check. Second, if it stays off for a while, we’ll put the food in the other fridge.”
Kid: “Daaaaaddy,” the hands on the hips, “the power is out for the whole house. The other fridge doesn’t work either!”
BUMD: “OK, we’ll put it in the other other fridge.”
The idea that you could put your food outside, where it’s 35 degrees, floored them. You could see the lightbulb go on – the problem is not “food in fridge”, the problem is “food cold.” Getting used to the idea that they couldn’t watch TV, or play on the computer, or play Wii, all at once – not so much. Once we got past dinner – and “how to light the gas stove with a match” was another teachable moment for the oldest – the question of “well, now what to do we do” became paramount. We have enough candles that a good round of Yatzee was possible, but that involves enough dimly-lit math that one round was all we could take. “Now what do we do?”
As darkness falls, we are powerless, as were our ancestors before us. Bed was the answer, and to bed they went, bundled against the early dark, the cold, and the thoughts of how people used to live before we had electricity, and how long we’d have to emulate them.
By we, of course, I mean the kids. SOBUMD was cheerful about her iPhone connection to the outside world, and I woke up and plugged the coffee grinder into the UPS. We have standards, you know.
The power was back the next afternoon, and the kids rushed to their iStuff like hobos to the next drink. One of these days I’ll take them all off the grid for a few days – but not until I have my coffee beans all ground and ready.
Two days after the power came back, we packed and powered up the car and headed north to Pennsylvania, wheels up at Oh-Dark-Thirty, which is “anytime before 8am” during the winter months around here. While SOBUMD steered us north, I noted that our waking walking life, it sometimes seems, has but two paths: the ordinary, and the more ordinary. And, while betimes betwixt the morning’s light and noonday sun the mordinary seems the only choice, at sunrise, and again as sunset cedes its hours to the moon, our lives can be… Extraordinary!
From the road, as the sunrise turned the sky a pink that even a bleary-eyed Reigning Queen of Pink couldn’t argue with, just outside Baltimore I spied an epic billboard fail. Advertising depends on several factors. This was a Public Health / Public Service type ad, probably trying to convince people not to engage in promiscuous Hey Hey, featuring a woman trying to look both serious and sexy, with a caption that says: “I don’t give it up. And I won’t give in.” OK, kudos for the sentiment and the message and the empowerment. The trouble here is that this young lady probably doesn’t get asked about it too often, either. That sentiment would be more effective with someone who looks like Halle Berry saying it.
Another great sign from the road: “Orange Cones, No Phones!” Do they realize that this makes most of the damn I-95 corridor a cell-free zone? Plus, the construction around Tyson’s Corner on the US Capitol Beltway makes the traffic pattern look like a bunch of overweight automobiles trying to work out a Twyla Tharp dance routine while listening to a Tae Bo workout tape. (“And left, and over, and right, and over, and stretch! And over, and STOP…”)
And lo, in those days after a few hours we came upon the town of Bethlehem, or Nazareth, or one of those biblical knock-offs in PA, and we arrived to stay with wonderful family, and beer. The cousins bonded, and the siblings bonded, and there was An Extended Family Gathering that couldn’t be beat. There was wonderful food, excellent conversation, and much discussion of what it means to be powerless. We agreed on the extraordinary observation that our technology is sometimes actually better than real life – on this blog, for example, I can hold comments for public viewing pending administrative moderation – i.e., once I review them and decide if they should be posted to an unsuspecting audience. Sometimes people need a conversational 5-second delay, and a censor behind them bleeping over the rough edges.
Family is wonderful, and a great time was had by all. Saying our brief though fond farewells, we once again turned to the open road, succumbing to the siren song of the highway. Hearing a bit on the radio, I wondered about people who say they’ll “love you until they the day they die.” You know, I’ll love you unti the day I die, as though to say “and not a minute longer! Believe me, I said ‘death do us part’ and that is ALL I signed up for, buster! Once I shuffle off this mortal coil, it’s AMF, baby – told you I loved you, BTDT, I’m outta here.” Just makes me wonder, is all.
As SOBUMD drove into the sinking pink sunset down the curving highways that took us home, the wavy jet contrails above looked like sperm swimming frantically to inseminate some unseen egg in the sky behind us. We got past the construction (“And over, and right, and stretch! And over, and stop…”) by dint of some fried chicken and a host of Broadway show tunes, which made the drive go faster while reminding me that I’m not going to win the Tony before I finish the play.
Now home, we unpack and I turn to face February, powerless as I face the choice between ordinary and mordinary. And then I remember. Extraordinary!