Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Communication Glitch

I am writing offline today, and will need to post when I can either get to a hotspot, or when Centurylink finally restores my internet service.  Last week, our area was hit by a record-breaking snowstorm.  Having grown up in Michigan, I still have a hard time taking our “snowstorms” seriously, but it really is amazing how a foot of snow here is completely debilitating.

The heavy snow and ice weighed down trees, so that the landscape is littered with huge broken branches, and many trees are split right down the middle.  Many smaller trees are permanently bowed, and you can almost hear them muttering, “Oh, my aching back!”  Power was lost all over Western Washington.  At first, people were heading to hotels and spending time at the mall and cafes.  But then, even those businesses lost power.  We spoke to a waitress with a disabled child who reported having hauled her son and his equipment from her home to those of family members, but each location lost power.  She finally booked a hotel room, but the hotel lost power, and the whole experience had been very stressful for her.

As for us, we were snowed in and our electricity turned on and off over the course of two days.  It went out for several hours both evenings, so we had to make dinner and find ways to entertain ourselves in the dark, but we were safe at home with plenty of food and the woodstove.  In fact, we each had charged handheld electronic devices, so we could read and play games in the candlelight.

Our friends in the city were not so lucky.  One family of 5 described how they stayed huddled under blankets for warmth.  A friend was desperately trying to contact her elderly grandmother, who lives alone and was without heat or phone.  Grocery stores had to donate much of their stock before it spoiled, and a lot of income was lost as nearly all business activity came to a halt for about a week.

And then a warm front came through, and the snow started melting fast.  Now we are approaching flood stage in many areas, and the rain keeps coming.  Additionally, we had high winds yesterday, further damaging trees and blowing broken branches onto power lines.

Since the blackouts, our internet has been constantly going on and off.  We could check email, but often replies were lost because the signal vanished while we were sending.  I had a technician come out yesterday, who replaced my router and modem and was re-wiring connections when he received a call with some bad news.  He went to lunch, saying he could finish the job from outside, as I needed to leave.  When we came home, we found that we had no internet signal at all, plus, NO PHONE.

I can handle power outages, but I can’t stand this inability to communicate with the outside world.  We had another blackout last night, so no clocks, no alarm to get us up on time, no way for Mike to call work.  Plus, they are doing state testing today, so it would be a very bad day for a teacher to be late.  We kept waking up to check my Nook for the time, and then the power came back on, gratefully.  (Getting ready for school and work in the dark would have been difficult.)  I sent Mike and Anouk off to work and school knowing that neither of them would be able to contact me today.  Mike has a long, rural commute in the dark, through pelting hail, after a night of high winds that undoubtedly left many obstructions on the roads.

Last night, I drove 1.5 miles to a cell phone signal and called Centurylink.  It took about a month’s-worth of minutes, many transfers, and frustrating conversations with two indifferent customer service reps and one recorded voice system to submit a request for repair.  Unfortunately, no one can contact me to set up a time, so I just have to hope someone comes before I need to leave this afternoon.

All of this has reinforced my commitment to living the way we do.  We have piles of  wood and  3 different buildings with woodstoves on our property.  We have a pantry and extra freezer full of food, plus fresh eggs.  We have a drawer full of batteries, a selection of flashlights, and a stash of candles (which we need to re-stock now.)  Anouk has a little flashlight that doesn’t require batteries, and while it is a pain to use, it sure came in handy when the power first went out and we needed to find other light sources.  We have 3 lights that stay in outlets, but when the power goes out, they turn on.  One then becomes a flashlight, holding its charge for a long time (at least, it never ran out during our outages.)  I am thinking of picking up more of these emergency lights.  The ones that stay plugged only last about an hour, but I put one over the kitchen counter and one in the bathroom, and they were invaluable.  I also keep several gallons of water for when we run out, though we didn’t need them this time.

I also remembered that Mike had an old transistor am radio from his childhood, and I was surprised to find that it was in perfect working order!  There was something very comforting in being able to listen to the news, including descriptions of people skiing and snowboarding in the streets of Olympia.

That brings me to the thing I do regret about living out here in emergencies; community.  We just hunker down in the quiet and darkness at these times.  We rely only on our own resources.  Mike hates the isolation, and becomes claustrophobic and short tempered.  I envy our friends who probably bundled up and went for walks in the silent streets of the city, joined with nearby friends, played in the snow, and made the best of a bad situation as a group.  Where there’s power, there are cafes and grocery stores, accessible by foot if not by car.  Today, I am tempted to leave home, just so I can find wi-fi and use my cell phone to be in touch with the rest of the world.  I have not been without a phone since severe Michigan weather as a child and I hate it.

So, I have written all of this out on my laptop, but I can’t post it.  I should probably just go to work in the studio, though I feel anxious and unsettled.  I hope someone from Centurylink shows up soon.

1 comment:

  1. It was a tough week, for sure! Even though we live in town, we didn't get out too much because it was dangerous with falling limbs and power lines. I walked to the grocery a couple of times and felt like I was putting my health and safety at risk! However, it was nice to have neighbors to kvetch with and have dinner with. It gave me pause to think about my ancestors and how they lived in the cold and dark with only spring to look forward to. I'm so glad to have my power back on, and I hope I don't take it for granted any time soon!