Power Outage, Another Rant

Posted on July 15, 2011


Power Outage

Last week, I had a scheduled Skype chat with my novia who is currently working in Ecuador. I sat for an hour after we were supposed to virtually meet up, idling my time, hopping between browser windows on my computer, restarting things in case the connection was wrong, eyeing my blackberry wondering if she would call instead. Essentially, I sat for an hour, among the birds, just after a beautiful rain storm, where the steam glistened off the hot grass, and I got myself worked up.

I would say I like to pride myself on being calm. I think I’ve been tricking myself into thinking that apathy is equivalent to calm. Now that I am beginning to re-engage myself with the world, and use my critical mind for something positive, I realize that I carry a lot more tension than I am necessarily equipped to deal with it.  I know that most of this is self induced, a result of my environment, and manageable through various channels such as yoga, meditation, exercise, etc. (writing).

After an hour, I wrote a slightly grumpy email, hoping that she hadn’t run off with some Spanish speaking waiter or masseuse. I also put one of those winking parentheses faces ; ) pondering whether or not there had been a power outage. Sure enough, about three hours later I had a message that the power had indeed been out for many hours. She spent the afternoon strolling around the small town of Patate, ironing out her tensions under the hands of a rough massage, treating herself to a nice meal, and only worrying a little bit.
In all fairness, she is directing a camp, has a lot of little things to keep track of, and is on with a group of twenty high school students living abroad seven days a week. I’m unemployed, living off the fat in my parent’s house, sleeping in late, spend my days doing this, cycling, gardening. I should be chill baby, but this bug of America keeps crawling into bed with me.

I think about something as simple as a power outage. It is something that I didn’t experience more than once living in the relatively placid weather of the San Francisco Bay. There isn’t much in the way of high winds, lightning storms, floods, down trees, snow on the power lines, or intense weather. However, everyone is told to have an emergency kit on hand, stocked with at least two gallons of water per day per person in the household, along with canned items, a battery powered radio and more. This is for when the Hayward fault line yawns and decides to crack its back a little more, causing another earthquake turned coastal tidal wave. Then, all those underground power lines, and precariously run grids of electricity will collapse. There will be no lights, no heat or air, no refrigeration- maybe worse for our majority: no television, no computer, no INTERNET!, no way to charge cell phones. Oh god, please help, I promise I will do everything you ask if I can just check my facebook page and tweet that I am okay. All my followers are concerned I am sure.

Likely the pipes will burst in cities too. This will mean that our water supply will be rendered inoperable. That is okay, given the hundreds of millions of plastic bottles that sit in people’s homes and on the cargo trucks of Walmart, Target, and the other box stores using “green bottles” made of 30% plant material; and look, our caps are fourteen percent smaller which saves eighty billion tons of waste in landfills that will never decompose, and look cancer and autism have skyrocketed, but hey, you can’t BLAME us. (I would never be so crude as to make accusations of the materials of our society as the cause of the many diseases of our society. It seems too intuitive and logical. I will wait for the anthropological reports one hundred years from now as they wonder, What happened to these people? I know our current data is skewed because the people that pay for the studies are the people spreading the horror).

To get back to my point of power outages and off the lowly horse of our post natural world, let me talk about the difference in culture.

In America, when there is something as simple as a power outage, it is a novelty. I remember once it happened during preseason soccer at college. A group of twenty of us, mostly strangers, enjoyed the leisure sitting around outdoors for most of the day, and as night approached,  we lit candles, sang songs and played guitars. This is a rare occurrence among mostly middle and upper class college students used to living the good life (as defined by popular America). Later in the evening, after everyone had their fair share of a sipping bottle of whiskey, the lights came on in a startling fashion. People quickly said their goodbyes as televisions and speakers, ceiling fans and bathroom lights, hair dryers and sleep machines whirred to life. All was whole again, but for a brief moment, we all lived together in a slower fashion without having to worry about what next.

When I travelled in Costa Rica, Peru, (and now my lady in Ecuador), the power outage was a daily thing. The people were well equipped, and perhaps as it being a norm of their almost daily life in the small mountain far from city towns that we resided in. It wasn’t even a blip in their day. The whole mad mess carried on. Markets and merchants, school classrooms and farmers, striding along in the same fashion, walking to the plaza to laugh with a few friends. Raw fruit and veggies were consumed instead of frying an egg. Or the propane canisters were brought out for the tourists who needed their daily cup of coffee or else.

When I lived with a family during a home-stay in Peru, we were even further removed from city, from the bus stations, and all of those things, by another four miles. There were a few evenings where the water would be shut off. I remember once such night in particular, when I woke to empty the bowels in a hurry, satisfied, and then hit the flusher to find the bowl was drained. Oh shit, I thought as I stared at the oh shit, how was I going to explain this one in my very crude Spanish. I wrestled with a few knobs, hoping to electrify the toilet back to life. I checked the sink, and nothing. The daughter of the family was up feeding her baby and heard my racket. She laughed and pointed to the buckets of water they filled every evening when the water was still on. I bailed the toilet myself, laughing at the predicament. But could you imagine having to be so intimate with your own excrement en los estados unidos?

This is all just to say that our country is ill prepared. Our resiliency and knowledge of skills is diminishing more and more, and becoming more specialized work. A former roommate of mine clogged our small Oakland toilet one time (two shit stories in one post, everybody poops). Rather than plunge it, or turn off the valve as the water rose to the lip of the toilet bowl, he continued to flush furiously, hoping that somehow the clog would just be washed away. Soon enough he was standing ankle deep in his own doing. And then, rather than use a very simple tool to fix the problem on his own, he called a plumber and paid over $150 for thirty seconds of a little stinky manual labor. This is a small and gross example, but they pop up everywhere. I am a foreigner when it comes to my car. I couldn’t tell you the ass from the alternator on such a complex combustion engine, but my mechanic can, and for good money too.  The bike is a different and more simple machine. I have learned most of those repairs on my own.

We don’t know how or why things work. We blindly assume and accept them without questioning the repercussions or the ill effects they may be inducing on our bodies, minds and spirits. As my mom always says, “what goes around comes around.” I’m not quite sure how it fits, but I know our modes of living will come back to bite us in the ass one of these decades.

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