Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Columns

July 8, 2012

Diary of a power outage, part III: Differentiating between wants and needs

Wilted. It was the only way to describe one’s looks and mood after an exceptionally long work day punctuated by two hours outdoors in 90-plus degree heat. Heading home that Friday night before last, I had but four things on my to-do list: Feed dogs, shower, eat, sleep. Funny how things never work out the way one plans.

I arrived home late, fed the yellow Labs and Neapolitan mastiff and began taking care of a few mundane chores. Suddenly, the sound of excited barking from the dining room drew my attention. After five years, Pugsley, the Neo, had discovered his reflection in a china cabinet and was ready to do battle with the massive dog staring him eye-to-eye. An hour later — after much barking, snarling, drooling and a few bites to the woodwork — I finally convinced Pugs the dog in the glass was not his arch enemy.

With the three dogs finally sleeping peacefully, I contemplated my frozen food options. But my dinner plans were interrupted by a strange sound outdoors. I’m used to southern West Virginia storms, but on this night the wind sounded ominous.

I walked onto the back porch with the dogs in tow. Wind gusts lashed at our face and bodies. The Labs put their noses up in the air; Pugs edged closer to me. We watched as a giant oak tree bent so far its top almost touched the ground. A moment later, branches shorn from a tulip tree poplar came hurtling through the air. The forest surrounding our home was in chaos; trees dipping and swirling, leaves flying.

We watched nature’s fury for about 10 minutes. I didn’t know it at the time, but I was witnessing a derecho. Our power had been flickering off and on. Walking back into the house, it went off again — for good. I noticed the red flashing light on my cell phone indicating messages from the Telegraph newsroom. I called the paper and discussed emergency plans with Bill Archer and copy editor Amy Persinger, and then phoned Charles Owens to get a gameplan in place for Saturday morning.

Finally, it was time for dinner. With no microwave I opted for a slice of Laughing Cow cheese and two spoonfuls of peanut butter.

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Saturday morning dawned with no power, no cell service and a grumbling tummy. I decided a fast-food breakfast was in order. However, I was not prepared for the massively long lines at every restaurant I came upon. Driving to Bluefield, Va., I finally settled on McDonald’s as the best option. People watching while in line, I realized most patrons could be classified in one of two categories: Second Chance concert goers and local residents without power.

Leaving McDonald’s I received a call from Publisher Darryl Hudson. Our sister paper, the Register-Herald in Beckley, was still without power. We had printed their Saturday edition late Friday, and would be printing the Sunday edition as well. I pulled off the road and began calling our newsroom team.

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An hour after finishing breakfast — with the husband busily setting up our generator — I was antsy. I got in the car and began driving to a cell phone coverage area. Nearing the Kroger in Bluewell, my phone lit up. I pulled over and saw that I had nine voice mails and multiple text messages. For 45 minutes I sat in the parking lot and discussed printing plans and A-1 lineups.

I next called Charles and realized he was perhaps the only Telegraph staffer who still had electricity and Internet. (Our Internet was out at the paper.) He had been busy updating our website and Facebook page throughout the day.

An hour later at home, we had the generator up and running. The air conditioner was humming again and the computer, minus Internet, was glowing in the den. Dusting off our land-line phone we realized we also had a connection to the outside world.

After struggling without power Saturday and Sunday, the lights came back on Sunday evening. I thought about doing laundry, but instead opted to run the dishwasher and take a shower. A few hours later, with lightning sparkling in the night sky and torrential rains pounding the landscape, the power once again went off.

In search of a silver lining, I used the power outage and lack of ability to do laundry as an excuse to go shopping after work on Monday, and by Tuesday the husband and I had already made contingency plans to spend the holiday in the dark. Imagine my surprise when I arrived home that evening to a house brightly lit with electricity. On the Fourth, we restocked the ’fridge’ and grilled out in celebration.

On Thursday, I got ready for work with a greedy use of modern conveniences — clothes’ steamer, blow dryer, makeup mirror, flat iron. Having done without for so many days, I was ready to suck the life out of the electrical grid.

At work that day it appeared all was well with the world. Our sister paper had its power restored days before, and all the glitches in our system were ironed out. But, in early afternoon, came an ominous darkening of the sky and the sound of thunder. Our power at the Telegraph flickered, causing a frantic “saving” of stories and pages. When my phone rang around 1:45 p.m., I wasn’t too surprised to hear the husband telling me that, once again, our home was dark.

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As I write this column Thursday evening, via generator power, I realize how addicted we are to modern conveniences. While we don’t have to have lights, refrigerators, computers, phones and the Internet to survive, we have become dependent on these luxuries.

The recent power outage was our third in a mere eight months. These inconvenient times have made me realize what we truly need to survive.

When the power came back on late Thursday night, I loaded the dishwasher, put a load of clothes in the washer and immediately began surfing the Internet. I don’t have to have these frills, but I enjoy them. Let the watts add up.

Samantha Perry is editor of the Daily Telegraph. Contact her at sperry@bdtonline.com.

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