Hi Everyone! It’s been a while since I had anything to share. Leave it to an unnatural “disaster” to bring me around. Here is an account of what happened – at least what happened TO ME – on September 8, 2011. Enjoy! ~ Gubbie
Where Were You When the Lights Went Out?
How I Found Free Wine in an Unfree World
By Debbie Scott
It has been a hot week in San Diego, no two ways about it. Record temperatures in the 100’s in some areas, record humidity levels, and reports of “a few more days” before the cooler temps return made it hard to focus, I have to admit. But I had to go to Escondido on Thursday (one of the hottest areas in the county), so off I went in my little car, whose AC died long before I bought it. All was going well; the temps were actually bearable; the cooling trend had begun! I had a late lunch with a friend in Vista, visited for a while, then looked at the clock and realized I should get on the freeway before traffic got too bad; it was 3:35 p.m.
I was heading toward the freeway when, at 3:40 p.m., my radio “lost” the FM station I’d been listening to. I tried another station, same thing – just “dead.” I approached an intersection, and the traffic lights were flashing red. There is a school nearby, and I saw lots of kids crossing the streets, so I assumed they did this every day to allow the children to get through the intersection more easily. I tried an LA station on the radio, and it worked, so I went on. Traffic was already in a snarl in Vista, so I figured the power must be out there, and got off the freeway to take side streets to get out of that town, thinking the outage was just in that area. I headed south on Melrose, and all along the way, traffic lights were blinking red (or out completely) – no police or sheriffs directing traffic, no help at large intersections, nothing – we motorists were on our own.
And let me tell ya, SoCal drivers are not very courteous or even cautious in situations like that. Two intersections were memorable: Melrose Drive & Palomar Airport Road and Rancho Santa Fe Rd. & La Costa Avenue [those of you familiar with the area will “get” that!]. All I can say is there are a few people here who need a refresher course on how to proceed at a 4-way stop! What I needed was to know how far the power failure extended, so I tried local AM radio. Luckily KOGO 600 was still on the air and was broadcasting without commercials. The outage was massive (all of San Diego County, at least) and unexplained. Everything was in a snarl, so I knew there was no point in trying to get back to my apartment, over 40 miles away. I decided to head to my friend’s house in Encinitas and wait it out with her, though she probably wouldn’t be home from work for a while. I inched along and made it there by 4:30, parked, and waited. I assumed the outage had to do with the hot weather, and the power would be back on shortly. Well, you know what they say about “assume” …
It was a little warm sitting there at my friend’s house, with the sun beating in my car windows, so I put up my windshield screen in the driver’s window and moved to the passenger seat, to wait it out. I put all the windows down, and it wasn’t bad. But I had a good hour to kill – what to do? I didn’t have a book or magazine in the car, so I did what any red-blooded American gal would do – I cleaned out my purse. When I was done with that, I read notes I had made in little spiral notebooks I keep in my purse. I also tried to call my friend’s office, but the phones were not working. I turned on the radio a couple of times and heard the reports coming in from San Clemente, El Centro, even Yuma – all without power. No statement from the utility company and calls were going unanswered (phone lines were affected, as well). They were asking that people not use their cell phones or even land line phones (as if anyone still has one …).
But I did do some texting. I sent my friend a text, letting her know I was at her house. I asked a friend to check the Internet and see what was being said. She tried to text me back, but it wouldn’t go through. Emailing the reports, worked, though, and I emailed her back, “Thanks! Got it!” Finally, after a ridiculously long wait, the utility company issued a statement on the radio, saying the outage was caused by what they described as two “severed” lines to the system. No idea when it would be fixed, but possibly 24 to 36 hours. Yowza! I sure wasn’t getting on the freeway until later that night, that was for sure.
When it got to be 6:00 and my friend was still not home and had not replied to my text, I thought, “Well, maybe she’s home and doesn’t even know I’m sitting out here!” So I went up to the door and knocked (just in case). No answer. Then a car pulled into her driveway and a tall, bearded man got out – huh? It was someone I knew! I said, “Hi, Mike!” and he said, “Isn’t she home yet? She must still be at Scripps.” Whaaa??? I told him the phones weren’t working, and he invited me to wait it out at his house (a few blocks away), and said, “Want to go have a glass of wine?” I said, “Sure!” faster than I’d ever said “Sure” to anything in my life. I followed him to his house, where he poured us each a glass of white wine (after all, it would only go bad if the power stayed off for 36 hours – ha!), and he filled me in on what he meant by “She must still be at Scripps.”
My friend was in the HOSPITAL! She’d gone the night before (via paramedics!), and they’d kept her overnight. Mike is one of the attorneys she works for, and since he lives so close, he was stopping by to see if she was home and feeling alright. I don’t drink much, but let me tell you I gulped down that first glass of wine. Sitting on Mike’s comfy patio, we talked about the things that need to go on “the list” for times like this – propane for the barbeque, a battery-operated radio, more flashlights … and we’re watching the birds at the feeders; two hummingbirds get in a little fight over “territory” … it’s nice, and easy to forget the whole county is in a “tizzy” out there in the real world. A flock of crows flew by, and they were cawing to beat the band. Mike says, “That’s odd; they always fly in the other direction! Maybe they know something.” We notice that the air is eerily still, no noise except the crows, who seem worked up and in a very big hurry to go in “a different direction.” More crows fly by .. a little more wine goes in my glass. I try texting my friend again. It goes through, but I get no response.
Mike doesn’t know how to text, so learning that goes on “the list.” He keeps trying to call different places, but the phones just aren’t working. I send a text to another gal we both know, who works in the office, and she said she’d tried calling our friend, too, and got voice mail. Another glass of wine goes down my gullet … then Mike’s cell phone RINGS! It’s startling, actually, but thankfully it’s our friend calling from the hospital. She’s going to be released and needs a ride home, because her boyfriend is in San Diego and doesn’t have enough gas to get up to Encinitas! Gas pumps don’t work with no electricity, of course, so she’s calling Mike to see if he can pick her up. They arrange it, and Mike leaves to go to the hospital; I sit on the patio with the dogs and watch the little decorative solar lights come on one by one, as it gets darker. A little more wine (had to open another bottle…it just would have gone bad, doncha know…) and I’m really aware of the stillness in the air now. Not a single breeze, no lights (of course), no machinery noises, no more birds anywhere, and the dogs seem restless. I tell myself they’re just hungry …
Just as it’s getting dark, I hear Mike and my friend walk in the door; she looks tired. They did a battery of tests, and found nothing. We sit and chat a little longer. Mike says he heard that people are bidding for spots on the elevators downtown! This blackout is unprecedented, and it seems no one has any idea of how to react, really. We leave Mike’s house and go to my friend’s place. Her six dogs have been home alone since she had left in an ambulance the night before! They were fine, of course, but really anxious to see her. On the drive over, we heard radio reports saying the power would be on some time the following day. I decide I will drive home about 9:30 p.m., since all the traffic problems should be over by then. It will still be tricky, going through intersections with no lights and no assistance from law enforcement, but 95% of my journey is freeway driving. We chat a little longer, and I take off. I’m SO glad I’ve gotten gas earlier in the day, for the trip to Escondido. That seems years ago, though. Was it really just a few hours earlier?
I left at 9:45, and drove in nearly complete darkness. The moon was bright, but everything was black around me. Areas I knew well were unrecognizable with no lights to establish boundaries. The racetrack was a big black shadow, barely visible in the moonlight. The white Mormon temple in La Jolla stood out in the blackness, but little else. Here and there, dim lights were on in parking structures or what appeared to be hallways in office buildings; they must have had generators (a small generator had gone on Mike’s “for next time” list, too). The drive went smoothly, and I was home by 10:30. I knew where to find a few battery-powered lights I had – not much illumination, but better than complete darkness. I’d started my own a mental list of what to get for “next time,” and flashlights were number one! I opened all the windows, got a small container of cottage cheese out of the fridge (“It will just go bad”), and sat down to eat it, when I noticed a light come on in a window across the street. Then my DVR box flickered and came on! The time was 10:38. I tried my lamp – it worked! But I didn’t think the cable company was up and running, so I grabbed my remote for the DVD player. Lo and behold – the cable was ON! Local news stations were broadcasting, and the power was coming up in some areas. I didn’t turn much else on, to conserve power while areas were being brought back on line. I turned off the lamp, turned off the fan that came on when the power did, and thanked my lucky stars that nothing more serious was behind the blackout.
Nothing came from the eerie stillness, either. I wondered if an earthquake was imminent, or if some other “disaster” was looming … but nothing happened. I did have a little headache this morning, though. I’m sure it was just the tension of worrying about the blackout. 🙂