I won't repeat those observations except to say I'm happy about the power outage following the recent snowstorm. I've learned a few new things.
Americans are a very privileged lot. We take our easy way of life for granted. When an Act of God (as we lawyers classify a Fall snowstorm) turns out the lights for a few days, we bitch and moan, complain about the injustice of it all, and demand investigations of the power company and its executives for allowing our electric power to go off briefly.
Don't get me wrong. I don't like utility companies any more than the next guy. The chief executive is a spoiled brat who gets paid too much money for doing too little to keep the power grid in service when Mother Nature interrupts the energy transmission system. It seems he made decisions to cut back on staff lines-people employees when the sun was shining, the winds not blowing, and the snow not falling, in part, I surmise, to improve the utility's bottom line and increase the salary and benefits he takes from the company.
But think of it. North Koreans live every day of their lives without sufficient electricity and a very severe lack of food. This is all detailed in Barbara Demick's book "Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives In North Korea." A Publisher's Weekly review notes that Demick points out that:
"....ordinary life in North Korea by the 1990s became a parade of horrors, where famine killed millions, manufacturing and trade virtually ceased, salaries went unpaid, medical care failed, and people became accustomed to stepping over dead bodies lying in the streets. Her terrifying depiction of North Korea from the night sky, where the entire area is blacked out from failure of the electrical grid, contrasts vividly with the propaganda on the ground below urging the country's worker-citizens to believe that they are the envy of the world."
A reviewer in the Kirkus Review notes that "[Demick] paints a stark, vivid picture of reality in an industrial city with no electricity and almost no industry, where workers no longer get paid, men are conscripted into military service for ten years, gras, bark and corn husks are considered fod, and death by starvation is all too common."
Americans tend not to pay attention to what's happening in the rest of the world. If they did, they would probably gain a healthier perspective on their own existential condition which is, frankly, pampered, plush, and privileged. We ordinary, middle-class Americans live lives which would probably be the envy of the kings and queens of history, the ones who lived in cold, damp, and drafty stone castles, with poor health care and poor nutrition.
It is now day 6 that Susie and I have been without electric power in our house. The temperature in the house is in the 40's during the day and lower during the night. We have no hot water. Susie's been taking showers at the YMCA, while I go to Middletown High School, where the city has set up a shelter in the high school gymnasium, with cots for people to sleep on. I've taken showers the past few days in the boys' shower room.
As I walked through the gymnasium the other day, there were hundreds of people lying on cots, mostly old people, taking advantage of the warmth from the heat supplied by generators at the school. I stopped on my way out to talk with a few of them and some Wesleyan students who were volunteering to help keep people comfortable in the shelter.
On Sunday night, the first full day without electricity, there was no electric power throughout the entire city of Middletown. No traffic lights, no street lights, no stores open. I drove up to Cromwell, to the commercial strip on Route 372, to find a fast food place to get coffee. On the way there, driving through the darkened Middletown streets, drivers weren't being considerate of each other. At four-way intersections, rather than taking turns as if it were a four-way stop, people were barging through the intersection. Drivers were laying on their car horns in irritation, frustration, and anger.
This reminded me of scenes from Cormac McCarthy's novel "The Road," about a post-nuclear apocalyptic society. Lawless, rootless, amoral, survival of the fittest mentality. At the Cromwell Mcdonalds it was an hour wait to get a cup of coffee. They'd run out of cream by the time I got there. I wanted to check my email and Bobs blog on Susie's laptop but they have no wall plugs at that old Mcdonalds, so I went first to a Wendy's next door, also without plugs, and finally landed at the Route 372 Dunkin' Donuts where there were plugs, but nobody had brought power strips, so plug space was extremely limited.
At one point a woman entered the store and demanded that I remove my plug, which was re-charging my cell-phone, so she could plug in her laptop. I told her I'd waited an hour to get the plug and needed at least one phone for my wife and me to maintain contact with the outside world. I told her Susie broke her neck in July and I wanted to be able to call for emergency help if necessary. The woman yelled at me, "You're an asshole." Stunned, I just told her I thought she could wait a while to check her email. She walked away, muttering something inaudible.
As the days passed, I was able to move to a more modern Dunkin Donuts on Route 3 in Cromwell, where I met some wonderful people I never would have met had the electricity not gone out from the snowstorm. And finally, by Wednesday I was able to move back to a modern Dunkin Donuts in Middletown, near our house, where I met some more interesting people.
Susie says she's learned from the newspaper that we may get our power back sometime tomorrow, Saturday, a week following the fateful snowstorm event, the Act of God. I will be more comfortable when the power returns, but not necessarily happier. I'm writing this blog post from the Route 66 Mcdonalds in Middletown, where I've been buying my coffee ever since Hurricane Irene, the next most recent Act of God, shut off the power. And I've made some wonderful friends on the staff and among the customers here. I don't plan to go back to making my own coffee, probably ever again, in my own little island home.
I don't like a lot of the tortured verbiage which lawyers have devised over the centuries to describe and try to control human events and legal relationships. But one expression I do love: Act of God.
Hurricane Irene and Snowstorm Nameless were Acts of a Loving and Gracious God, a Wise God, a God who knows that his creations, us humans, take our lives and our routines and our comforts for granted. It's only when we lose something that we truly value it. At least I can safely say that about myself, if not about you.
Praise God for the loss of electric power. And praise God for the personal power He doles out each day to those of us he graces with another day of New Life. God got me, and you, up this morning. I plan to make the most of this day and I hope you will, too.