Powerless in the Suburbs: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

By , Contributor

I live on the east coast of the United States where brief power outages during storms aren’t uncommon. You put big trees, high winds, and power lines in the same place at the same time and the inevitable happens. These outages usually last for a few hours, or a day at most, but this last storm was different. Having just spent nearly a full week without electricity in my home thanks to Hurricane Irene, I’ll share my list of what I came away with. Surprisingly, it’s not all bad.

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The Good

1. Camaraderie amongst the neighbors, an overflowing of that “we’re all in this together” spirit that makes people band together to clean up each other’s yards, and makes us remember to ask the folks next door if they need anything as we venture out to look for an open store.

2. Local businesses that remembered to help out the folks who keep them in business. Those businesses that were able to made their water supplies available to people who needed it. The local YMCA made its showers available to the general public.

3. Quiet. Real quiet. A quiet that is not punctuated by the sounds of TV, radio, the fridge humming, the dishwasher running, the AC, or any of the other white noise that permeates our daily existence.

4. Books. With all other avenues of entertainment and distraction closed to me, I turned my attention to my huge stack of unread books. I finished the one I was already reading, read two more cover to cover, and started yet another.

5. Dark skies. This might not be the first thing most people think of in a power outage, but my husband, an amateur astronomer, was endlessly delighted to walk out at night and see things in the sky normally invisible in our light-polluted part of the world. Darkness also makes me sleep better.

6. Conversation. You think you might actually talk to the people you live with during the course of an ordinary day, but when there’s not much else to do, conversation takes on a whole deeper meaning.

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The Bad

1. Those same noises that pollute my existence also provide the framework for much of my entertainment. So, the other side of that particular coin... no TV (our primary source of local news and weather), no Internet (a primary source of world news - I see we’re all still here), no movies, no music unless I was in my car.

2. Having to discard the entire contents of my refrigerator and freezer. That was just sad (the upside to this is that I now have a sparkling clean fridge).

3. Having to venture forth every morning in search of coffee. Okay, I'm a little bit of a coffee addict, and this was kind of a big deal for me, okay? During the first couple of days after the storm, most local businesses were without power as well, including my local Dunkin Donuts. Finding the morning brew was a bit of an unwelcome hassle.

4. Businesses that gouged prices because people were desperate for basics. You know who you are, and you should all should be ashamed of yourselves.

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The Ugly

1. Cold showers. I learned there’s an art to taking one, but no matter how adept one becomes, they still suck. On the bright side, we have city water instead of well water, which means that our water remained drinkable and our toilets remained flushable.

2. Not being able to keep any food in the house that requires refrigeration. You’re hungry? Get in the car and go find something to eat. Enough said.

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As storms go, this was a major inconvenience for us, not a tragedy. I tried to keep that idea foremost in my mind lest I allow myself to turn into the kind of whiny creature I don't like very much. Once Irene passed, nature compensated us with perhaps the best weather we’ve had all summer. Our home is intact (we had one tree come down, but fortunately it missed hitting anything), we’re safe, and things are back to normal.

As thrilled as I am to be back on the grid, I like the way my community came together and remembered how to act toward each other when times are a little tough. As soon as life returned to “normal” we all withdrew back into our respective cocoons. I have once more fallen prey to the distractions of modern life. While I minded the inconvenience, I think maybe I liked us a little bit better when the power was out.

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Lisa McKay is the executive editor at The Morton Report.

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