The View from Mudsock Heights: When the Power Goes Out

By Dennis Powell | Posted at 10:47 PM

When the power went off, it woke me up. Of course, a sensible person would have looked around, rolled over, and slept some more.

No matter that it was a little before 4 a.m.; when the electricity goes off unexpectedly there’s something wrong, so going back to sleep was not a possibility. And this was unexpected — the storms had passed, been gone for a few hours. There were stars in the sky. There wasn’t much wind.

As a child of the years when “The Twilight Zone” was being broadcast for the first time, I automatically assume in a blackout that the lights have gone out over the entire planet. That some terrible other shoe is about to drop.

I quickly discovered that I’d allowed my power-out kit to fall into disarray since the last time, last fall during the big windstorm, that the lights went out. First thing was to find a flashlight — I keep a lot of those around — to help me light the kerosene lamp. First checklist item: get more batteries; these are a little weak. Second item: get more kerosene.

Turned on the transistor radio (are there any non-transistor radios anymore?) to discover that overnight radio is dominated by a show that primarily discusses space aliens. There was a time when storms, power failures, and other anomalies sent us running to the AM radio. The government advised us, even, to tune to 640 or 1240 for emergency information. There was ConElRad (which stood for “Control of Electromagnetic Radiation” — really), followed by EANS (“Emergency Action Notification System”) and EBS (“Emergency Broadcast System”). There were even little radiation symbols on radios at 640 and 1240 on the dial. AM radio was supposed to be our best friend in times of trouble. No more. There’s an emergency broadcasting system still in use, but there’s a shortage of good, local, best-friend-in-a-crisis radio stations.

Did a quick check around the house and immediate environs and confirmed that the problem was not limited to my house. The light across the creek that is on all night was off — hey, even power blackouts have their blessings — and found the one telephone I keep that doesn’t need electricity beyond that provided by the phone system. Sometimes a dialtone is very soothing. Called the power company (and got an actual person!) and was told that the problem was widespread, and that their computer had concluded that “the outage would be repaired about 7 a.m.”

An aside — where did we get “outage”? We have no “inage”. It’s like the increasingly useless Weather Channel’s decision to call tornadoes “tornadic activity,” though at least they have an excuse: they need to try to be important after last year whipping everyone into a frenzy over hurricanes that never got around to actually taking place.

Okay, so there was nothing much needing immediate attention. Time to look at secondary items, the little niceties. Which is to say coffee. I have a gas stove, so heating water is no problem, and I keep an old pot and filter holder that I’ve had for at least 30 years, for just such eventualities. Last fall when the lights went out I discovered that all the coffee in the house was in bean form. I’d made a note, then, to keep some ground coffee. Which I had uncharacteristically acted upon, so now I had coffee. A shower was out — not that I normally shower at 4:30 a.m., but it seemed like a good idea — because my tankless water heater needs electricity, just a little, to light the gas and to control it. Third checklist item: get a small, cheap, uninterruptable power supply for the water heater.

Radio stations faded in and out, and dawn slowly rose over the hill outside the living room window. The birds were noisy, but otherwise it was a remarkably peaceful scene. Having the electricity go out from time to time is one of the prices you pay for living in the woods. It is a small price, unless you remember every scary moment from every science fiction show you’ve ever seen. Even then, it’s not too bad.

The electricity came back on at 7 a.m., causing me to wonder how the power company’s computer knew. My own computer was a little less reliable — it didn’t want to fire up. I employed Powell’s Rule of Computing — “I dunno; I just did some stuff and then it worked” — and got back up and running after a worried couple of hours.

Turned on the teevee and was disappointed to find that the world had not been waiting breathlessly to find out when the power would return to my little part of the countryside; did learn that there is likely to be tornadic activity somewhere in the country later. A return to normal can be anticlimactic sometimes.

Oh, well. Time to go to the battery and kerosene and power supply store, to get ready for next time. Because there will be a next time.

Dennis E. Powell is crackpot-at-large to Open for Business. Powell was an award-winning reporter in New York and elsewhere before moving to Ohio and becoming a full-time crackpot. You can reach him at

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