Reliable electric power is the cornerstone of our civilization. It separates us from the brutal struggle to survive that characterized human life for hundreds of thousands of years. I didn’t have power from Monday thru Friday of last week, and it was brutal.
The first night wasn’t so bad. There was a feeling that the power would come on any minute, so the situation really didn’t appear that serious. My wife and I wrapped egg rolls in aluminum foil and happily heated them in the fireplace. We piled blankets on top of ourselves and told old stories by the flickering firelight.
Tuesday morning it was 45 degrees in the house. We’d heard nothing from the power company and the news was reporting that Texas’ electrical grid was in a state of profound chaos. We spent most of the day wandering around in the car charging our phones, scrounging fast food, and trying to stay warm.
After sunset, we huddled tight around the fireplace shivering in our heavy coats and staring grimly into the flames like it was the sixteenth century. Both of us were dreading another chilly, restless night’s sleep.
Ash Wednesday morning the news broke that if our power had not yet been restored, then we’d be in the dark for several more days. We realized we didn’t have nearly enough firewood to last that long. I bitterly told my wife that Lent was going to be a breeze this year.
I drove to the grocery store to look for anything, anything at all, that would burn. Of course, there was nothing. They were also completely out of bottled water, milk, bread, and canned soup. It made The Great COVID-19 Grocery Panic of 2020 look like the horn of plenty. Almost everyone was on their phone trying to describe the carnage to whomever had sent them to the store.
As we drove aimlessly around in the comforting normalcy of our warm car, I ruefully told my wife that I needed to tweak my resume to apply for the soon to be vacant CEO of the Electric Reliability Council of Texas. Making six-figures while languidly overseeing a statewide fiasco of Old Testament proportions seemed the perfect segue to ease me into a sleepy semi-retirement.
As we pulled into the driveway, a neighbor approached and asked suspiciously if I knew why all the houses across our street had power? I told him I had no idea and agreed that there didn’t appear to be much roll to these “rolling blackouts”. The fact that some neighbors were suffering in the cold and dark while others were burning their outdoor lights lent a surreal, Twilight Zone aspect to the proceedings.
When night fell, we tried to conserve as much of our dwindling supply of wood as possible. As we sat warming our hands over the tiny fire, my wife asked, “What about the wooden lawn furniture?”
It’s amazing how in an instant, desperation makes the unthinkable inevitable. I didn’t really like the darn stuff, but I never thought I’d be pulverizing it with a hammer and chunking it in the fireplace. The downside was the wood was so sun-dried that the flames lasted only a few minutes. When my wife caught me sizing up the kitchen table, we both knew it was time to try to sleep under our four blankets.
Thursday morning, it was 39 degrees in the house and both of us had cold symptoms. Lack of sleep and prolonged cold exposure had made us both foggy-headed.
We finally got our first email from the electric company. It said our power would be restored Saturday at noon.
As we cruised around that afternoon, we came upon the Nueces Brewing Company which was generously providing free drinking water to all comers. A beer suddenly seemed like a terrific idea. While sitting in those warm, comfy confines, I got an updated email saying that now our power would not be restored until midnight Saturday. At that moment, we lost all hope: It was clear that the people in charge had no idea how to fix this ERCOTastrophe.
We were cold, old, sick, and worn out. So, we pulled the plug and found a local hotel room.
On Friday night, after four days, seven hours and thirty-two minutes, our power was unexpectedly restored.
Looking back on it, the whole experience has the hazy outlines of a fever dream. Did all that weird stuff really happen? How could energy-soaked Texas have ever found itself so short on power? Where’s my lawn furniture?
With our nerves already shot from all the COVID craziness, Texans have somehow emerged from this latest fiasco with our wits intact. We should congratulate ourselves. And then we should do whatever needs to be done to make sure we don’t have to suffer through this stupid thing again.