October 30, 2000

"You know, secretly I hope the power stays off."

I'm sure it was an innocent mistake. Whenever I've driven a large truck (moving truck size), I've been a nervous wreck. The truck is so very huge, and I'm so very unsure of where its edges are, where the edge of the road is, where the other cars might suddenly appear from.

Perhaps this driver was a novice; perhaps he was an expert. Perhaps he was sloppy, perhaps it was a true accident. Either way, when he drove away, something snagged, then caught. There was a loud, dull thud, a sound the newly arrived rain made me briefly confuse with a thunderclap without the rolling reverberation. Outside, the truck stopped, a length of support cable trailing behind, while inside the lights blinked off and a room of computers spun down to silence.

Power failures don't faze me much; small town, rural childhoods will do that for you. We could be electron-less at my house on an otherwise unremarkable day, while more populated areas would see no interruptions. If a storm dropped a tree over the lines near us, my family could be days without power, waiting for PG&E to attend to businesses and those closer to cities then us.

When I was small, if the power was out for much more than an hour, school would close, and everyone would be sent home early. Before long, my classmates and I learned to greet flickering lights with cheers. Getting out of school was a treat, one we always conveniently forgot would cost us an extra day added to the school year before summer break. By the time I was in high school, students were never sent home for something as inconsequential as a power failure. Growing up, we discovered, meant that the expectations remained, lights on or lights off. Open the curtains, open the door; the only places too dark for anything were the restrooms.

Perhaps it is this training that taught people to resent the power disappearing in the snap of a cable. This morning our dark hallways are not a thing to be enjoyed for the novelty it is but roundly cursed as an interruption and a detriment to business. Someone uses two cellphones simultaneously, canceling this conference call, rescheduling that meeting. If the power is out all day, I doubt Warner/Elektra/Atlantic will be beyond recovery.

How much of our lives are enabled by electricity, and likewise, how much of our living is crippled when the power fades. My CD player is silent, my computer dark and uncommunicative. There will be no faxes and no copies. Over half the offices are unusable since they have no windows. Even the phone system is useless without the power to drive the call routing and the voicemail.

I sit in the lobby and watch the people walk by on the sidewalk outside. Some hurry in from the rain, some stand and stare at the truck and the broken cable in the road. A woman with a walkie-talkie wants to know how long the power will be out. I don't know. Perhaps if it is out long enough, the office will close and I'll be sent home.

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