Cambrian: Slice of Life

When the power goes out in Cambria my mind skips around in the dark

Kathe Tanner
Kathe Tanner

I hesitate to say this, with the wind blowing and the rain pounding on our roof on this Fat Tuesday night. But our electricity is still on.

Thank you, PG&E.

Maybe it won’t last. Maybe a tree will do a swan dive onto some power lines, and we’ll all be muddling around in the dark tonight. All we can do now is wait, hope and think random thoughts.

• First, I think of my longtime buddy Jennifer Franco Smith, who mused online about a party she attended in the ’80s when “we lost power. Whoa! Talk about a 180-degree change in the ambiance. We waited a while … but then everyone left.”

• That led me to thoughts of a different lights-out party.

We were hosting an eclectic assortment of friends representing all sides of nearly every Cambria issue. Cumulative conversation was loud — about a 12 on a scale of 1 to 10 — with lots of laughter. Amazingly, there was no hard-core arguing; any disagreements were cordial and thought-provoking.

Then the lights went out.

Instantly, it was as if somebody had turned the party’s volume dial down to 1 or less.

But nobody left! Instead, they just huddled around the glow of flashlights and lanterns, whispering and chuckling.

An hour or so later, when the electricity came back on again, the noise level immediately soared back up to 12-plus, right where it had been before the blackout. The party continued late into the night.

• Now, my brain continues wandering down memory lane, landing on a town-wide power outage, when our bakery was literally the only place in town with hot coffee.

We made batch after batch, camp style, combining coffee and boiling water in a huge copper jam bowl on the gas candy stove. We steeped the brew, then laboriously strained it through a sieve lined with coffee filters — rather like a clumsy French Press for Godzilla.

• Next, my mind jumped again, compulsively rechecking our pre-storm routines: Flashlights and battery-powered lanterns (no live-flame candles, thank you). Check.

Extra batteries readily accessible. Check.

Small button lights pinned to our clothes. Check.

The small generator at the ready to power Husband Richard’s medical equipment. Check.

The cooler’s stocked with ice to chill the milk, eggs, yogurt, cheese, lettuce, brewed coffee and other things we’ll need but won’t want to open the refrigerator door to get. Check.

Cell phones and iPad fully charged. Kindles, too. Check, check, check.

• I took another mental left turn: Does the power really go off more often at night? It’s spooky. The lights flicker, and then the house goes dark and still.

Sounds of wind and rain seem to ramp up eerily because they’re not muffled by the noises of everyday life.

• Then what?

Do we read by lantern or Kindle? Snooze? Binge-watch whatever we’ve already downloaded to our i-gadget, until the battery fades out? Play cards, board or word games? Hint: Charades are really challenging in the dark.

How often do you flip a light switch because it’s too dark to find the flashlight you just set down someplace?

Is your dinner-in-the-dark sandwiches, cereal or a take-out meal? Or do you try to maintain your usual culinary standards by the light of candle or lantern, using your gas cooktop (if you’re lucky) or a Coleman stove (if you aren’t)?

But wait! That candle flame could go out or the flashlight batteries expire at the very instant when you wrist-flip your egg pan, a la Iron Chef.

Don’t you know how icky it is to be on your hands and knees in the dark, trying to find a half-cooked cheese omelet on the floor?

• Eventually, skies lighten, even if the howling storm doesn’t. We cuddle down in the comforter to stay warm, or try to carry on inside, or bundle up to go outdoors and escape our powerless housebound woes.

Some of us fools will even try to arm-wrestle an umbrella in sustained winds of 40 mph, knowing full well that a wind-blown, inside-out bumbershoot is less than no help, and it will subsequently never fold back the way it was to begin with (must be related to a road map … remember those?).

• But for now, tonight, while my mind skips around in the dark, our electricity is still on, and I’m grateful. (Update: I wasn’t so lucky Tuesday afternoon when the wind picked up on the North Coast to once again leave us in the dark.)

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