Irma taught me something. I like electricity.
Hurricane Irma wreaked horrible damage on the Caribbean and Florida. I don’t want to diminish that in any way. But when Irma blew through metro Atlanta, downgraded to a tropical storm, we thought we’d dodged the worst of it at our house. The winds blew, but they didn’t seem as bad around us as had been predicted. Rain fell, but it didn’t seem much worse than a usual rainstorm.
Yet Irma managed to do something that we’d never seen at our house. Despite decades of keeping an eye on tornadoes, cooling it during snowstorms, waiting out downpours and fearfully watching windstorms, we’d never lost power for more than a few hours.
Irma changed that. This time, we had no electricity for more than two days.
And I discovered that I missed it. No, more than missed it. Electricity had become part of just about everything I do. Without realizing it, I had filled my days with electronic stuff. Electricity was everywhere and part of everything.
We were never in any sort of danger, but without electricity, things changed. A lot. Without electricity, I couldn’t work. I couldn’t read the news on the internet, play solitaire on the computer, find real cards to play solitaire without the computer, listen to music, see the Braves play baseball or enjoy watching the detectives in some quaint English village solve a murder on TV. I fell way behind on my daily quota of outrage for the goings-on in Washington and lost track of what Irma was doing beyond my house.
Without electricity, I couldn’t even make coffee. I couldn’t even grind the beans to make coffee.
Without electricity, I suddenly realized, life was boring.
At first, I thought the absence of electricity would be no problem. After all, people lived happily for millennia before Thomas Edison and George Westinghouse came along. And we never had power during those camping trips I took with my sons during their Boy Scout days. We did just fine. It was kind of fun not having electricity.
No music on the stereo? No problem, I thought. I’d just make my own. My son and I broke out our acoustic guitars and played together by candlelight. But in a half-hour, we’d run through every song I had memorized. We didn’t have enough light to read sheet music to other songs, so we gave up.
I decided to fill the dark hours by reading a book or two. But after a couple of hours of enjoyable reading, my e-book ran out of power. I couldn’t plug it in for a re-charge. No problem, I thought. I’ll simply read a real book, one with pages and not digits. I have plenty in the house.
I thought that given the circumstances, I’d try re-reading Thoreau. But then I realized that without lights, I’d never find my ancient copy of “Walden” buried away in darkened bookshelves. I settled on Twain, pulling out a dusty copy of “Roughing It” that had been stored closer to hand.
But reading by candlelight proved more difficult than I had expected. I don’t know how Abraham Lincoln did it. To make out the words in tiny type, I had to move the candle dangerously close to the page. I suddenly envisioned a book aflame, followed by the sound of fire trucks. I gave up on reading.
Finally, I decided to try a jigsaw puzzle. I like them and they take lots of time to complete.
Puzzling during daylight hours worked fine. As it grew darker, though, I found I had a hard time telling the pieces apart, I switched to a flashlight to spotlight the pieces. That meant I could only clearly see one piece at a time. It turns out, that’s a surprisingly frustrating way to do a jigsaw puzzle. I went to bed.
I wondered, how did we keep from being bored on those scout camping trips? Then it hit me: We stayed busy staying busy. We had to build fires, pitch tents, tend fires, police camp, watch the fires burn just to make sure they didn’t burn the place down. The whole day was built around eating and sleeping and staying warm. My electric life takes care of just about all of that stuff.
I thought to myself that I should learn from this experience and be better prepared for next time. I’d get bigger flashlights, more batteries, a radio that didn’t plug in, maybe even a battery-powered phone charger. I’ll get a new French press for coffee. I’ll figure out how to get by using less electric stuff.
But now, the next morning, the power is back. I’m typing on my computer, drinking a freshly ground cup of coffee from my Mr. Coffee while listening to a new Randy Newman CD and trying to get the TV cable and internet to work again. There’s news to follow. And somewhere on Netflix, there’s a detective in a quaint English village with a murder to solve.
Joe Earle is the editor-at-large at Reporter Newspapers.