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European-American Topics - Editorial - Power: European perspective

By Martina Law

The overhead power lines in my street resemble a huge spider net and also remind me of the 70s. Am I stuck in a time warp? No, I’m just in suburban Seattle. They haven’t seemed to bother updating their power supply like Germany where all power lines are underground, safely hidden from falling branches and severe weather conditions. When I moved here, I didn’t know that power outages in this area are expected like the monsoon rain in Southeast Asia. You just have to prepare yourself for the inevitable.

We had to learn it the hard way, though. Our first power outage hit us during a cold, stormy winter evening. We were just sitting down to watch TV when suddenly the lights went out. Maybe a bad fuse we initially thought, but a look outside the window told us that our entire neighborhood was experiencing a blackout. The first ten minutes we just sat and waited for the miracle of electricity. Once we realized that the power wasn’t going to be restored that quickly, we began to panic. Where was our flashlight? How come we haven’t bought any wood for the fireplace yet? Where are the candles? What about the lighter that used to sit on the piano? We found matches instead.

Once the temperature in our house hit below zero, and even our winter jackets couldn’t keep us warm anymore, we decided to sacrifice our coffee table, a wedding present from my parents-in-law. I never liked it anyway. The coffee table turned out to be great firewood, and we gathered around the fireplace like the first men must have once they discovered fire. The colder it got, the closer we moved to the fire, risking first degree burns.

Time without constant entertainment via radio or TV went by slowly. I looked at my husband, he looked at me.

“Hey, how have you been?” he asked.

“Good, thank you. I haven’t noticed that you grew a beard. It looks good on you.”

It was like our first date 15 years ago.  A disturbingly loud humming noise interrupted our newly awakened romance. We looked outside and in the middle of the darkness one house was beaming with flickering Christmas lights, suggesting inside warmth. As soon as my eyes adjusted to the darkness, I noticed all the other neighbors pressing their frozen blue noses against the windows and looking enviously in the same direction. There was the survivor champion of us all: the neighbor with the generator.

The cold and the generator’s noise kept us all awake for the rest of the night.  

In the next two days we were getting used to our prehistoric life style. The power came back on when we least expected it – in the middle of the third night. All of a sudden, a TV voice enthusiastically announced: “And if you call within the next 10 minutes, you’ll get the second onion chopper for free.” The lights went on, the microwave beeped and the furnace started working again.  It took us a while to get used to our high-tech life.

We learned our lesson, though. We bought an entire camping set, not for the outdoors but for the power outages. We also stocked up on water and groceries. Oh, and something else we got: A generator - bigger and louder than our neighbor’s.


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