Mark Hunter (ozma914) wrote,
Mark Hunter

next week's column: In the Dark, Even More Than Usual


To start this story, it’s important to know that my desktop home computer is, in fact, a laptop. A hinge broke on it a few years ago, which broke some of the wires powering the screen, and anyone will tell you it’s darn difficult to work on a computer when you can’t actually see your work.

Now that I think of it, a Braille computer would be great – touch the screen and know what’s on it! But I guess in this case a Braille screen would have also been broken, and I can’t read Braille anyway, and I digress, so never mind.

As a result I hooked that computer up to a monitor, which rendered it pretty much useless as a laptop. Anyone seeing me walk around town with a laptop case in one hand and a heavy, rather ancient computer monitor in the other would think nothing good could come of it – not to mention the fact that the monitor had to be plugged in somewhere.

Which brings us a step closer to our real story.

The other morning I was playing – ahem – working on the computer, when suddenly the monitor went out. Now, this was no big surprise. The monitor is so old and generic that its brand name is “Monitor”. I knew something really serious had happened, because even the power light went out, but in desperation I hit the power button, wiggled the cord, smacked the side – all while trying to remember if I had a spare. (I do – but it’s even older.)

That’s when I heard a police scanner report that the electricity was out.

You see, I’m cheap, so I didn’t have any lights on in the room. Why didn’t I suspect a power outage? Why, because my desktop computer – which is actually a laptop and has a battery – stayed on.

But wait, it gets better.

A moment later a person in the house who shall remain nameless but is my daughter hurried into the room. She’d figured out before me what was going on, and fired up my other laptop, which still is a laptop. She wanted to check and see if it was a terrorist attack – which is funny on first thought, but not very funny at all on second. That computer, of course, has both a battery and a working screen – what it didn’t have was an active internet connection.

This brings me to the real story: how much we’ve come to depend on technology in our lives. The last generation of internet was dial-up (and still is, for many). We’d moved up to the next generation: DSL. In fact, wireless DSL. The speed! The freedom! The sense of hopelessness when the DSL modem has no power!

I picked up the telephone to call around and discover the extent of the outage. Aren’t cordless phones wonderful? I can move around anywhere on the property, no need to drag a cord around, no friggin’ signal when the base power is dead …

Luckily, I’ve always insisted on having one good old fashioned corded phone in the house – not that I could call any of my cordless owning friends, unless they had a cell phone. Daughter O’ Mine was quick to use her cell phone to check the news. Of course, if it had been some kind of Big Deal it would have been too soon for new organizations to pick up much of anything. But isn’t it nice to have instant news and weather feeds on your cell phone? For the extent of the battery life, anyway.

I walked outside and looked up the street. From there I could see the nearest gas station, which has gone to the electronic price board so employees don’t have to go out and raise the price by hand three or four times a day. Oops – looked like they were out of business. Three blocks further north drivers had slowed to a crawl near Albion’s only stop light, no doubt wondering who should go in what order with no green, red or yellow to guide them. My guess would have been that four-way stop rules applied.

Their confusion is understandable. When the power goes out, we all have some adjustment time, especially these days. How many people hit the TV switch to see if there was any news about the outage? Or turned on their radio? I know at least two people who climbed into their cars and hit the automatic door opener. How many of us automatically reached for the light switch whenever they entered a room? (This is where I raise my hand.)

The last time we had a major outage in Albion the emergency generator started automatically at the fire station, just as it’s supposed to. It powers such things as the radio equipment, overhead doors, coffee makers – the important stuff. How do you define important? Well, the bathrooms there are windowless – decent shelter in tornadoes, I suppose. At one point I went for a bathroom run, and discovered we’d forgotten to account for one thing I consider to be pretty important.

Picture me hurrying into the bathroom, wanting to do my business and get back out again. Flipping the light switch as I pass, I’m halfway toward the urinal, unzipped and, um, ready to go, when the door to the windowless room closes behind me.

It got real dark. In fact, that might be the closest to panic I ever got while doing the firefighting gig. I remember thinking, Lord, please don’t let the giant monster get me while I’m in this compromising condition! Let me die with my fly up!

I know that’s selfish, but it seemed like such a small thing to ask.

Both times the power returned, and so did my monitor, despite the abuse heaped on it. Meanwhile, despite how much I like my computer and my TV and my telephone, I’m stuck with the thought that the Amish probably never even realized there was a problem.
Tags: new era, slightly off the mark, weekly column
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