Friday, February 13, 2009

In the Dark

Last night, long after I turned out my lights and fell asleep, I became dimly aware that the toilet in the bath that adjoins my bedroom was “running.” I sort of woke up, shlumped into the bathroom, jiggled the handle, and went back to bed. Since I was sort-of-woke-up, I decided to listen to the radio for a few minutes but my remote didn’t work. I assumed it was a dead battery in the clicker and went back to sleep.
In the morning, when the alarm went off and I really woke up, I found out that the electricity had been off and come on again. With all my electronics flashing panicked messages about their urgent need to have the time inserted right now (each with its distinct algorithm of buttons and bleeps), I reset everything and went about my morning business as usual, except for the spurting, sputtering, grit-tinged water out of all the taps—in a high rise, water gets propelled up the stories via an electrical pump, so after an outage we have burps and squirts, sometimes for quite a while, until the system clears itself of air and junk and re-pressurizes with clean water.
When I went out for my constitutional, around 5:30, there were ComEd trucks galore, lights a’flashing, all around the intersection. A neighbor out walking his dog explained that in the middle of the night there had been a car accident two long city blocks away that somehow knocked out our power, and that of neighbors for blocks all around.
But by then everything was functioning fine (except my satellite TV, which brainlessly forgot the myriad tediously deprogrammed religious, home-shopping, southern hemisphere soccer, and Spanish language channels) so I went off to work without another thought about the little fiasco.
When I got home late this afternoon, ComEd was still all over the place, guys in hard hats with their diesel trucks idling and spewing greenhouse gasses, but the building lights were on and the elevators were working. I packed up three loads of wash and headed to the laundry room on the second floor, and shoved three quarters into each of three washing machines to start them filling. When I went back to add the soap and clothes, I found them filling with murky water. So the pipes weren’t yet clean of all the rust and gunk dislodged that morning. Instead of loading my clothes, I wrote off the $2.25 in quarters, hefted my bulging laundry basket and got back onto the elevator where another neighbor told me that the building engineer was about to turn off the power again to oblige ComEd’s workers.
It’s always an odd experience being at home with no power after dark. One can’t read, one can’t compute, nor listen to the radio or watch TV. It gets deadly quiet within when the building’s ventilation fans and the neighbors’ and one’s own TVs and radios are off. There’s nothing to do but to lie down and be contemplative and watch the reflected lights of the street below on the blinds.
My blinds are shiny and new and reflected what seemed like an unusual amount of movement below. Yes, indeed, my street was bumper-to-bumper northbound, meaning that all traffic was diverted from Lake Shore Drive, the north-south artery parallel to the shore of Lake Michigan in Chicago. And so it was, I looked out my dining room window from my dark apartment, and there was absolutely no movement on the Drive. The Obamas were on their way from O’Hare for their first weekend at their Hyde Park home, about a mile or so from where I live, since the inauguration.
It indeed seems like a very wise thing to stop all traffic in all directions for the motorcade. Those who hate Obama hate with as much passion as those of us who love him and everything he stands for, and I worry about his and his family’s vulnerability. I imagine some commuters were pretty irritated, though those of us who feel close to Obama—people in this neighborhood do—don’t begrudge him some safety and security, even on a Friday evening rush hour.
However, to my horror, I realized that the exit from Lake Shore Drive, more or less at my feet from the vantage of my 11th floor dining room window, was completely and entirely unprotected and unbarricaded. There is no northbound onramp to Lake Shore Drive at this location, but someone could have, with impunity, driven a car north on that exit ramp right onto the southbound lanes of Lake Shore Drive, and confronted the oncoming motorcade. That seems a frightful and frightening oversight.
The motorcade exits Lake Shore Drive one or two ramps north of the one below my building, so I didn’t get to see them fly by, but all of a sudden an official vehicle of some sort, with red gum-ball blazing, tore southbound along the drive, passing a similarly speeding northbound Chicago police car with its blue gum-ball flashing . There was the sound of helicopters—more security or the press—and then the normal pent-up rush-hour traffic resumed. The Obamas were safely home.
With no more excitement to watch out my window I went back to lie down and watch reflections on the blinds when I became aware of the sssshhhhhhhh of the bathroom ventilation fans. The power is back on.

1 comment:

  1. The world comes to a halt without electricity Kind of scary! We can get power cuts reasonably often, sometimes when someone hits a power pole. We always have a torch and candles ready.

    There is also a lot of encouragement here to keep an emergency/disaster kit with spare water, tinned food, torch etc. I guess with an active volcano just a few miles offshore it makes sense.