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Monday, August 18, 2003

The Survivalists, Part II: Gougers, heat stroke, and where'd the light pollution go?

I stopped by one party store: no ice. I went to the second, a friendly place run by Lebanese Catholic immigrants. Alas, no ice again. And this time--gouging!

The twist is that they were gouging themselves, rounding down on all purchases to the nearest dollar. I got milk and two bottled waters (I had a third, but I gave it back to the lady who fished it out for me, and had a young child--we had some water stashed, but it was old). "$5," which was a bargain. There were limits though: the guy with a twelve pack of Miller jokingly tried to claim my cost as his own. The owner smilingly said "Sure. I know where you live."

All and all, people behaving unbadly. I got home at about 5:15, to Heather's shock. She was expecting me after six. If I had left fifteen minutes later, I'm convinced I'd have gotten home after 7, the traffic was that miserable.

What to do? First, keep the fridge and freezer shut. Second, call Dad, the Emergency Management Coordinator, and find out what he knows. The phones did not want to work by this point. I finally got through to the house, but it turned out they were at the cabin. It took another five tries to get through, and it turned out that they'd had the TV off--they knew less than I did. "What blackout?" So I had to fill him in, instead.

The cascade apparently ended near Lansing, and went up as far as the Thumb, but otherwise bypassing the other major cities of the I-75 Corridor, such as Flint, Saginaw, etc. In short, our utility's service area, with some minor, minor exceptions.

2.1 million Michiganders, all alone in the night.

Lansing's power came back on quickly, as did those of such far western fringe suburbs as Brighton ("including one waaay the hell out at Pearl!"). But that was it for immediate good news.

Less reassuring were the failures of the authorities to give reassurances as to when the power would be back on in our neck of the woods. It's 88 frigging humid degrees, guys--estimate! The one attempted reassurance--"this is not terrorism"--is not reassuring in a country at war. You know: when governments feel much, much better about lying?

I weighed going north with the family, where there was power, and water that didn't reluctantly ooze from the taps. Unfortunately, the traffic was still charitably described as insane, meaning it could take forever. Worse, we only had a quarter tank of gas in the minivan, so we couldn't imagine leaving before 8pm, when the kids would be good and cranky. Not a happy prospect, three hours with squalling children.

So, I did what any man would do and mowed my shaggy lawn instead. Great idea! It's not the heat, it's the stupidity. And what a great way to drain the two water bottles I'd bought. In my defense, we'd tested the old water we'd purchased, and found it didn't cause serious hallucinations. I decided to wait out the outage, pending more info from The Authorities. It grew dark, and listened to the radio while Ma Kettle got the kids down after their baths (the water pressure had increased some).

The Beloved Chairman of Our Utility then held a press conference, at which he lowered the boom: No power in Detroit tomorrow. Period. End of Story. Day off for me. Instead, they'd be working to restore the power by going outside in: from the sparsely populated rural regions in toward the city. A good chance that some wouldn't have their power restored until Monday. Living as we do in an inner ring suburb, this raised the specter of at least a couple of miserable nights. "We're going north, Ma!"

But not until tomorrow, and not before seeing the most beautiful night sky we'd ever see: clear, dark, with stars that weren't bleached out by incandescent lighting. Well, for the most part: to the far north, we saw the glow cast by the city of Flint, that night the beacon of civilization, where gas and ice could still be had. Who'd a thunk it?

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