If you live anywhere between Indiana and Washington DC, odds are good you either lost power for sometime, still don’t have it, or know someone without it. In my region, AEP and other providers are calling as many as six more days before electricity is fully restored. That means hundreds of thousands of people (millions during the first few days) are going without the basic conveniences we take for granted… during a heat wave… and a drought.
And what I observed over those first few days has lead me to one conclusion: America is a testy AEP employee away from an apocalypse.
Based on the ridiculous behavior, unreasonably complicated problems, and general tendency of people to freak out when things change, it is now clear that considerations like human rights and empathy are conveniences born on the excess of American resources.
1. No Gasoline
The oppressive heat and general uncertainty of the situation was awful and even dangerous for some folks,
but the real problem here was a lack of gas. During my travels through Appalachia I saw exactly one open gas station in the first 12 hours of the blackout. That gas station had a line of more than 100 cars that ran all the way out of the station, down the exit ramp, and down the highway in both directions as far as the eye could see. People actually parked their cars in the middle of the highway just so they wouldn’t get cut off by the people on the same side as the station.
This is in the first 12 hours! No gas means everyone has to walk everywhere. No travelling to see wayward family. No supplies for any kind of business or emergency. No commerce that doesn’t involve a backpack. The economy effectively regressed to 1850 in half a day.
2. No Refrigeration
Another problem people faced (and are still facing in some cases) is that there was no refrigeration. None at all. Without power a freezer or refrigerator can maintain goods for a couple of days before they start to sour. That is unless an unruly 3-year-old leaves your refrigerator door open while he’s exploring the kitchen.
Food became scarce fast. People suddenly found themselves unable to eat what was in the cooler for fear of spoiling everything else. In a mere 3 days pretty much everyone without power had to throw out all of their perishables and live off peanut butter and whatever they scrounged from the local store… that they walked to because they didn’t have any gas.
Did I say our economy regressed to 1850? Make that 1750.
3. No Communications
This is a problem I didn’t even realize. When I was a kid and we lost power, our phones would still work because land-line connections received power from the telephone company. This is no longer the case. For many of us cell phones are the only phone we have and, ignoring how difficult it is to charge a cell phone during a blackout, cell reception pretty much died in areas without power. At least if you were on AT&T. I don’t know if this was because the cell towers went unpowered or because they were damaged in the initial storm, but no one could talk or text for much of the downed area.
Also, most radio stations were out too. All 6 of the FM stations I usually listen to, from various areas of southeast Ohio and West Virginia, were down for days. That and the fact that no one has any fuel to deliver papers means that news becomes rumor-based immediately.
“Oh, well my friend had one bar of Edge Network for a minute and saw on twitter that the power is going to be out for 5-7 days. Let’s tell everyone we see”
4. No Light
I live in a relatively peaceful college town during the summer. Low population with higher education
means we don’t see a lot of crime here, but even this place gives off a rapey vibe when there are no lights. On the first night without power, I went to some of the bars with friends and drank booze in the dark. In those moments, unable to clearly see most people in the room, it became clear why the tavern concept or the idea of the hearth is so important.
I would much rather be anywhere, with any other people than outside in complete darkness. Also, you can’t do shit in a blackout at night. There is, literally, nothing to do but sleep, drink, and… do that other thing that isn’t sleeping or drinking.
This is what brought us back to basically any period between the fall of Rome and1240 AD.
These things all suck individually, but they come together nicely when you see the employees of an ambulance company can’t get into their building because their key codes don’t work without power, have no power in their building once they do break in and have no working phones.
And none of these account for the general stupidity of large groups. I wish I could give a list of every dangerous, ridiculous, or unbelievable thing I saw people do this week, but you and I both don’t have that kind of time. And it’s not to say there wasn’t good out there too, just that the bad was enough to kill us all.
This was the real discovery. It’s fun to think about how badass you would be during the Zombie Apocalypse until you’re actually there; until you cut your hand, break your foot, get pregnant, get hungry, get appendicitis, or do anything complicated without modern conveniences.
Not that the end isn’t nigh. Florida flooded and Colorado burned to the ground this week. Also, Netflix stopped working for a while. When will this shit end?