I don’t believe in karma so I’m sure it’s unrelated that the first night in forever when I went out to two parties was the night a devastating series of violent storms hit the area. It’s not as if there’s even anything wrong with a little party hopping!
But I might not do two parties in one night again for a while, just in case.
Friday night itself isn’t too important to this story, though I did get to see gorgeous ladies dancing on a bar and I met Tupac and I saw tons of trees lie down. The important part is that Pepco’s still-too-much-above-ground-in-2012 infrastructure failed and hundreds of thousands of people in the DC area lost power. All the other utilities companies suffered similar numbers but I had Pepco and I hear about their problems all the time so I’ll keep blaming them for not being prepared.
The second party was in the vicinity of Columbia Heights and when I left the house around 2am, the worst of the storm had passed, I think. I made my way down darkened streets to my car and drove home, not yet realizing how rough my immediate future would be. I had to drive around downed trees blocking near-entire streets and relied upon my GPS heavily when streets were impassable.
All along, I just marveled and didn’t panic. Most of the time when a bad storm took out power in DC, it seemed I stayed unaffected. And I’d just switched from Comcast (who went down more frequently than a sex-positive person enjoys oral sex) to RCN (who almost never went down, like… someone who chooses not to).
When I got home, I was annoyed that I’d lost power, but I figured it would be fine in the morning and the storm had cooled things off a bit. In my basement apartment, it felt like it was about 78°F. Warm, but no big deal. I walked my dog and went to sleep. The storm had hit on the night of Friday, June 29th.
I woke up in the dark. It was about eight in the morning, and the sun was shining outside, but I have opaque curtains so that I can sleep in when I wish. But I have a lot of STUFF in my bedroom. I have a TiVo, an AV system, an old VHS (kids, ask your parents. or wikipedia), a wireless router, a cable modem, an external hard drive, and a few computers. All of that STUFF usually emits some light, either steadily or blinking. I’m very used to it, but I’ve had one or two overnight visitors who’ve voiced a wish that they weren’t there.
That Saturday morning, the lights weren’t there. Nor was anything humming. Nor was any air circulating.
None of that’s particularly unusual; I’ve had power outages before and it’s no big deal. My laptop had gone to sleep but still held about fifty percent charge and I used that to recharge my cellphone as best I could. I walked the dog, came back and explored twitter. This storm apparently was a big, big deal. Bigger than the one the previous week which had knocked down branches. This one had knocked down trees and houses.
It was a derecho. That’s not a proper name nor a scientific term, exclusively. It’s a type of storm system that’s labeled in spanish and it’s rare but it happens. This one happened from Chicago to the East Coast and it wanted everyone to pay attention.
By 10am, I was asking the internet if someone could house me and my dog. I got a facebook message from David Soltysik saying we could stay with them in Silver Spring, but I’m not able to check fb messages very easily on my Android for unimportant reasons. However, I also got a text from Melanie Spring (whose dogs get along with my dog) offering her air-conditioned apartment for respite. We went and it was lovely and she was wonderful host!
I checked with Pepco and their estimate on getting power back was 11pm on Friday. An entire week from when the power went out! At this point, I realized that if I were going to be able to work on Monday, I’d need to be in a place where I could sit around all day on high-speed internet to connect to my company’s servers, and also have enough AC and space for my dog to be comfortable. I did not want to invade Melanie’s home to that degree. I contemplated my options for a while.
I stayed at Melanie’s for most of the daylight hours, and then decided to drive up to Baltimore to my office. The office had also lost power, but only for a day, and it was allegedly quiet and full of AC and fast internet. If my Pepco power returned, so would I. Otherwise, I’d be somewhere I could do my work with the added bonus of being available for more meetings than usual.
I swung by my home in the dark, filled up a couple bags of toiletries and clothes, and went to Baltimore. Dru and I settled in for the night and then I texted a few friends in that city to see if anyone wanted to hang out. As it turned out, a friend in town was up for company since all her roommates were away and invited Dru and me to come over. Which is how I watched The Dark Knight and got to sleep on a futon in a modernized rowhouse instead of on an office couch the first night.
The next day, she kicked me out because her lease didn’t allow unattended guests to stay, and Dru and I made our way back to the office. Ate in Charles Village, did stuff on the internet, mostly slept. That night, after sunset, Dru and I optimistically packed up everything and went back to the apartment to get more changes of clothes. There was a shower at the office and I did use it, but I kept wanting to go home.
I kept feeling displaced, as my friend Sam Dublin put it.
But no, Sunday night still no power so I turned right back around and went to the office again to spend the night. Then I spent Monday working the usual work day. Kept checking the Pepco estimated time reports, kept seeing July 6th at 11pm. Slept at the office Monday.
Tuesday, I worked a usual day, but I knew I had a date that night in the DC area. So, I made sure that I got the all-clear to leave Dru at the office with her little dog bed and bowls of food and water, and I told her not to wait up for me. I drove down to my place, took a lukewarm shower since there was no power, changed into more clean clothes, and went off for an Independence Day Eve date.
That was a really, really good date.
As I drove back to join Dru for an office night sleep, I checked the Pepco estimates and was delighted to see 7 am on the 4th of July! That night, I slept fitfully as I couldn’t wait to get home. It felt like Christmas if Christmas presents consisted of giving you back something you’d paid for! But by 9am on the holiday, Dru and I were back at my apartment to discover that there was still no power. I celebrated by using the early daylight to throw away everything from my fridge and freezer. Checking the Pepco app, I saw the estimate changed to say 11pm restore time. I did not cry.
We went back to the office and I watched movies and worked on some blog posts. Headed back to DC under fireworks and got there about half an hour before the estimated turn-on time. No power. 11pm, no power. 11:06pm, no power and when I checked the Pepco estimate tool, my outage report was closed.
It was warm, but not insanely hot, in my apartment that Wednesday so I opted to take a chance and stay in my powerless place in the hopes that Pepco would come through in the dark hours. But by 5:49am on Thursday, July 5th, they’d put up a response to my outage report that they were estimating 3:30pm.
Spirit crushed, I packed up my dog and my stuff and drove back to work again. I figured I’d just work another regular day and then since I had a meeting scheduled for the next day, just resign myself to another night on a couch. But the afternoon rolled around and my neighbor called to say that power was back at both our places! I tried to steel myself to stay in Baltimore, regardless, so as to avoid another round trip of driving…
But I just couldn’t. By 8pm, the prospect of spending another night at the office was too much to bear and Dru and I drove back home to… POWER! … and an empty fridge and no internet because the storm destroyed my RCN cable modem. Still, POWER! I was thrilled! Dru was tired. Then I was tired and passed out.
Friday, I turned the AC to the coldest setting and left Dru behind for the first daytime in almost a week. I drove to work, did my day at the grind, and called RCN to find out what could be done about my dead cable modem. Turns out all I had to do was take it to their DC customer service location and trade it for a new one. That night, I had a pretty quiet night except for going to the Blue Banana to support a friend’s guest bartending gig.
Saturday morning, around 11am, I was supposed to meet a friend for brunch. But I woke up early and I couldn’t wait to get internet again so I drove to the RCN location and swapped cable modems before 8:30. Drove home, set it all up and finally everything was back to normal. That was the morning of July 7th.
So, all told, it took just over a week to get back to where I was before the storm! Look, I know people have it much worse off than I do. But this was rough. At least, as I told my date on Tuesday, this has helped me to realize that if I need to chuck it all and just hit the road with my dog… well, I could do it. But I’d prefer it to be my choice, please.
* featured image from The Washington Post