Power To The Burtons, Thank God

  Are you thankful for the little things? Can you tell the little things from the big things?

    I was forced on Friday to answer these questions, to stop and think about something I almost never think about.  Five syllables, starts with an E, made my breakfast, brought us together as writer and reader. 

   Electricity.

   Getting all tingly just thinking about it. 

   It was on Friday before work, then again at work and after work at my mother-in-law’s 90th birthday gathering. 

   It allowed me to do my job. It allowed for our ability to bring in the cake at the party. Yet I gave it no mind, no appreciation.

   So we drive back from the gathering. I’m on the cell phone because my sister has called at the wrong time as usual. We’re in the driveway, hit the clicker, no motion.

   The garage door opener isn’t functioning. OK, no problem, the batteries could be dead. I will go in the front door, around to the garage and hit the button on the wall.

   Nothing.

   A light is starting to come on, so to speak, a mental light. I flip the light switch. Nothing.   

   I go back out to the driveway and report: “the electricity is completely off.” My wife sighs.

   We’re an American middle-class family with no electric power.  Compared to most the families who have ever lived on planet earth we are rich beyond measure. But we have a problem.  

    A large percentage of what we are able to do for ourselves and our loved ones is predicated upon electric power firing up lights, computers, refrigerators, freezers, stoves, air conditioners, everything.

   Our self-assessments start with those things as a given. When they are taken away we are lost and humbled.

   But not right away.  We are accustomed to temporary outages. We go into the mode. You know the mode. We have flashlights. We have information. A freezer will keep food safe for 24 hours without electricity, if you are smart enough to not open it.  A refrigerator gives us four hours of coverage.

   And that’s enough usually. There are guys most of us never know or meet, who go out and fix this kind of problem and restore order.

   The Wichita Lineman you never think about, is still on the line. 

   We are prepared, somewhat. There is a generator. When did I charge it? Wasn’t this week but it wasn’t that long ago. How much will it give us?

   Jeannette calls the city, learns that the power went out at 3:30. We were not in town to know this until about 7:15.

   We think about ice, but we’ll need to go to the town north of us because maybe the ice in town has been bought up already.

   And, we have just completed the big restock. Last week we dropped about four bills replenishing our stock of beef and chicken among other things.  I begin thinking about the grill. Why?

     I have cleaned the grill parts last year but the bottom part, where all the grease and meat fragments fall is still pretty gross.

   A new motivation I have sidestepped all winter, hits me between the eyes, or elsewhere, because if we don’t have power by morning, we will need to start grilling meal as soon as it is daylight in hopes of saving that meat.  I start cleaning.

   Then, we’re talking about dry ice. I didn’t know you could buy it but I guess Wal-Mart has it.  Jeannette looked it up. As we talk, I hear something.

   “Hey, what’s that noise, is that the AC?”

   Then out of the corner of my eye, I notice a basement light is on.  Exhale. All is well. Our American middle-class world has been restored in an instant.

    Electricity!

    Lights shining now allow me to see the dining room lights shining down on the golden hair of my beloved. What a beautiful sight, electricity!

   “We sure do miss it when we don’t have it, Jeannette said, “We’re spoiled.”

    Yes, and not just spoiled, but vulnerable. Much more vulnerable than you think.

   In February the CBS news magazine 60 Minutes did a story about a sobering incident in 2013 when an unknown team of saboteurs attempted to disable to Metcalf Power substation just south of San Jose. 

    “On the night of April 16, 2013, for about 20 minutes, gunmen methodically fired at high voltage transformers at the Metcalf Power substation,” CBS News reported.

   “They knew what they were doing. They had a specific objective. They wanted to knock out the substation,” said John Wellinghoff, who at the time was chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

   The government had no idea who the gunmen were. “But it was somebody who did have competent people who could in fact plan out this kind of a very sophisticated attack,” Wellinghoff said.

   Not a cheery thought to end with. But this is just to say, be thankful for what you have, don’t take it for granted and prepare for the worst.

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