Thursday, August 25, 2011

Let There Be ... dark

 I am finishing up yesterday, getting ready to turn the computer off and go downstairs and watch the TV news. That's when I notice the small light I have sitting on my desk oddly dimming. It fluctuates a few times, like a candle, and naturally I suspect the bulb is going out ... again.
 Then I realize that the line voltage could have dropped and I flip on a ceiling light, and then another, with the same results: the bulbs glow a dim orange. I quickly turn the computer off, switch the second floor air conditioning off and head down the steps.
 It is the same there. The CFL light bulb Mom has in her ready lamp burns about the same as always (why?) but every incandescent I switch on does the same thing ... it glows feebly orange. I turn the first floor a/c off, too and run to the bathroom where Mom is getting ready for bed. "Are your lights dim in there?" I ask. "Yes, I was wondering what was going on," she answers through the closed door.

 (for illustrative purposes only; this was taken 10/04/09)

 I run back upstairs and grab my digital multimeter. The power line voltage fluctuates between 101 and 102 volts. It should be close to 120. Because of the low voltage and the possible damage to equipment (including the TV which is still turned on), I switch off everything I can find.
 I then call Jeff Erisman, our next door neighbor and assistant fire chief. He's doing the same thing, particularly noting that compressors should be switched off at once. "We've lost phase," he says. "Farmersville is dark."
 Within half an hour, our power is cut completely.
 Now it is in the upper-80's outside and terribly humid and we have no a/c. Opening the doors and windows would make it worse. At least it's cooler inside than outside. But throughout the next few hours, I watch the temperature slowly climb and begin fanning myself with a newspaper. Once it is dark - say 8:30 p.m. - Mom has had enough and goes to bed. She covers her feet with a comforter!
 It's a quiet, dark evening at Pinehaven. I find my transistor radio (such a rare old thing ... but it works just fine at times like this; the iPod, the Xoom are deaf and dumb to the world) and lay down with ear buds and tune across the band, listening to Dayton, Cincinnati, Chicago and finally a station in Iowa.
 I shut my eyes and try to fall to sleep but my body rebels. It is too hot for that, maybe even a little too quiet. I count cars going up and down Clayton Road. They have blessed lights! I lay in the dark.
 The end comes - or rather the return to the modern age - at 11:30 p.m. Two earlier attempts at restoring power lasted but a second or so. This one holds. The house is lit again with every lamp I missed. I wait a few minutes anyway, just to make sure, and then I turn the a/c units back on and feel the cool, refreshing breeze begin again. Heaven! While the house begins to cool, I walk around, resetting clocks. Mom snores.
 In fact, it is so pleasant to feel cool air again, to have light flooding the room, that I pick up a library book and begin to read. It is 1 a.m. before I climb the stairs and crawl into bed.
 The house returns to darkness. But this time it is a chosen state and so the nervousness of the 19th century begins to fade. I watch as lightning begins to flash in the west, listen as thunder approaches. Will we lose power again, have two outages on the same day?
 No. I wake later to a mild storm passing mostly to the south, hear the gentle tapping of rain on the roof, feel the refreshing coolness of the air in my room, this time revel in the lightning which comes and go in a natural rhythm, thank goodness I am returned to my own age.