Marshall: Love, hate and hot showers

Here’s Islander columnist Becky Fox Marshall’s column about our recent spate of power outages.

For anyone unfamiliar with what is meant by a “love/hate” relationship, might I suggest you experience being the only house in your neighborhood that mysteriously has power the day before Thanksgiving?

I am smack dab in the middle of about 16 homes on the west side of Bainbridge Island that, like the rest of the island, lost power on the Monday before Thanksgiving. It was all rather exciting to experience that howling, frigid wind and see Puget Sound behaving like an ocean with high, pounding surf.

After a few rounds of Bananagrams by lantern light with NOAA Weather Radio in the background repeating its endless loop of millibars and wind speeds, we hunkered down in our own homes for a long, cold night of scary sounds and down comforters.

The next morning, we emerged and gathered to compare war stories and regale one another with tales of our spunky resourcefulness in the quest for warmth and coffee. We also fed one another’s resentment of the houses across the bay that never lost power.

It got old pretty quickly. Our houses were cold and dirty. The food was boring – and in buckets on the porch. Everyone’s hair was flat and unattractive. People didn’t smell so fresh and, most importantly, people were growing increasingly cranky. The sound of a distant generator did little to lighten the mood.

So we retreated back into our homes and started speed dialing Puget Sound Energy. It’s going to be Friday… no, Tuesday. It’s going to be 9:30 p.m., no, more like 11. Midnight for sure. And the next morning, Wednesday, the power still wasn’t on. Our phones were going dead, so some of us recharged them in our cars (and got some nice heat at the same time). You’re thinking you’d give anything to go to work. Will there be a Thanksgiving at all? Where? Do you think our turkey is even safe to eat at this point? Why did I go shopping right before this stupid storm?
When PSE trucks went by, people stuck their heads outside and yelled in encouragement and gratitude.

Suddenly, Wednesday afternoon, the entire neighborhood went “up.” You knew it when you heard the gentle whirring of appliances coming back to life. People started tearing around, gathering dirty clothes, starting the dishwasher, moving the food back to the fridge, vacuuming… all with a shower on our minds.

But half way through this joyous activity, I looked outside. To the north and south, my neighbors’ windows were black holes with no light shining through. But I had power. So did the house directly across the street. Is that even possible? The cell phone started ringing.

“Your power is still on?” “Why didn’t your power go off?” “Nooooooo!” “Are you KIDDING me?” “Why do YOU still have power?”

And this is the hate part of the love/hate relationship. I called the one neighbor whose power had stayed on (OK, it was my sister) and we considered just turning off all lights and pretending we had gone dark, too. But it was too late – word was out. I must admit my joy was not completely overshadowed by my guilt.

And then, mercifully, the love part of the relationship kicked in. The very things for which we were loathed – outlets, dryers, showers, etc., were the very things for which we soon were loved. The house filled with appreciative refugees charging laptops and phones, washing hair and doing laundry. It was hours later when a Puget Sound Energy crew went house by house, doing something, which restored power to everyone else.
A week later, I called PSE to find out how that could even happen. There are rumors that some people had half their houses with power. I also wanted to show some love for the crews who stayed out in those horrific conditions.

The PR person listened to my questions. I didn’t detect a high level of interest, but she said she’d get back to me. Guess what? She never called back – providing yet another example of that love/hate thing.