The Dark Side

You might have heard that all of San Diego County (population 3,000,000+), and parts of Orange County, Imperial County, northern Mexico, Arizona and New Mexico practically simultaneously lost electrical power yesterday afternoon.

It was very bizarre.

Now, the building that houses our lab is no stranger to power interruptions and so when everything went dark, we rolled our eyes and checked our fuses and then went next door to see if our neighbors were out too. Pretty soon, we figured out that it wasn’t just our building, or neighborhood, but it was the whole city – and beyond – that was out.

I will admit that for a few moments I had a stomach-sinking feeling that maybe this was some sort of criminal or terrorist attack (or a prelude to one), but when I thought about the scale of the outage and weighed the likelihood that it was caused by either criminal masterminds or human incompetence, I thought it was a pretty sure bet to side with incompetence.

My boss has a pickup with an A/C outlet, so we set up a system with a long extension cord to occasionally power a freezer that had our most precious (and expensive to replace) materials, our cell incubator and our fishtank. We were told the power might be out until sometime today, so we decided that he would man the ship and I would brave the traffic-light-less insanity of millions of people all trying to get home at once.

And you know what? It wasn’t that bad. Drivers were being polite to one another as they tried to figure out the appropriate order of movement at a defunct 8-lane intersection. I didn’t see anyone exhibit Bad Behavior. There was no honking. Lots of people were walking (I think in the direction of bars) and everyone seemed to be doing their best to deal with it positively. Except for maybe those people 10-deep at the powerless gas station. I think they were ready to go a little Mad Max.

The thing I noticed when I got home was how quiet everything seemed – the only worrisome sound was the occasional wail from an emergency vehicle. And even though I spend a good chunk of time online, I had a chance to appreciate some of the things at The Aerie that don’t require any power:

The Beloved was able to get home without too much drama and we put The Aerie Emergency Plan (such as it is) into effect, which pretty much included filling up containers with water, arraying all our candles and flashlights, and deciding what we’d eat (we had gas) that wouldn’t require opening the freezer or refrigerator.

One of the things we’ve always liked about The Aerie is that we can see the lights of northern San Diego from our backyard and so last night provided a very rare glimpse of the terrain to our west – essentially the only lights we could see were those from cars still out on the road.


And so in the end, The Beloved and I stayed in our backyard and had a pretty nice, quiet night of pasta and red wine, conversation and silence, of moonlight and candlelight, while Penny kept varmint-watch.

Candle and wine

Night Watchdog

Our power came back on around 12:30 a.m. and so tonight will be “normal”, which will be good — though I will admit I’ll probably always look back on the Great San Diego Blackout with fondness. Maybe we should turn off the lights more often.


23 thoughts on “The Dark Side

  1. I love “pioneering” for awhile. We have a gas generator to save the frozen food…or for winter to keep the furnace going, so being without power isn’t a hardship. I always think of it as an adventure.
    When the kids were small I made toast and bacon and eggs on our propane grill and we kept the house warm with the fireplace (before generator). The quiet is oh so nice sometimes!

    • Lauri — I can see where the gas generator would have been so useful (both at home and at the lab) — especially if this would have gone on for a couple of days. As it was, the night felt like a great “reset” for us.

  2. I can’t believe that your whole county lost power yesterday afternoon. Must have been quite tough! Glad to know that you enjoyed beautiful things, inspite of the power cut. Beautiful pictures! Glad to know that the power is back now.

  3. Something magical transformed Winthrop Ave. and Seaside Way last night. The usual,  come home from work, park the cars,  and unlock our sanctuary doors,  changed. What seemed like a major annoyance, turned our little section of The Villas into a block party, of sorts. Complete with strobing yellow lights, courtesy of the  multiple utility trucks servicing the pump station, a gathering of neighbors, and a slight traffic jam as  garage doors failed to open with the click of remotes.

    Families with young children stood outside on walkways and curbs – chatting about the downed electrical grid – and the possible causes.. Dogs, large and small took in the warm night air, watching the on-goings from balconies, or padding along with their owners. With the anniversary of 911 approaching, little wonder that the subject of a terrorist act came up 

    As we walked by one car, which was stopped in front of a closed garage door, a neighbor jumped out and cheerfully said, “It must be the end of the world!”  I replied, “It has to end sometime.”  His reply was something like – ‘why not tonight’ – but don’t quote me.

    As darkness fell, even with a moon nearly full, the street emptied with the exception of a few service vehicles. While the rest of my household decided to go to bed, no television and no internet, I grabbed a book light and a novel.  Flashlights, a lantern, candles and batteries on hand, along with a radio, there was nothing else to do.

    Soon a tapping noise drew me to my kitchen window.  As I peered out, one of our downstairs neighbors, with baby in her arms, smiled back at me.  Did I have any extra batteries for her radio and lantern. Our Costco supply to the rescue  – we both agreed to stock up for next time. Not only batteries, but water, food and medical supplies. 

    Last night we ate our diner by candlelight, something we haven’t done in years.
    That can’t be a bad thing.

    • Trailblazer — what a great experience. It seems like the forced “reset” of having the power out has the capacity to make us stop and look around for a few minutes at all the things and people we normally are brushing right by every day.

  4. I actually hadn’t heard about the blackout. Strange! But also kind of beautiful when you get that rare silence and stillness. Your pictures remind me of once when I was in high school I got home from school in the afternoon on a particularly stormy winter day when I was supposed to have a piano lesson, but the power went out in the town and my teacher called and cancelled. So, I lit just a few candles on top of the family piano and played my favorites in the quiet darkness for what seemed like hours until my parents got home. Somehow I remember that as one of the best moments in my music-making history.

    • EM — it was a bit like a “snow day” though sadly one of those where everyone is scurrying to get home before the storm hits. I wonder if there was a big run on bread, milk and eggs?

      There’s a lesson to be learned here about tuning out every once in a while, isn’t there?

  5. NPR is playing an LA theatre show on Sunday night about Enron. It’s only broadcasting here in Seattle, but what timing! Are there dark underlordsmen scourges responsible for this? Do you like how I made up my own words to explain the potential evil? ;)

    A freelancer I work with emailed me today and said she had no power all week…. but she lives in the south.

    • There was an error made in Arizona during some maintenance which cause a huge power spike. The spike was large enough to trigger all the regional safety shut-downs. Poof. No power.

  6. Glad you both got home safely! It sounds like the blackout turned out to be a nice evening for you two. I wonder what caused the outage? Stay safe.

    • FS — yeah, it really wasn’t too bad of an evening. All signs are pointing to a maintenance group in Arizona that did something wrong while replacing some equipment. That mistake caused a huge spike which then tripped ALL the emergency shut-offs for the whole grid.

  7. The great San Diego blackout made the news even in WA state, Steve! Everyone here was asking about us about it, as if we had some personal link to the event: I had to explain to them how far San Diego is in relation to Sacramento, but no one seemed to believe us. (Oh, you know us Californians: we all live on the beach and sport tans and surf with the sharks. :D )

    Penny looks like she enjoyed a life without electricity. I don’t suppose she spotted any varmints coming up the hill?

    • Penny very much enjoyed being out back all night — much better than being in front of the TV or being ignored while we’re reading. There was some intense bush-searching, but alas she came up empty.

  8. Over the Memorial Day weekend we were without power for 4 days. During that time we read more books, played games, chatted and played instruments. One night we sat on the deck while Thing 2 fiddled around with the accordion. He took the opportunity to raid J’s book shelves and read some classics including Catch 22. I am not sure if he finished the book. Since we have a gas stove we were able to cook some things before they went bad. However, we have well water which means we were without water. Yikes. Fortunately, somebody once gave us great advice and we always keep jugs of water for flushing. Still, we had to find places to shower. Losing power in May is far better than during winter though.

    Glad everything worked out for you and your adventure was short lived.

    • Bec — I can’t imagine it going on for 4 days. The Beloved’s mom lost power after Irene passed through Virginia and she was without power for 4 or 5 days. She had gas, water and the one of the neighbors had a generator, so she was able to get by okay.

  9. Oh, Steve, that reminds me: we weren’t able to keep cold that freezer with those strange cells they brought back from the Arctic oil-drilling expedition. Sorry. And Mr. Pratt, the night watchman, seems to be missing. Anyway, I’m sure it’s nothing to have a primal scream over.
    — Your Lab Team

  10. We were part of that Eastern black out in 2002ish which lasted 2 days and encompassed like 14 states and 3 provinces. I don’t mind it – so quiet and dark – it was kind of like camping.

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