Let the record show that in the year of our Lord two thousand nineteen, we visited the Charles M. Schulz museum in Santa Rosa, which very narrowly escaped incineration in California’s worst fire of 2017. Three days after our visit…a new and devastating fire, California’s worst of 2019, began to threaten the place again. Before this is over, we’ll all be living like Pigpen.
Let the record also show that we are not the victims here. All your and my empathy should be directed to the residents of Sonoma County and elsewhere who lost their homes, and to those who were evacuated from their homes. I can’t speak to their experiences. I’m only sharing our far easier experience in our tiny corner of Berkeley.
As the Kincade Fire worsened, PG&E warned of more imposed power outages. I say “more” because PG&E had done something similar a couple of weeks before…a shutdown that never quite shut us down. But last weekend, our turn finally came. And we steeled ourselves for our own little firestorm, namely Dar without the calming influence of screens.
All of Saturday, we braced for it. Finally I told wifey I was tired of bracing. At about 2:00pm, I took the kids on a drive while she rested. R’s first choice was Lawrence Hall of Science. We arrived, and a sign on the door said it was closed because of the uncertain power situation. So. We drove around. Eventually we swung by one friend’s house who happens to work as an attorney for PG&E! No, I had not come to confront her; she knew very well I had come as a social call on her husband, who, it turned out, was traveling with his baseball-playing teenager. She was very kind and let Dar tee-tee-tee around her house for a half-hour. (He also ate a lot of potato chips.) As R rolled around on a scooter, we couldn’t help but discuss the power situation. I said it must feel like she’s being attacked all the time. She said yes. In terms of public versus private, she said that PG&E has the worst of both worlds; if it were left alone (without regulation), it probably would have solved many of its biggest problems by now.
I honestly don’t share, say, Governor Gavin Newsom’s animus against PG&E. I’m sure any public utility would be having issues. I guess I just figure everyone is trying their best. Am I crazy? Anyway, the fam headed home, ready to buckle down, hunker down, analog down. We had our head lamps, candles, and go-bag set to go. We were ready. But was Dar?
Sweet mercies, we didn’t have to find out on Saturday. Somehow or other, the power remained on as Dar drifted off to sleep. About an hour later, at about 10 to 10, as I was drifting off to sleep myself, I saw an unusual flicker from the bathroom light. And then, blackout. Wifey said something like “Whoa.” I said something like, nothing to do but go to sleep.
Around 2:00am, Dar woke up screaming. Maybe the lack of nightlight was bothering him, but maybe not. Despite his medications, 2am screaming happens all the time. The difference was that I could offer no screen of comfort. (Yes, his iPad was charged, but he only likes YouTube. It’s frustrating that we have saved all these videos for car trips, and the minute we hand him the iPad he closes the saved videos and tries to see what’s practically the same content on YouTube. Sighhhhhhhh.) Speaking of “hhhhhhhh,” at 2:00am I came to his sleeping room and said “shhhhhhhhh.” Good thing we have what looks like an old-school psychiatrist’s couch in there, so that I could sleep while sometimes shushing Dar. We had a long night, but by our standards, not a particularly awful one. Merely dark.
Dar’s brother came downstairs at a pitch-black 6am wearing his head lamp and ready for board games. Love that. We did a little of that while I breakfasted on melting ice cream. Dar “slept in,” by his standards, surprising no one, considering how long it took me to get him back down. Daylight finally woke him around 7:15. Normally, after a night of not putting himself to sleep, he wakes up, gets his iPad, and watches his YouTube. (Yes, we have an infant teenager.) And of course he tried. And I said in my firmest gentle voice “Not available.” And he brought me the remote control. And I said in my firmest gentle voice “Not available.” (Yes, firm gentleness is a thing.) And he asked for the vent, which he uses as a stim with his pom-pom. The venting system runs on electricity, so I said in my firmest gentle voice “Not available.”
And he was…oddly fine? Not terrible. Some mild whining.
Most Sundays, we try to start the day with a walk in Tilden or in the Marina. Sunday we chose Tilden, and walked from the Brazilian Room to Lake Anza. Well, we almost did. Dar’s brother decided he was too cold and we turned around before we got to the lake. I guess we got lucky that Tilden wasn’t on fire?
Well, the truth is knew it wouldn’t be. Our phones weren’t entirely dead. The LTE network came and went. One just had to use them sparingly, for battery’s sake. Or one found excuses to drive around while the car charged them. For example, after our trip to Tilden we drove down to REI. Just getting out of the car was like walking into a Reno casino. Tilden had been absolutely fine. Not for the first time, we marveled at Tilden being a separate climate system from the rest of Berkeley. At REI, grabbed a few more battery-operated lights and batteries.
I’m here to tell you that Sunday without power in our house with Dar was a win. He mostly tee-tee-teed. I was shocked. And a little bored.
At about 1:15, Dar was behaving well enough that I could actually ask wifey if R and I could step out for a moment. R and I walked four houses down Eunice Street to help Jenny Wenk (local hero) set up the annual block party. People came by and asked if she was going to cancel. They raised questions about the air quality. I truly barely noticed anything in the Berkeley Hills on Sunday afternoon. Also, I said, how can we email and/or call everyone anyway?
One could have argued that the block party made more sense than usual: everyone could bring their perishables out of the fridge. When Jenny isn’t assembling us for the annual block party, she’s sending us emails about disaster preparedness and various local trainings and drills. In a way, this particular block party (planned many weeks before) was the chance for a serendipitous seminar.
Dar wasn’t the only reason that Jenny didn’t exactly call everyone to attention. But yes, he was one of the reasons. Wifey walked Dar over to our little blocked-off street, and everyone was nice. But Dar makes a lot of noise running up and down our neighbor’s driveway for no reason. He also makes noise while not eating every cookie he touches. Sigh.
For those of you keeping score at home, that one neighbor came up to me with a handshake and a “sorry we didn’t meet under better circumstances.” First thing I said is “This is my wife.” I kinda drew out his name, but wifey knew who it was. He said “It was kind of an imperfect storm for me that day…” and started talking about picking up his girlfriend…I stopped listening and told him I had to watch Dar. Which also had the virtue of being true.
There’s a path to redemption for him. He just needs to stay on it. 🙂
I wouldn’t say Dar is on a path to redemption. I would say Dar handled an analog day better than my wildest dreams. As the sun went down we all slowly went to bed. Like our farming ancestors did.
I figured two days would be pushing our luck. I was ready to wake up and drive Dar around until he calmed down.
But…he was mostly okay in the morning. I don’t have much to say when the hours pass peacefully, do I? Other than Praise the Saints.
I figured that other than a leaky fridge, this was all too good to be true. I waited for one of the schools to call, either Dar’s or R’s. Surely one of them would be asked to stay home? Granted, power was on in the parts of Berkeley where their schools are, and granted they don’t even need electricity on a temperate day, but I figured they’d use any excuse to skip a day. But…no. No calls. Lights off, schools on.
Hip hip hooray!
With impeccable timing, PG&E restored our power at about 1:50pm on Monday. Forty minutes before Dar’s (usual) return. YES!!
What did we do with each of our various plug-in devices?
As Wilma Flintstone and Betty Rubble once said, “CHARGE IT!”
It was also time for baths, laundry, et cetera.
Lo and behold, our power has remained on (knock on wood). Thank heaven for these brave firefighters and responders.
You don’t want these apocalyptic fires and rolling blackouts to be the new normal. I don’t want them to be the new normal. But if they are, this weekend I learned that my abnormal child can maybe handle that new normal. And that charges me right up to 100%.