Friday, November 15, 2013

Pass the Power Pole and the Popcorn


OK so I'm guessing that "Oh shit" is not a phrase one wants to hear when PG&E workers are swapping out old utility poles. What sounded like a colossal house fart was a utility pole slipping off its moorings—even though we've been without power since 9AM, those lines going up the street lines are live. So, there is a bit by way of fireworks as well.

Luckily, I was inside the house when the pole fell. No sparks, or arcs, but a whole lot of current was disrupted. It was probably safer to be in the house vs. on the street, or, say, in a parked car, but the shearing sound of a pole falling down and electrical lines reverberating was too much to bear. I was out of the house in a flash. Camera at the ready.

I guess the resident utility pole gnome is really pissed off by now. We don't know who the folk artist is who has painted hundreds of gnomes dressed in pantaloons and kilts, on blocks of wood, and installed with hex screws—get it? But s/he installed them on every utility pole in the neighborhood. Unofficial word from the pole swappers is that PG&E is not happy about the growing gnome population, but we've all become rather attached to them.

The guys in the bucket lift crane are performing an exacting ariel ballet with live wires. They wear heavy insulated rubber sleeves, and gauntlet gloves and as they manipulate the wires, I am reminded how fragile life is. They assured us that we'd have power back within 10 hours—but I don't think so, not now. All bets are off. The utility pole is like a ship's mast on the sidewalk. Someone removes the cross poles to untangle the wires. They sing like guitar strings being changed.

Glad I took care of most of my electrical errands. We have propane so I at least I can cook. I'd forgotten how great pan-fried toast tastes. I also orgot to make breakfast this AM, and was cut off mid-sentence with Tony Bucher. Tony and I were preparing for the Seamus Heaney reading next Tuesday evening at the Mechanics' Institute. I got all the publicity out on social media, but I was cut off on Avenali Scholar info. I'm sure Tony was wondering what the rest of the sentence was. No way to fix that now. Only electronics working now is my MacBook and a very dumb phone—painful to text on it.

The name of the sub-contractor who dropped the pole? Intern. Not a name one wants to hear when it comes to rerouting live power lines. OK, maybe not Intern, but Intren. I bet PG&E is not too happy with their subcontractors now.

It is a massive tangle of downed power lines by our back gate. A worker is on the phone to HQ. HQ cannot see him waving his arms. I cannot hear what's being said—but those flailing arms convey the message. The main trunk line sways so gently, I am reminded of a ballet of sloths dancing across open fields. Telephone and cable lines are cut and bundled like black snakes at the corner of the alley.

Now, PG&E proper is here too. A bevy of blue trucks. I suspect the resthome down the street is without power too. I hear generators kicking in for those on life-support. Because we're near the rest home, we often have power when the rest of the neighborhood is without. Not today.

Wow, now the next pole up the street is stressed. The lines are taut. They're attempting to unwire it now. More blue PG&E trucks arrive. The old utility pole is finally freed. Lowered gently to the ground, a fallen patriarch. This day is turning into a little boy's wet dream.

I've managed to recharge one MacBook to 60% while I work on the other one. I just swap out the charger as needed. Rotating MacBooks, that's the ticket. Hey, it's one way to work around the battery limitation. I've moved shop to my car. Great writing space—even if people look at you kind of strange—as if you were some sort of pervert. I like hanging out in my car to read. It's comfy, warm and well lit. Only bummer is that there is no wifi to be had anywhere. I circle the block looking for any free wifi signal. Nada. At least I have a power converter that runs off the cigarette lighter so I can rotate my charging MacBooks. I set up a Mac to Mac file transfer so I can rotate my writing from Mac to Mac when the batteries begin to fail.

It's not yet rush hour, so traffic isn't too bad on MacArthur Boulevard. Yet. It's like the Indie 500 at 5 PM. If this were a fire, it'd be a 3-alarm fire. As it is, there are five big rig trucks plus lots of decked-out utility trucks. Wonder how long I can run my Macs off the car battery? Unless I run the car, the current shuts off every few seconds. so I guess not very long—unless I run the engine. This is not the way to charge a Mac.

Still hoping to find some open wifi on the street. No luck. Because a wide swath of our area is blacked out, no power—all kinds of opportunistic wifi networks with unimaginative router names—Zwire, ATT, Netgear—are popping up all over the 'hood. A few stand out. Fox Den, Someone really named their wifi DirtySlut? Ha! One wifi network is named Surveillance Van #4 and another is called P+_Emergency mobile services—don't think I want to attempt to use those signals. I can almost pull in an open Linksys wifi. Maddening. But not quite. Better to turn off the wifi and save the battery.

Two more utility pole transformers blow—it's a blue light special. More like cannons going off. BOOOOM!! And a Roman candle of blue fireworks. I know transformers are loaded with nasty chemicals, so all windows are closed up tight. Funny having one's office in a car. Ringside seat to the street. Some jackass just parked in the cordoned-off no parking zone. People are daft… Go ahead, touch the downed power cables. I dare ya. Make my day.

More utility poles are affected. Maybe seven in all. PG&E guys are scurrying up poles like rats on a sinking ship. The synagogue is roped off too. People are being escorted into their dwellings across live power lines.

Well, well, well, ATT has finally arrived, trolling the street like sharks. I guess the cable companies will be next. But with no electricity, it's all moot. The pole they're working on now is the old fashioned kind with the blue glass insulators.

I wonder what the resident squirrel thinks of all this? It's time for his afternoon drink. He usually runs up the power cables to the fence. It's a tangle of lines going up the alley—it may be TMI for him. At least most of the loose wires are secured now.

Pretty much the whole block is affected by now. I have a headache. Advil time but I need milk for that. I'm roped off from my house. Because the sidewalks are closed, it's turned into a bit of a party atmosphere.

My MacBook charge is up to 88% w/ engine running. It won't recharge if car isn't running. Maybe I can go back into the house soon. It's up to 91%—that'll carry me for several hours. Think I can call it a day. The light is fading. Time to dig out the candles. Not exactly an evening by the fireside bright.

Sherrie, our next door neighbor suggests, since none of us have power, that we go down to the Fox Theater and see The African Queen. Bogie, it is. A few years ago, we saw the real African Queen moored in the Florida Keys. When we get electricity again, I'm going to look for my photos. Meanwhile, it's time to smack the boiler. Get things back on track. No telling when this will get posted as I don't exactly have wifi. Meanwhile, the silver screen beckons.

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