September 21, 2003

We’re Survivors

As CBS was debuting its latest Survivor series, little did we know our family was about to be sequestered on the remote Isle of Darkness, a few blocks from the Sea of Light and Normalcy.

Unlike the TV show, which drops castaways in distant locations for 40 days and nights, we have no idea how long our adventure will last. Pepco, our ordeal’s sponsor, has been totally noncommittal. “We are assessing the damage and prioritizing” their voicemail announces. A live person is nowhere to be found.

We have been divided into two teams: The Parent Tribe and the Children Tribe. As dawn approached on the third day both our respective camps were in complete disarray. Our house is dark even when it’s light outside.

In the Parent’s camp, piles of dirty clothes lay next to the bedroom door. We’ve tried to keep the kitchen as clean as possible, having resorted to hand washing each dish and utensil. But it is an uphill battle. We can’t see what we’re doing. And it’s next to impossible to French press coffee while holding a flashlight. Today we will empty the freezer and refrigerator. All food we had when our journey began is now beyond its prime. We want no disease to enter this campsite.

The Children’s tribe is doing a little better. Even when there is electricity maintaining the semblance of order is difficult. But unlike the parental team, these youngsters are much more adaptable. The girls just called me up from my basement cave to show me how they spelled my name with necklaces and beads on the living room couch. This may prove useful should we need to call for outside help by spelling HELP US PARENTS with broken branches on our front lawn.

Yesterday we had to escape. We were all going stir crazy. We were falling into deep despair (my wife attributed this to light deprivation) while the children kept repeating “we’re bored, We’re Bored, WE’RE BORED!” No one wanted to venture outdoors. After my battle with bees and mosquitoes on our first day on the island, we had lost all interest in nature.

We called around to all our friends until we found some with electricity. Then we pleaded with them to let us see a lighted light bulb. They took pity and invited us over for dinner. When they set a candlelit table we politely asked them for more electric illumination.

Greg and Nancy lived in a two-block paradise of brightness. Sitting down to supper everything seemed so normal. The eye of the hurricane had stayed put right there. It was as if nothing had happened.

Jealousy can be the Devil’s work in a blackout. Living in DC we are used to the constant political rhetoric about “the haves” and “the have nots.” But the seemingly indiscriminate boundaries dividing “the powered” from “the powerless” cause you to wonder: why us?!

Like Survivor, we won the challenge round and spent the evening in complete and utter luxury. But also like the TV show we had to eventually return to our reality.

Before we left, Greg handed me a gift—a remembrance of the evening: the Princeton Tec Matrix LED Headlamp. Strapped snugly to my head I could now walk around our dark home, the headlamp lighting the way. Everywhere I turned there was light. I no longer had to prop a flashlight on two books on my lap to read. It was so natural and so normal. A bit of manna from heaven. I feel centered and Susie is ready to buy one of her own. Little things mean so much to us now. My 7 year old thinks I look like I’m a miner. I don’t care what I look like.

But we must count our blessings. Our stove uses natural gas and we can cook (others in our neighborhood have “All Electric Homes”). Our water supply is intact, while neighboring counties must boil theirs for safety’s sake.

First order of business this morning: win another challenge round by finding more friends with power. After all, this is Washington and there is always someone with power.

Update: We were just about to grab our dirty laundry and go to my sister’s-in-law who called to say she now had power when ours came on. Then we heard a pop and it went off. An emotional rollercoaster. The gods were playing with us (or this really was a reality show and some producer was really getting his pants wet).

A transformer blew. Fifteen minutes later light returned (you could hear cheers around the neighborhood). No trips to the Isle of Darkness are anticipated in our near future. But we’re looking into alternative power supplies just in case.

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