We were powerless. Literally.
Saturday afternoon, a severe thunderstorm rolled through with lightning and winds gusting as high as 70-80mph. It was only over our neighborhood for 15 minutes, but that was enough to knock out our electricity at 5:30pm. Surveying the damage afterwards, I found the small branches torn from our trees were nothing compared with what happened in neighbors’ yards. There were giant limbs down here, a tree uprooted there. Obviously, power lines had been felled, too.
I checked the app for Ameren, our electric utility, to make sure they knew about the outage. They did, but had no information to offer about when they could repair the damage and restore service. I signed up for text alerts to be notified of any updates. More on that in a minute.
The storm had hit on one of the hottest weekends of the summer, with temperatures well into the nineties — with, naturally, high humidity, too. But because we’d had the air conditioning on all day, Saturday night wasn’t too bad. Dark, yes, but not so hot it was uncomfortable to sleep.
The same could not be said about Sunday.
As the outdoor thermometer went north of 90 yet again, it began to feel stifling in the house. My wife went out to run some errands for a couple of hours, while I opted to grab some lunch at the Bread Company, taking along my iPad to have something to read during my extended visit. By the time I got home, she was returning, too. We lasted about a half-hour before we had to get out of there again.
What about a movie theater, a guaranteed cool spot? I checked the local listings and found nothing we wanted to see — we had no interest in “A Quiet Place, Part II” or “Cruella.” There wasn’t much to watch at home either, since no power meant no wifi, which meant no streaming. Then I remembered the walking track at our gym, which would also be air conditioned. It seemed odd that, to avoid sweating, we were going to undertake some physical exertion, but what the hell. Off we went.
An hour later, we were back home, where the word “stifling” had been redefined. And the lack of electricity meant not enough hot water for showers. My wife tried lying on the carpet, theorizing that’s where any cool air left in the house would be. She didn’t find much relief. Meanwhile, I sat in a comfy chair and finished the e-book I’d been reading earlier, which helped keep my mind off our discomfort. For a little while.
Finally, I exclaimed, “Let’s go out to dinner!” This led to our traditional grumpy recitation of the restaurants in our area that we’d like to revisit, finally deciding on one not far away. A quick call discovered they’d just had a reservation cancellation, and could seat us if we got there soon. We did.
Now, about those text alerts Ameren promised. When I signed up, I assumed we’d hear from them semi-regularly. Maybe not every hour, but every couple. I knew their line crews were busy all over town, but it doesn’t take much to set up an AI-based system to keep the public updated. Even if it was to tell us they hadn’t restored our service yet, perhaps something how big the problem was, how many customers were affected, and for how many the power was now back on.
Turned out my definition of “alert” did not match Ameren’s. Over the 27 hours of our blackout, we got exactly three texts from the company, the first two merely stating that nothing had changed along with a reminder not to touch any downed wires. Fortunately, the last alert — at 8:30pm Sunday, just as we were leaving the restaurant — was to tell us that, after 27 powerless hours, the outage in our neighborhood had been resolved. Hurray!
It’s fascinating how the little things can excite you. For us, it was when we pushed the button in my car for the garage door remote — and the door went up! We’d had to do that manually all day, a feat that required either two people working together or one with the wingspan of a California condor. Pulling the car in, our next thrill came when we unlocked our back door to feel a whoosh of cooler air from inside the house. The air conditioning was back on!! It wasn’t down to the level we keep it set for, but it had dropped us down below “stifling.”
We walked to the kitchen and noticed a pool of water on the floor in front of the refrigerator. Well, sure, everything in the freezer — including a huge tray of ice cubes — had melted and was dripping out the bottom of the door. We grabbed a bunch of towels, pulled everything out, and dried off the interior. Then we opened the refrigerator, which had lost its cool completely. There was no rotten food odor, but we couldn’t take any chances, so anything perishable in there had to go, too (side thought: why would we keep non-perishable items in the refrigerator?). When all was said and done, I think the only things left were a bottle of Gulden’s mustard and three apples. We started drawing up a shopping list for the next day.
Unfortunately, although power had been restored, our internet service hadn’t. I had also signed up for Spectrum text alerts, which came even less frequently than those from Ameren. However, around noon on Monday, I got a voicemail from Spectrum telling me they’d effected the necessary repairs, so we should be up and running again. I did the usual rebooting process for the modem and router, waited a few minutes, and… nothing. I tried it again. Same result. Maybe a third time would be lucky? Not so much.
I got on the Spectrum app to use their customer service live chat, only to encounter a bot that offered exactly zero helpful responses. I dug deeper until I found a phone number, called it, and spent several minutes in voice-tree hell, where none of the options were helpful. I resorted to repeating the word “Agent” until the automated system finally gave up and connected me to a human. I told him what was going on. He checked and discovered that the outage in our neighborhood had not been repaired yet. I asked, “So the automated voicemail lied to me?” He replied, “Well, let’s just say it was a mistake.”
Of course, he couldn’t give me an estimate of when we’d be back online, so I headed to our public library to take care of several things and then write this blog entry. But just before I left, the phone rang. It was another Spectrum bot, this one calling to ask me to answer a few questions about my customer service experience. I hung up on it.
So, that’s where things stand now. I’ve been to the store and re-stocked our refrigerator. I happened to have a backup battery in my backpack from a Vegas trip last year that, somehow, still had enough juice to recharge my iPhone while the power was down. And though we couldn’t take a shower for a day and a half, the plumbing in the house still worked so we could wash our hands, brush our teeth, and use the toilet. A lot of people have it a lot worse — including the poor folks whose cars were crushed by trees felled in the storm.
In retrospect, I just gave you more information about this situation than both the electric utility and internet provider gave us, combined.