Sunday, July 17, 2011

Surviving the Chicago Power Outage of 2011

I learned a new word this week: ‘derecho’ — a short, violent windstorm with sustained straight line winds that can exceed 100 mph.

Here's how it went down, Sports Guy retro-diary style.


It started out much like any other Monday - me vaguely resembling Julia Roberts in Larry Crowne as she arrives for her 8am class, hiding behind dark sunglasses and wobbling just a little in her shoes. I didn't really sleep the weekend before, as I was "finishing" a manuscript, so I wasn't necessarily as alert as I might ordinarily be. Mostly, I was wondering why I'm incapable of acquiring a taste for coffee - because I really, really wanted some.

Pulling into the parking lot at the day job, imagine my surprise as I removed my dark sunglasses and discover the sky is black. I mean BLACK.

"Oh crap." I'm pretty sure I said it out loud, grabbing my laptop bag and bookin' it into the building. The power was flickering, so I made the brilliant decision to NOT take the elevator (I'm telling you, people - stick with me in a crisis and you'll be just fine).

By the time I made it to my cube on the third floor, holy hell had been unleashed outside. No thunder, no lightning... I'm not sure there was even much rain. But there was WIND (hence, derecho - cited above).

Like, 20 minutes later, it was over. The power at the day job didn't go off permanently, but all the networks were down, further irritating me since I can't make myself drink coffee.

Once we finally got internet restored, I got an email from a friend asking me if we had power... because apparently most of the area did not. I brushed it off and replied, "Whatev. Nothing we can't handle, we live in CHICAGO! Remember how we owned the Snow-Down-Throw-Down blizzaster last winter? Please."

And then I left work to drive home and realized just how bad it was. Trees down everywhere, powerlines dangling. Most of the traffic lights were dark, and the few that were still working were just flashing red. The sun was shining, temps in the mid-90s. Wacky.

I got to my house and optimistically clicked my garage door opener. Nothing. And shortly thereafter, I realized I didn't have a key to the house and dissolved into manic laughter on my front porch. Classic.

I texted my husband and the Intern, letting them know the situation, and then set out on an hour-long cruise, just looking for somewhere to pass the time. But, the local businesses were all closed, dark. All of them... except Culvers. Somehow beautiful, delicious Culvers had weathered the storm (or had at least been given priority restoration).

I danced my inner happy dance and went inside, planning to chill out until someone could let me into my house... but Culvers was standing-room only. Cellphones dangled from every available outlet. The poor kids behind the counter looked like they wanted to kill themselves, party due to the insane crowd and party due to a cheese shortage. So I did what any humane person would do in my situation. I said, "Hey you! Get up out of the fetal position and make me a brownie batter concrete mixer! We're having an adventure, get in the spirit!"

Husband arrived home, pointing and laughing at me before unlocking the door. It was getting dark, so we pooled every scented candle we owned and lit them all. There was a near miss incident with the lighter, but in the end, we managed not to set the house on fire. Hashtag winning.

We inspected the house and found minimal storm damage. The only casualty... well, let's just say the tiny farm may have met its match.

*moment of silence*

I hopped on my laptop to give my manuscript some finishing touches. My husband and the Intern passed the quiet hours by listening to Tina Fey's "Bossypants" audio book on a DROID X phone (product placement). My husband turned to the Intern and said, "This is how our ancestors used to live."


Alright, so the early bedtime, dark and quiet didn't make for a restful night, but no problem. The power was still out, so I collected my things to go shower in the gym at work.

I repeated my Julia/Larry Crowne routine (only this time in my jammies). As I put myself together for work, I was reminded of that time in college when I was between apartment leases for a week, so I snuck my laundry into the gym locker room a few pieces at a time and washed them in the sink. I fear no shame.

The day progressed as normal, except everyone at work was sharing war stories.

"I was driving during the storm, it was so scary! We all pulled over and all these trees started falling - I never even made it to work. I tried, I dove for hours, but all the roads were blocked, so I gave up and went home."

"I called the power company yesterday to report the outage, and they said we could get updates on the progress of the restoration online, as well as tips for how to handle the heat. You know what, autorecorded voice? I CAN'T LOG ON BECAUSE I HAVE NO POWER! What? You want me to follow you on Twitter? I'd love to... except my cell phone is dead and I can't charge it BECAUSE I HAVE NO POWER."

Fun day.

Got home, power was still out. Cleaned out the rapidly deteriorating situation in the refrigerator and freezer (yay trash day being conveniently timed). Did some laundry in the sink, still feeling nostalgic, and read Anna and the French Kiss by vanilla candlelight. The Intern tried to decide what "Wedding Day" smelled like as he took his candle downstairs to his little basement apartment.

It was still an adventure. Sort of. Okay, it was getting old, but at least it wasn't as hot. And I was starting to wonder where all of these scented candles came from. Most of them had never even been lit before. The house smelled like everything. Evergreen vanilla caribbean salsa pumpkin pie lavender cinnamon spice... I think it smelled like Overwhelming. Maybe now my house will smell like a Yankee Candle store forever.

Then, around 11pm, the Intern sounded the SOS.

Okay friends, if you learn nothing else from me this week, let me give you this one little tip that we should have been smart enough to know, but somehow escaped us.

If you're city-folk like us, even when your power goes out, you still get running water. But please keep in mind, while the magic forces that bring the water into your house may be operating as normal, they are not necessarily the same forces that drain the water out. Proceed with caution.

The Intern's basement apartment was taking on water and we had to go bail him out. I regretted my sink laundry trip down memory lane.

"We'll all laugh about this in a few days... or weeks... Right guys?" The Intern is adorable when he's optimistic. The basement carpet went squish. Squish squish. Ugh.

We did what we could with towels and rags and flashlights and the Intern's delightful smelling 'Wedding Day' candle. Yeah. It was kind of a long night.


Woke up to bright sunshine and mid-70's temperatures. Beautiful day, but still no power. Realized I was getting shockingly good at putting in contacts in the dark, and vowed that my next house shall have windows in the bathrooms. Collected my things for another jammie-Julia walk into work.

Morale was low. Started communicating in terse, clipped phrases. Drowned sorrows in donuts and chocolate milk purchased in the work cafeteria. Yes, I am supposed to be training for a 5K in August to support my local library, who's asking?

Taking full advantage of the work internet, I caught up on what I've been missing. "Women's World Cup USA vs France is today? Screw work, I'm watching the game down in the cafeteria because I deserve it!"

And then I realized I'm a wuss.

Hurricane Katrina, the earthquake in Haiti, the Tsunami in Japan... I started to realize how bad things were NOT here in my fully functioning office. How about a little self-awareness and perspective, huh? Remember (again) how we schooled that blizzard a few months ago (except for the poor people stuck on Lake Shore Drive... but we're not supposed to talk about that anymore). We are CHICAGO! WE CAN DO THIS.

Then I overheard my cube neighbor: "Everyone I know who calls the power company for updates, they're saying they'll get power back at about Noon on Friday. Next Monday, worst case."

WHAT !!?!

The bad man had just punted Baxter and I was in a glass case of emotion.

Later that night, the Intern suggested we make smores by roasting marshmallows over all our candles. Husband thought this was a great idea, except we didn't have any marshmallows. Or chocolate. Or graham crackers. Or pointy sticks. But other than that, he's all for it.

I curled up with a coconut lime candle to spend some more time with Anna and the French Kiss". Thoroughly enjoyed that book. Eerily reminiscent of my freshman year of college.


Husband wakes me with the words, "I don't know if you noticed, but still no power."

We sat on the couch and stared blankly, not particularly motivated to go to work. Basically, we were transitioning into the acceptance phase.

Husband: I think this is probably just how it's going to be from now on.
Me: Yup.
Husband: We should probably buy ourselves presents.
Me: I'm going to start with a donut.

When I got to work, there was a little less Julia in my walk, but still plenty of Indianapolis Colts jammies. And I got there kind of on the late side, so there were plenty of people to see me. Don't care.

The news tells me that of the 800,000+ people who lost power on Monday, all but about 100,000 have power restored. I think I know each and every one of those 100,000 people. It was cool to be powerless. Made you part of the in-crowd.

The dude reading the news on the radio was down with it, too. He said, "If I don't have power restored by midnight tonight, I'm gonna buy a horse and buggy and be done with it."

Embrace the coolness of powerlessness!

The Chicago area is becoming divided - there are haves (who have power) and have nots. And though the have nots are getting all the attention, we're getting snippy, even amongst ourselves - as though trying to one-up each other with our suffering.

"I lost the ENTIRE contents of my deep freezer, and it's so nasty that I won't even be able to clean it until it freezes again!"

"Oh yeah? At least you've had running WATER all week!"

After work, the Husband and I had our small group for church, just like we do every Thursday. Our hosts had power, so we thought we were all set. Except, about an hour later when we realized that the Intern had no house key. I texted him to warn him to hang out somewhere for a bit, and he responded quickly, already in the house.

That's right, folks. The Intern broke into the house. He's becoming more and more like @MayorEmanuel's Carl the Intern every day. I'm not sure whether I'm proud or frightened.

After one more brief candle episode, we decide it's time to call it a day. The take away: candle wax is surprisingly easy to clean off of most surfaces.


Whereas yesterday the powerless were cool and interesting, Friday we were pitiful creatures. When my "have" co-workers saw my wet hair, they smothered me with hugs and plopped a giant chocolate chip cookie on my desk. Woooot breakfast.

All in all, it really hadn't been that bad. Except for, you know, mouldy food in the refrigerator, and issuing water-wings to the Intern, and just general exhaustion associated with the break in the "normal," not to mention living in constant fear of burning down the house. Apart from all of that, now things are getting dicey.

Mom and dad were supposed to come visit so that we could all go see the last Harry Potter movie. "We always watch them as a family!" my dad reminds me. He never read the books, so he's been waiting patiently for YEARS to find out how it ends. He called the power outage stupid and sent me a frowny face emoticon. I love my dad.

Got home from work, still no power. I went for a walk and that's when I saw them - repair trucks. FOUR of them all the way from Michigan.


I called my dad and told him I was un-cancelling Christmas - our Harry Potter plans were back on! I ran around my house like Julie Andrews in the Sound of Music, flicking switches and putting the squalor behind us. And thus, we survived the great Chicago power outage of 2011 and escaped with minimal damage. By Sunday, it was like nothing had ever happened.

Now, about that Anna and the French Kiss...