(The first half of this post can be found here.)
I recall that as a child, electrical outages always felt a bit like an adventure or at least held the potential for adventures on par with snow days. At the very least, it held the possibility of finally answering the question: how *would* I have fared on the Oregon Trail with some, however small, degree of certitude. I try to hold on to the idea that my kids are somehow experiencing this beach vacation outage in the same way that I did as a child. But, somehow, adulthood and the still intact cellular service provides us with just enough information to suck away any potential mystery and magic and, yes, even adventure.
Eric does what he is good at: collecting information. He figures out who the utility company is that serves this area and begins to monitor their on-line updates. It turns out at least one tornado did touch down somewhere north of us. The projections for when service will be restored for this area vary from the following day to four days, which is the rest of our vacation. I swear I can hear the frozen baked goods I lovingly prepared at home and transported here on dry ice scream from inside the now-warming freezer.
Aside from the food we have in the refrigerators and freezers, the kitchen appliances all run on electricity. But there is a propane grill outside. There are no flashlights in the rental house other than those on our phones, from which the power is already draining. We can’t even find candles. We brought one camping lamp (for outdoor lighting) and, in a pinch, we can charge our phones and other devices in the cars but that’s not something we want to rely on. I reluctantly stop checking twitter and instagram. Ok. Full disclosure? I slow my roll, a bit, but don’t stop entirely. I share this with you so that my re-telling doesn’t become more dramatic than it really was.
My sister and her daughter load all the coolers we have into the back of their rental and venture out to track down ice. (The employees at the nearby liquor store laugh at idea of having any ice left but the further afield grocery store has plenty.) My brother is on dinner duty and decides that hot dogs (with a fixin’s bar) and summer veggies won’t be too hard on the propane grill and he grabs pillar candles safely ensconced in glass holders on his trip to grab ingredients.
We aim for an early dinner for the sake of having sunlight and because of Covid-19 we’ve already been eating all of our meals outside so that we can be together. After the meal, I hang the camping lamp from the ceiling light so my brother (who has requested be called “Sir Illin Pain” on this blog and henceforth it shall be so) can wash the dinner dishes. I dry. But really this is just an opportunity for me to tell him about how I think that the vision-impaired villain of the movie Get Out should not have been physically vision-impaired. It should have been metaphorical. Sir Illin Pain isn’t really buying what I’m trying to sell but I’m not too worried because I don’t think Jordan Peele is going to be calling for my help any time soon.
Outside on the front porch, my sister and her kids and husband and my sister-in-law (who has been asked to be called Ms32yo on the blog) and my mom and other younger brother have started an impromptu (is there any other kind?) sing-along/ performance (primarily by my nephew G who is the one who mostly puts in the time and effort into his voice and guitar). G sings one of my favorites by Bright Eyes.
This is the first day of my life. Swear I was born right in the doorway. I went out in the rain, suddenly everything changed. They’re spreading blankets on the beach.
Later, I am lying in one of two twin beds in the room I am sharing with Ms7yo. If I strain my ears, I can hear the ocean, which is, of course, the dream: to fall asleep to the real sound of the real ocean.
I can also hear voices. Is someone arguing or is that a chair being dragged across a floor somewhere? Laughter? Or crying? For a period of time, twenty years ago or so, I lived in a remote part of Thailand near the Burma border in a small house made of bamboo. Hearing our neighbors through our open windows reminds me of that and the quiet often made me feel like I was eavesdropping. I feel the familiar blush of shame at this thought. I’m not trying to hear, I think to myself. And I fall asleep thinking about privacy and auditory invasions.
“What should our plan be?” Eric asks me in the morning. He’s already been awake and checked in with some of the others. It was the heat and the neighbors’ noise, neither tempered by air conditioning units that most disrupted sleep. Much of the day is spent thinking about how to best to keep the houses cool and what to do about food. How much longer can we last without electricity? The kids drain the iPad battery. I don’t blame them.
I have the ingredients for key lime pie, including slowly warming whipping cream in the fridge. After a morning trip to the beach where, thankfully, a lack of electricity doesn’t effect us, I decide to attempt the pie on the propane grill, which has a thermometer on the lid. After pressing the graham cracker crust I pre-mixed at home into the pan, i place it into the preheated grill off of the direct heat. While I am moving fallen branches into piles in the backyard, I catch the unmistakeable smell of burning butter.
It’s not a total loss, I try to console myself. I’ll cut off the blackened edge and be more careful on the next one. Sir Illin Pain joins me out back.
“Are you baking a pie on the grill?” he asks me.
“Trying to,” I answer.
“When the shit goes down,” he says. “I’m taking you with me.”
“Wait. You mean like when it’s time to run into the woods?”
“Because you want to be able to eat pie?”
It’s one of the nicest things anyone has ever said to me.
“Is that the…?”
A cheer erupts from the other vacation houses and otherwise quiet streets in answer to my question. Yes. That is the sound of the air conditioner.
My sister walks into the backyard, “I was just walking back from the beach, thinking about how quiet it is without any electricity, when it all came back on,” she tells us in a tone equal parts relief and wonder.
I’ll finish the pies in the oven.
Later on, when Eric and I are reviewing the 30 hours without electricity in a pandemic in a vacation rental, we realize the degree to which SARS-Cov-2 had been occupying our every waking thought and moment for the past several months. And how, when issues of food and heat became more pressing, the pandemic fell to the periphery of our focus.
“You realize how people in other parts of the world have been experiencing the pandemic,” Eric notes. I agree.