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Anatomy of a Blackout

By Kathy Y. Wilson · July 3rd, 2012 · Kathy Y. Wilson
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Usually, we lose power along the T-shaped intersection where I live in Walnut Hills when somebody spits on the sidewalk or a moderate wind blows through. So when the lights flickered the first time in TJ Maxx, I knew what was up.

"Ooh, one more of those and the power’s gonna go out,” I said, broke, bored and fatigued watching my girl shop. She and the other women were oblivious. Nobody looked up on the second or third flickers. 

When the power hummed to a dead stop, they didn’t stop shopping. 

 “Welp,” I said. “That’s the end of that.”

I looked out the large tinted windows trying to gauge the weather. 

I couldn’t tell if darkness was due to the windows’ tint or to God. I stayed inside long enough to see if anyone was going to notice the weather, the rise in humidity inside the store. Was anybody going to leave?

If this was a life-threatening tornado or electrical storm, I, for one, did not want to die inside a TJ Maxx.

Finally, an announcement was made. The electricity was out and store would be happy to hold items until Monday.


I got the keys to the truck and walked outside.

Folks were blocking the door, gawking at the weather. They seemed afraid to walk out into what looked like a torrential rain. The wind pushed blankets of dirt from a nearby construction site above the parking lot, trash screamed. I squinted as I walked to the truck. Beads of dirt made sharp by velocity pelted me.

The storm blew in relief. 

Temperatures dropped at least 25 degrees. I let down both front seat windows to catch a righteous cross breeze. I fell asleep, rocked into oblivion by the pitch and sway of the truck-cum-cradle. 

I love to sleep.

I sleep like it’s my job. 

I probably will gladly sleep through the end of the world.

My girl got in after I do not know how long and we made it to my place.

I knew my electricity would be out and I secretly wanted it out before I got home. 

I hate a tease.

Though my night-light was on in my hallway, most electricity would be out because it’s anybody’s guess how the circuits run in my apartment; I have partial power during most blackouts. 

I’m a blackout aberration.

In addition to that hallway outlet, I had power in one outlet left of the stove; in an outlet near the bathroom and in one outlet in what, ironically, I call the writing lounge. (The writing:lounging ratio favors ... yes, right, lounging.) 

Oh yes. And my two ceiling fans always work. This is an important distinction and blessing among nearby neighbors who can’t feel a breeze unless the wind blows.

I was right. Ceiling fans were whirring and the expected outlets were working. I called Duke twice to report my loss of electricity and the phone just rang, disconnecting me with busy tones. Hours later I did finally reach a real person, a young woman uncharacteristically friendly and empathetic for a Duke staffer.

My already-a-hooptie refrigerator was out, threatening to spoil the meager groceries I’d sacrificed my car insurance to buy. Any blackout veteran knows to keep refrigerator and freezer doors shut.

I did two stupid things during this blackout: Saturday, I opened the freezer and the fridge to poke on the frozen foods and smell the refrigerated ones. 

And in my obsessive/compulsive state I was certain I’d let an inordinate amount of frigid air escape. 

Secondly, I didn’t Johnny-rig two power strips together to plug the refrigerator into the one working outlet until after I overheard my girl talking to her friend on the phone. He asked if we’d tried using extension cords.

D’uh and damn.

And that was Sunday, about 12 hours before full power was restored.

No matter. I still realized I was blessed. We still had running water, no trees had fallen and demolished our cars or our roof and lightning hadn’t struck us. I was comfortable. As of Sunday afternoon, I had limited ambient lighting and cold food, ice. 

I also had the bright idea to move the TV from my bedroom to the writing lounge. I caught up on the news. The entire state was slammed. People in Washington, D.C. were trapped on their own streets by downed trees. Maryland’s governor was in a war of words with the state’s power company. People in Colorado were under siege — evacuated and left homeless by wildfires.

I was relieved, even a little smug. We ordered pizza and settled in to watch bad Saturday night TV. By 1 a.m. I was alone on the sofa, wide awake from a marathon afternoon nap. (Told you I love to sleep.)

About 20 minutes into The Closer, the electricity I had died. It sounded like a needle dragging across a record. I groaned, sticking my head out the window to see if two lone streetlights were still on. They weren’t.

I spent the next two hours trying to get comfortable, first on the bed then on the living room sofa. The fabric made me feel hirsute. My head spun in a panic: food, a dead cell phone. The. Heat. Fire truck sirens wailed in emergency tag teams and black people unable to stand another moment in the still heat of their homes walked the street below talking loudly to whomever would listen.

Hours earlier I’d switched on a bedside lamp to alert me to restored electricity. Shortly after 3 a.m. I went back into the bedroom. 

We’d just started talking when the light came on, startling us both.

I got up to check a lamp in the living room. The ceiling fan started turning like magic. My refrigerator, still hooked to power strips, hummed its tired song.

I turned on the air conditioner in the bedroom. 

We went back to sleep like it was a dream. 

CONTACT KATHY Y. WILSON: letters@citybeat.com



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