Tuesday, January 14, 2014

WHERE’S THE CRANK? by Marion Ekholm


 
            When I attended college, a very long time ago, I worked as a teller in a bank during my summer vacations. I hadn’t been there long when the head teller came over and asked, “Marion, what will happen if the electricity goes out?” I looked around at all the electronic equipment we used for transactions and said, “We’ll have to close the bank.” To me that had to be the most logical solution.

            “No,” he said, opening one of the drawers in my cubical. “We take this crank, attach it here, and do all the transactions manually.”

            Where’s our crank? How will we run our PC’s, Smartphone, and all the other electronic equipment we can no longer live without? There is no crank. But we have our electricity that recharges or runs them all, so we’re fine. Except....when the lights go out.

            Have you ever been in a power failure? I’m not talking about one that lasts a few hours and maybe disrupts the TV program you wanted to watch. We’re all familiar with the glitches these can cause, and we know they’ll be repaired eventually. The news on the TV, once it’s back on, tells us who still has no power, and we feel sorry for those 6,000 people in a neighboring state who have to do without heat or their air-conditioning. But they’ll be okay, eventually.

I’m talking about an electrical failure that terrifies you. I was in New York City when the ‘Northeast Blackout’ hit on November 9, 1965. Most of the east coast from Canada down to Washington, D.C. lost electricity. I was a lace designer, working on the first floor on the corner of 30th and Madison Avenue. The lights had gone out in our building right around when we finished work. I walked out onto the street and a panic gripped me, along with everyone else on the street.

Strangers were asking strangers for explanations. What was going on? Everything was black except for a few windows of light in buildings with their own generators. Not only were the majority of streetlights, traffic lights and building lights out, but also the light on the top of the Empire State Building, something normally visible from that corner. That in itself was scary. How would planes flying over the city know where the tallest building existed? The only light we had to go by in the dark evening was a magnificent full moon.

            I expected to hear bombs blasting around us as the Russians (it was the height of the Cold War) came over to destroy us. Fortunately, people on the street with portable radios (not the tiny kind we have now) shared the news, and we gathered around them to learn we weren’t being invaded after all. Some stupid malfunction created by human error had made the mess.

            And what a mess. People were stranded in elevators for hours. My girlfriend had to get off a stopped subway and walk the tracks to safety. I ended up sharing a taxi with several people, with stop and go traffic at nonworking traffic lights. Finally, I made it to my husband’s relatives who lived on 85th Street. It took hours before we could get back home to the Bronx.

The big scare is: ‘What if the lights go out, and they never come on again?” What will we do when we can no longer hear our ITunes or use Facebook. What if our technology dies? And it could happen. Predictions are that the next evil destroyer of our freedoms will come from some technology expert who will make everything we own unusable. 
            We don’t prepare well for the unexpected. What will we do when the next ‘Big One’ hits, and we have no crank?

22 comments:

  1. Marion, don't jinx me when I need all my electronics today!

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    1. Just had my garbage disposal fixed. The guy had a crank. You should be safe.

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  2. Marion, a thought-provoking post for sure. Not long ago I suffered through one of those short-term, 6 hour blackouts in an evening. I finally found a flashlight, only to see the batteries were dead. A second was likewise. I knew I had batteries, but couldn't remember where I put them when I moved. But I have candles. I love candles. I lit 4 in the living room and 4 in the kitchen. I talked to my sis who lives about a mile away. She said to come over as she had electricity and by then my house was getting cold. It was one of our nights of freezing temps. I couldn't go over, because my garage door opener runs on electricity. I'm sure there's a way to work it manually, but I don't know how. Anyway, I have bought an led lantern, and the other day I noticed a couple of my catalogues are again selling the old style typewriters. An Underwood that doesn't take electricity. It made me think maybe I should get one. Now you've made me think that again.

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    1. I have candles and flash lights, too. That only provides light. But I'm never going back to an old style typewriter!

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  3. I didn't experience the 1965 outage but went through many rolling black/brown outs in the metropolitan area growing up. It is such an uneasy time and now that we depend more on technology than ever, it becomes even more frightening. My sweetie- Lizzie- is a diabetic dog and her insulin needs to be kept chilled for it to work. I'm always worried that if the power went out, she might not get her meds... In the winter, now that I live upstate, we have ice storms that knock down tree limbs which in turn take out our power. This puts our water pipes in jeopardy and if they freeze, we can end up with burst pipes and flooding which insurance doesn't cover... Someday I want to get a gas-powered generator as my house is powered by gas, but it needs electricity to get here... the generator would bypass that and allow us to go on in those circumstances, but they cost thousands to buy and install. Maybe one of these days... Thanks for this interesting post!

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    1. Move to Arizona. We don't have half of those problems.

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  4. I teach third grade and we recently wiped out our projector. We were paralyzed! I couldn't imagine how we did it back in the day when we had chalkboards and ditto machines!

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    1. I don't want to give up any of the improvements we have. Every time we lose anything, even only temporarily, it's so hard to function.

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  5. We had a power outage that lasted several days two summers ago. We moved all our frozen food to my parents' house a few towns away and charged our phones in our cars! It was very difficult. The kids and I ended up staying at my parents' because it was too hard at night without any lights. We are very dependent on our electronics and everything seems to be digital now. I often think that's a terrible idea. Without books and papers and physical things, we leave nothing behind (which I get is part of the environmental idea) but I am thinking about the historical significance. I have a box of love letters from my husband when we wrote during college. Back then, email was too new. I don't think my kids will ever have that. They have text messages and they Facetime their friends. There is no physical evidence of their relationship. It's kind of sad!

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    1. Yes, Amy! No paper trail to who we are. To this day, I have the journals I wrote as a kid. It's not just about the words, it's also the handwriting, the stickers the tactile sensations that unlock memories...

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    2. I have saved love letters and my journals as well. Only about four of my friends still write regular letters; all the rest do emails. Children no longer need to learn cursive writing. I'm not too happy with all the changes.

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  6. I've dealt with power outages that lasted days to a week. Jan of last year, a 2 ft flood in our basement wiped out our heat, septic, water, power, phone...you name it and it was gone. We got lights back to one area of the house after a few days, but the rest took longer.

    And now to freak you all out...have you read 'One Second After' by William Forstchen? It's about what happens after an EMP (electromagnetic pulse weapon) goes off. It's based on a fictional character and his attempt to keep his family (and community) alive, but it uses facts based on every little detail in our lives that would be affected. Details (some gruesome) that might come to you as a surprise. It'll make you aware for sure. But if you suffer from any paranoia...don't read it LOL!

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    1. I won't be reading it. I can scare myself with my own imagination.

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    2. Rula, Years ago they had a book called: The Late Great Planet Earth. It was about what would happen if a major earthquake wiped California off the map. So many of our financial things that seem to be in Wall Street are actually electronically housed in CA. And many more things like major insurance companies, and so much of the country's produce. It was very thought provoking.

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    3. Definitely thought provoking, Roz...and definitely scary, Marion. I'm like you with my imagination. I had no idea what I was getting into when I started reading it. That was over a year ago and I still haven't forgotten the details. But, I figure I'm armed with a few good EMP survival tips lol.

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  7. In 2007, two cyclones (or hurricanes, depending on which coast you inhabit) converged on us and we lost power for an entire week. We have a small stove that we set up on the porch to cook with. I had just gotten Portuguese sausage from my family for Christmas and we made omelets. The whole neighborhood came over to see what smelled so good, so we served breakfast. One neighbor with a fireplace invited everyone who didn't have heat. We all brought food, blankets, and someone who had a gas stove and gas heat brought coffee and stayed, just for the company. Apart from the general inconvenience, we all remember that week as a wonderful time. I'm sure living that way all the time would take its toll, and my entire experience of that was in a small frame rather than the big picture - but it made us all connect IN PERSON, and that was great. I understand all the other concerns, though. I don't know what would happen, just that our neighborhood would survive.

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    1. Muriel, I want to move to your neighborhood ;).

      You reminded me that the one plus was that we have a gas stove top...so I was able to get jugged water, boil it and fill hot water bottles to warm the kids at night. The kids loved it. Board games and such instead of TV...I think they want to unplug but don't know how. Just like they need guidance and structure even if they hate rules.

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    2. Everyone has shared such a variety of experiences. Thank you and I'm glad to hear they weren't all terrible. When people get together to help each other, it creates wonderful memories.

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  8. A lot of food for thought, Marion.

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  9. At the post office, we still sold everything (carefully--we couldn't get the cash drawers open), and could still sort mail because we kept all kinds of flashlights on hand. Invariably a customer would want something that had to be scanned RIGHT THAT MINUTE and it would be our fault we coudn't comply, but mostly it was fun. However, it usually only lasted about an hour, which makes a difference!

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  10. We all seem to manage for short periods of the electricity going out. People are amazing.

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