(Bloomberg) -- The first thing you notice is clearly the darkness.
I was showering late Wednesday, shampoo in my eyes and American Horror Story playing on my phone so loud that my husband couldn’t hear my shouts for a light. I had just become one of the millions of people to have lost power in the biggest orchestrated blackout in California history, and here I was excited about the ocean breeze-scented candle I had bought a day earlier -- because flashlights were sold out, and it was that or orange ginger.
Other thoughts that ran through my mind: “It’s a good thing I didn’t start a load of laundry,” and, “I’m going to miss the dishwasher.” Curious, the trivial, first-world problems you think of when you’re facing an unprecedented shutoff amid the threat of deadly wildfires and the prospect of going powerless for as long as a week.
Our home in the Oakland hills was originally among the 250,000 properties in San Francisco’s bedroom communities that were supposed to lose power at noon local time on Wednesday -- joining the half a million that had gone dark just after midnight. Then the winds blew in our favor and bankrupt utility PG&E Corp. changed its mind, delaying our cutoff to 8 p.m. I texted a friend at 10:30 p.m. to say our lights were still on, thinking maybe we were in the clear -- and then it hit. After stumbling out of the shower, reality set in.
The second thing you notice is the Internet. I’m in charge of Bloomberg’s coverage of the outages, and had told my team that once the power went out I’d conserve juice on my laptop and work by phone. No dice. I should’ve known. We live in the Bay Area, the home of tech giants including Twitter, Facebook and -- dare I say it? -- Bloomberg. Of course powerless people would rush to their phones, overwhelming LTE networks and crippling mobile data access to us all.
That was painful.
It was like one of those dreams in which something crazy is happening, and you can’t move or talk. There’s some irony in the team leader of power at Bloomberg News losing power.
On Thursday morning, I managed to squeeze a few good emails out of Verizon’s hobbled LTE network from home before signing off to tend to our 1-year-old daughter and make the trek into San Francisco. I walked into the nursery to find Sophie’s hands and feet were freezing. So much for our natural gas-fueled heating system. A frantic Google search tells me that, while these systems indeed depend on gas, they’re designed to automatically shut off during power outages. Fortunately, Sophie gets to spend the day at her nanny’s fully powered home.
I usually treat myself to a doughnut on the way to the bus on rough days like this. As I walked through Montclair Village in Oakland, though, I realized the chances of a glazed twist were slim. The quaint district was desolate -- pharmacies, banks, a coffee shop and several office buildings were all dark. A Lucky supermarket was among the few with lights on, with a trailer-sized, backup generator in its parking lot.
At a clearly powerless sushi restaurant, a man was unloading a box of fresh tuna to deliver. “What are they going to do with that?” I asked him. “They don’t even have power.” He shrugged, “They ordered it.”
Happily, my doughnut shop was open -- but with just doughnuts, no coffee. With the credit card machines down, I handed the cashier a $5 bill. It’s a cash economy in the Bay Area now.
At the nearby bus stop, a woman held hands with her elementary school-aged son. His school was among the dozens shut because of the blackouts. “What are you going to do?” I asked. “What can I do?” she said. “I’m bringing him to work.” Her son then turned to me and said he gets to play video games all day. Lucky kid.
The drive into San Francisco was like re-entering the real world. Working traffic lights. Heating and cooling. Open and bustling coffee shops. Lucky them, too.
Nobody can tell us when the power will be back. Some areas are warning of an outage lasting seven days. We’re trying to decide what to do with a freezer full of my breast milk for Sophie. I’m sure every nursing mother can feel me when I say my husband will have to pry this milk stash from my cold dead hands before I part ways with it.
We’re planning for a weekend without electricity at this point -- which means no work office outlets to recharge our phones and batteries. To top it off, my parents were scheduled to fly in from San Diego this weekend to visit. They both use sleep apnea machines that are dependent on power. We may cancel their flights -- or compete with the rest of the powerless for a hotel room.
How do you end a story that’s only just begun? With a link to updates on PG&E’s website, I guess. Fingers crossed that it doesn’t keep crashing.
To contact the reporter on this story: Lynn Doan in San Francisco at firstname.lastname@example.org
To contact the editors responsible for this story: Lynn Doan at email@example.com, Kara Wetzel
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