A few months ago, I was reminded of an iconic television series from the 1960’s called “Star Trek.” Due to a devastating winter storm, the northeastern United States suffered massive power outages. Millions of homes and businesses were left without electricity for up to a week. I was lucky enough to live in an area where we regained power fairly quickly, and my family suffered only two long days of impenetrable darkness, biting cold, sleepless nights, and extreme family togetherness.
You may be asking yourself, how could a lack of electrical power, remind anyone of an old-time, classic TV show, involving a crew of interstellar space travelers in the distant future? Well, let me tell you. The series story-line revolved around the adventures of the Starship, U.S.S Enterprise, led by Captain James T. Kirk. Their mission, set in the 23rd century, was to head out into the unknown regions of space, and boldly go where no man had gone before.
On the show, it seemed that even in a technologically advanced future in which war, hunger and poverty had been virtually eliminated, and earth had found lasting peace, reliable power was still at a premium. It was made quite obvious, that if humanity does eventually move out into the vast expanse of stars, black holes, quasars, and endless galaxies, we should make sure to stock up on generators, bottled water, cans of spam, flashlights, and plenty of batteries.
I remember as a kid watching re-runs of the old Star Trek’s, and inevitably on almost every episode, the Enterprise would end up floating motionless and powerless in space. Captain Kirk would be on a nearby planet, engaged in some vital diplomatic mission, fighting a strange and powerful alien species, or saving a primitive race from certain destruction. He would always end up, frantically calling his Scottish first engineer, Montgomery “Scottie” Scott. I remember the conversation always going something like this,
“Beam me up Scottie!”
“I’m sorry captain, but we’ve got no power. The dilithium crystals have fused and the transporters are down.”
“For the love of God Scottie, we’re freezing down here, and Spock is driving me and Doctor McCoy crazy with his extreme logic.”
“I’m doon the best I ken captain. We’re on emergency life support as it is. It’s gonna take a while to repair the damage, and restore power.”
If you’ve ever experienced a power outage, you may have noticed a few things. You’ll always lose power right before bedtime, while sitting on the toilet, seconds after getting out of the shower, minutes before the big football game, or just after you’ve jammed an entire side of expensive beef into your freezer and loaded the refrigerator with four gallons of fresh milk. Power also goes off, either during an extreme heat wave, or when the temperature is so cold, penguins are knocking at your front door looking for shelter, and possibly a nice hot cup of cappuccino?
You may have also noticed that power never immediately goes out. No, it likes to tease you. It’ll flicker on and off a few times just to give you a faint glimmer of hope before shutting down entirely, and leaving you in total darkness. Once the power fails, the room becomes as quiet as the grave as you sit amidst impenetrable gloom. Not only is every single modern device and appliance eerily silent, but everyone’s holding their breaths, afraid to exhale. Sitting silently for what seems like hours, but is only a few minutes, each person is mouthing their own personal prayer; hoping the power outage is only temporary, and life will soon return to normal, amid blazing and comforting light.
Have any of you ever determined the exact moment when all hope is lost, and you realize the power outage has reached the point of no return? Is it the point where your eyes start adjusting to the darkness, and you begin seeing a faint, white, icy mist leave your mouth as temperatures plummet, or is it when the temperatures rising, and beads of sweat are forming on your forehead. It might even be, when the silence is broken by a tentative voice reaching out from the darkness saying,
“I think I need to go to the bathroom.”
The next thing you usually do, is open your cell phone, not only to produce some much-needed light, but to call the power company. By some miracle, when I called after the recent power outage, I didn’t get a lifeless, robotic, uncaring, recorded device. I got a real person! She also turned out to be a nice young woman who even under a barrage of calls from aggravated customers, managed to remain calm, and somehow keep her sense of humor. So glad to talk to a friendly, comforting, and understanding human voice in a sea of darkness, I cleared my throat and managed to utter in a raspy voice,
“We’ve got no power! We lost it about fifteen minutes ago.”
Within seconds, and I’m sure with a slight grin on her face she replied,
“I’m sorry sir that you lost it. Please keep looking. If we find it here at the electric company, we’ll be sure to return it to you.”
It took all of my formidable willpower, as I smiled to myself, not to say,
“Beam me up Scottie. For the love of God – beam me up!”
Maybe if the human race does move out into the far reaches of space on fantastic intergalactic journeys, we should make sure the crews of our spaceships are all children. You may have noticed this, but children love power outages. I think as you get older and older, power outages become harder to handle. To a kid, days of unrelenting darkness and cold, mean a wondrous adventure of blazing fireplaces, roasting hot dogs and marshmallows on sharpened sticks, never-ending games of hide and seek, scary ghost stories, and huddling inside sleeping bags for warmth.
To most adults, an unexpected disruption of electrical power during a cold spell, usually involves a frantic and futile search for flashlights and batteries, and an hour spent fueling and trying to start an ancient generator. It then entails dressing in multiple layers of clothing, hauling wet wood to a fireplace that hasn’t been cleaned in years, and driving to Walmart to fight desperate hordes of battery seeking men and women. Within two hours of losing electricity, I’m usually incredibly cold and exhausted, but my wife is lighting candles, opening wine bottles and starting to get frisky. I don’t know about you, but I find it hard to be romantic when I’m wearing four sweaters, eight pairs of socks, a ski hat and gloves, desperately need a shave and shower, and the generator sounds like it’s ready to explode into a giant, fiery ball of flame.
There is one other group besides children that seem to handle power outages pretty well. I found out during the recent blackout that newlyweds appear to have an innate ability to not only survive, but also thrive under the most brutal conditions. During the recent loss of power, my wife became concerned about the Murphy’s, our next-door neighbors. Jessica and Keith are a young couple, had just returned from their honeymoon in Hawaii, and seemed ill-equipped to handle nights of complete darkness, unbearable cold, limited supplies of food and water, and the absence of the most basic necessities.
On the second night without power, I bundled up in layers of clothing, put on boots and gloves, and went to check on the Murphy’s. The hundred or so feet to their front door turned out to be a formidable trek through a wintry wasteland of blinding snow, frigid temperatures, and gusty howling winds. Approaching the dark front porch, the only sounds besides icy pellets striking frosty windows, were what sounded like the baleful howls of wolves in the distance. A single flickering candle in a front room, was the only light visible, as my knuckles rapped on the Murphy’s front door.
After a few minutes, I put my ear against the door, and heard the faint, barely audible, but deep and resonant voice of the great Barry White. Suddenly, the front door opened to the words, “Can’t get enough of your love baby,” coming from somewhere at the back of the house. I was greeted by a smiling, but obviously impatient, and slightly annoyed Keith Murphy. Wearing a robe reminiscent of Hugh Hefner at the playboy mansion, and clutching a glass of dark red wine in his hand, he assured me that he and his wife were both fine. As the door quickly shut, I caught a fleeting glimpse of him, as he raced down a nearby hallway.
Returning to my own cold and dark abode, and met by the sound of Marvin Gaye’s, “Let’s get it on,” I sighed, and thought to myself. If mankind, in his need to expand outward from our humble planet into the vastness of space, does decide to boldly go where no man has gone before; maybe we should send nothing but recently married couples. I can imagine a call from a planet below, sounding something like this,
“Hey Scottie; how are things up there.”
“Captain, we’ve got no power. The dilithium crystals have fused and the transporters are down.”
“Well, that’s okay. Me and the missus still have some exploring to do down here. Even Spock and his mate seem to be pretty logical at the moment. Take your time with the repairs, Scottie.”
“Thank you, captain. As a matter of fact, me wife has a wee bit of scotch whiskey, and she wants to cuddle by the reactor core.”