It was a dark and stormy night . . . and week

John Kelly
Columnist July 1, 2012

I blame Benjamin Franklin. As he’s the one who discovered electricity, he’s the one we should curse when the electricity goes bye-bye.

And the electricity certainly goes bye-bye a lot around here. Friday night’s storm was just the latest time we’ve been forced to make desperate, triage-like decisions about the contents of our refrigerators, to reacquaint ourselves with the complexities of the four-way stop, to reenact our own “Little House on the Prairie” moments, complete with reading by candlelight.

John Kelly writes "John Kelly's Washington," a daily look at Washington's less-famous side. Born in Washington, John started at The Post in 1989 as deputy editor in the Weekend section. View Archive

There’s nothing quite like a Washington summer. You’d think we’d be used to it by now.

We’ve had an Italian teenager staying with us the past two weeks, the 17-year-old son of a friend of My Lovely Wife’s. As we sat in the dark late Friday, I asked Federico whether this ever happened in Italy.

“Only when we do it to ourselves,” he said. Ah, I thought, he means that Italy, saddled by debt, gripped by corruption, beset by a revolving-door coterie of ineffective coalition governments, has suffered self-inflicted wounds to its utility infrastructure.

Then Federico said, “When we turn on the microwave and the toaster and the coffeemaker at the same time, the lights go out.”

Oh. He meant in his family’s apartment. Federico said he couldn’t remember power ever going out for days over large swaths of Rome.

It’s the trees, I explained. It’s the price we pay for living in one of the country’s most beautiful and leafy cities. But a week? To restore power? I’m hoping Pepco and the other power companies are saying a week so that we’ll keep our expectations in check. If they say it will take two days and it takes four, they’ll have a lot of PO’d customers on their hands. If they say a week and it takes four days, we’ll be weepy-eyed with gratitude.

So now we grin and bear it. In our Silver Spring neighborhood, a few houses have generators, or as I like to call them, the spawn of the devil.

When the sun goes down, those lucky houses really stand out. The lights twinkle inside. I imagine the residents are in there wearing pashminas against the air-conditioned cold, sipping daiquiris and playing with Xboxes, Van de Graaff generators or other electricity-sucking toys.

Meanwhile, I’m drinking my doomed ice cream through a straw and walking around my dark, sweltering house in my underwear.

The worst part is the noise. Those gas-powered generators grind on loudly with a constant annoying hum. Just like I always end up wondering why Pepco can’t bury the power lines, I wonder why no one has invented a quiet generator. Can it be that difficult?

I think the problem is that our inventors spend too much time inventing other stuff. My new Kia Soul has little translucent plastic rings around the speaker grilles that flash different colors in time to the music. I would gladly do without my flashing speaker grilles in exchange for a generator that didn’t induce ICU psychosis. (ICU psychosis: a known disorder in which patients in intensive care units are driven mad by the constant beeping and whirring of the equipment around them.)

Of course, the people with the generators can’t hear them because they’re inside with the windows closed tight, lest their precious conditioned air seep out. The rest of us have our windows wide open, allowing the glorious mechanical symphony in.

On Saturday morning, we took Federico to his flight at Dulles. The line for him to check in was huge. The power had only recently been restored, and there was a lot of catching up to do. I ran into a colleague of mine from The Post who was on his way to Baghdad for a story.

We’ll have something in common, I thought: Both of us will be in sweltering third-world cities prone to frequent power outages.

Send a Kid to Camp

I’m waiting to hear back on how Camp Moss Hollow fared in the storm. Fortunately, campers would have been home already by Friday night. I’ll keep you updated. In the meantime, I hope you will give generously to this camp for at-risk kids from the Washington area.

To donate, go to washingtonpost.com/camp. Click where it says “Give Now,” and designate “Send a Kid to Camp” in the gift information. Or mail a check payable to “Send a Kid to Camp” to Send a Kid to Camp, P.O. Box 96237, Washington, D.C. 20090-6237.

To read previous columns, go to washingtonpost.com/johnkelly.

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