On Weds, July 15, 2015 Downtown Long Beach was thrown into a calm chaos. Everything went black. At 4pm in the afternoon, exactly how bad this would get wasn’t quite clear. The sun is still out. Refrigerators are still cold. Food is still edible. For those lucky enough to have gas stoves, they could cook. Besides, it isn’t as if we never had a power outage before. But those lasted just a few hours. This, a few days.
It was quite a tease at first. I was in Los Angeles for the first night at an event (ESPYS anyone?) when I got a call saying there was no power. My natural first reaction was to check the SCE website to make sure my payment was processed. My next thought was maybe it’s something with the fuse box in which case – call maintenance. When night fell, it was clear that it wasn’t any of the above. The entire neighborhood fell into something of an impenetrable darkness. No street lamps, no flickers from windows, no traffic lights. Pitch. Black. When I got home the next morning I was happy to see several businesses open. Not my coffee shop. I frowned. After a night walking around Los Angeles trying to find lodging all I wanted was my bed. Just before 10AM I fell asleep. I woke up to the sound of my printer and checked my bedside clock – nothing. The power was off again and would remain off until about 9pm Friday night.
From Wednesday to Friday Downtown Long Beach resembled some abandoned town. At least that’s what I heard. See, in all of this I never left the apartment. Not from a lack of want but, a lack of ability. Without electricity there are no elevators. So I spent the next two nights and two days on an unofficial house arrest, unable to even leave my floor. I couldn’t leave to find food. I couldn’t leave to charge the most important battery I own – my electric wheelchair battery. But, I had people around me who cared and those people made sure I was taken care of. Even a social media acquaintance offered up her help when she learned that not even the security guards in my building came to check on me.
What did I learn from this experience? The obvious. Don’t take anything for granted. But it wasn’t the lack of food or water or hot showers. It was that I realized at that moment I was wholly dependent upon electricity just to leave my apartment. Don’t take elevators for granted. Seems superficial or trivial to you? Remember, many people had the option of traversing dark stairwells. I had the option of waiting.
SCE took a beating on social media these last few days and I was one of them. I’m a girl that works on principle. In the hours after the blackout began, the electric company set up what read like robot responses to all questions. No matter what you asked you would get one of three answers. Ask enough questions and be lucky enough to get all three! Residents were angry and rightfully so. Thousands of dollars of food was lost in the span of two days. Thousands of dollars of business was loss. And all SCE could do was say “file a claim and we will review it”. Review it. As in we may or may not compensate you. What made matters worse is that every update went out over social media. To people who didn’t have power…*blank stare*.
“Get feet on the ground!” Said one Facebook user and that facebook user seemed to rally them up because within hours SCE had “troops on the ground” making home visits with ice, water and flashlights. They came to see me and then twenty minutes later…
…let there be light.
So I write.
As a woman in a wheelchair it wasn’t not being able to sit in the A/C or watch TV. I read and study so who cares. I was trapped. I will never take my independence (limited as it may be) for granted again.