Salad Spinner Speakers, Geodesic Kits, Candle-Lit Nights: How I Learned to Love the Blackout

Besides earthquakes, most people don't equate Los Angeles with nature-induced drama (people-induced drama, we've got plenty). But on Wednesday night, seasonal winds known as the Santa Anas swept through much of LA, leaving more than a quarter of a million residents without power for two days, our apartment included. As one might expect, my professional life revolves around being "plugged in," but ironically enough, other than feeling a little guilt about not being able to get some work done, the power outage revealed a few wonderful things about disconnecting...even when not by choice.

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With winds nearing 100mph and blowing throughout the night (up to 156mph in the mountains surrounding Los Angeles!), I knew there was a very good chance power and Internet were going to fail any moment. And they did, including even cell service, as towers went black alongside other power services. But before the lights went out, I made sure to take the following steps:

  • Got out candles and matches
  • Pulled out all our LED flashlights (a hiker's headlamp came in super handy) and emergency light sources and positioned them around the apartment (most notably, in the bathroom)
  • Made sure to charge up my cell phone, laptop, and also my iPad (I wanted something to read if the lights went out later, and I didn't want to miss out on reading a few more pages from the A Song of Ice and Fire series)
  • I also switched the mobile devices to low display settings, turned off wi-fi and any extraneous energy-sucking settings
  • Updated my social network feeds (and work channel) so friends and family knew in advance about the possible impending tech blackout
  • Prepared the refrigerator by moving freezer items of a non-perishable variety to the main cabinet to keep everything cold when power went out; Emily also knew to cover the fridge in a thick blanket when the power did finally go out, while also covering nearby windows
  • Unplugged everything, even devices plugged into surge protectors; storms can cause massive spikes, especially when transformers explode in severe weather; also moved the HDTV away from a nearby window, fearing it might blow open due to the gale force winds
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Check out my DIY speaker system, put together with a salad spinner bowl, iPod nano and headphones.

When the power and Internet did finally go out, in what locals dubbed Wind-ageddon 2011 (Angelenos love naming their disasters), what started off as an inconvenience turned into a fun reminder that being at home without TV or the Internet can turn out to be a vacation of sorts. I made coffee the old-fashioned way, hand grinding and pressing my cup sans any machine help. Placing my iPod nano and attached headphones into a plastic salad spinner, I was able to create a makeshift amplified radio so we could tune into NPR and listen to news updates and also enjoy some music. Emily busted out a geodesic sphere kit and worked well into the night wearing an LED hiker's headlamp to illuminate the intricate task of putting together the geometric model.

And perhaps most enjoyable was being to spend several quiet hours reading by candlelight, an activity I think we should do more often, whether there's power available or not. Amusingly, we both ended up falling asleep at the AARP hour of 8:30pm, such was the quiet and relaxed state of the evening.

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Emily didn't let a power outage stop her from enjoying the evening, donning an LED headlamp to work well into the night.

The power came back on late this evening, a little past midnight – the reason I find myself working at 3:30am right now. Yet, despite the initial joy of knowing I could again turn on a light and return online, I find myself a little disappointed about the return to normality. Those hours of being unplugged were refreshing: taking a leisurely paced breakfast together, reading by the warmth of candlelight, moments playing with our cats or enjoying quiet pursuits like model-making or reading, and most notably, the slowdown in time, where time's passing slowed to a pace normally equated with vacation.

In essence, the blackout forced a staycation where we didn't have the option to cheat and "just check email for a minute" or zone out to TV. We were afforded an opportunity to reconnect with the rhythms of night and day, and even enjoy a less light-polluted night sky (in LA, a precious rarity). No, there wasn't really a choice, but I find myself thankful for these last two days living without power...and won't mind if it happens again.