Where’s a D Battery when
you need one?
“That’s the night the lights went out in . . . Monterey County,”
courses through my brain. Forget Georgia. With global warming we
now get storms of epic proportions right here in little ol’
I write this beside a portable fluorescent light that may
extinguish itself at any minute, because the D batteries it’s
running on were purchased the day after the Big One (’89 quake)
struck here and every citizen, dog and cat stood in long lines
We Monterey Peninsulans swore to keep our earthquake
preparedness backpacks and rucksacks up to date, didn’t we? And
now our cans of tuna and aging batteries have exploded. The
elastic in the Ace bandages we’ve kept have dematerialized. Fido
and Tinkerbell would sooner die than eat the dated little cans
we sequestered away for them. Even the water we saved isn’t good
to drink. And what happened to the little transistor radios we
Dust in the wind. And it’s only natural. The brain simply must
go into denial because if we Californians actually contemplated
the jittery tectonic plates beneath our feet on a daily basis .
. . Well, we’d be living in Gillette, Wyoming dealing with the
relentless wind but feeling secure.
But back to our recent nationwide headline-making storms: to my
utter amazement, I did ferret out my transistor (are you old
enough to remember that instead of cell phones, these were glued
to our heads or plugged in with a plastic ear bud and no parent,
teacher or priest could detach us from them?) And an even bigger
wow – it worked!
So I tune into a radio station to hear of how widespread the
damage is from the storm that has had the audacity to take out
my lights. Its kinky announcer shames a caller off the phone who
insists that at the last moment, Bush is going to create a
national emergency to stay in office. Hm-m-m . . . But the
station is making an attempt to keep people in the dark in the
light about the storm.
At any rate, the lights went out 12 hours ago at which point a
DJ said, “You light a fire and get out a candle and it’s cozy
for awhile. Maybe three hours – tops. Then the crankiness sets
in. I could relate and add these: “@@##!!! Oh, no, I can’t
microwave this dadburn popcorn. And I was going to vacuum the
house. And my walkable phones won’t work and my cell phone is
out of juice.”
Ha! Here’s where I had them all beat. I have retained a corded
phone beside my bed. And I can hear my next door neighbor clear
as a Bell (remember Bell telephone?) as we talk about how scared
we are. We live beneath dozens of 100-foot pines that are
whipping around like tilt-a-whirls at the carnie.
The wind, gusting up to 80 MPH, has made projectiles of branches
that zip horizontally past my window.
“Lemme outa here,” my cats are mewling.
At one point I’d swear I saw Rocky the flying squirrel sail past
(you remember Rocky and his Friends? Well, his creator Alex
Anderson is in my book StarWords, but that’s irrelevant).
Now panic is setting in. Dusk is fast approaching and I’m
frantically searching for matches and candles.
“Get a Clue,” I tell myself, suddenly remembering Col. Mustard
in the dining room with the candlestick. And – voila! – I find
what I need.
As the evening progresses with the distressing surmise that the
power may not come on at all this day and I will have no TV to
watch, I get creative. My laptop has 1.5 hours of battery left
on it. And the minute I pop in “A Shot in the Dark” I begin to
chill out. Bummer, though, when, two-thirds of the way through
the movie the batteries quit.
After a night with no heating blankie (I am now indignant and am
going to give PG&E a real dressing down the next day) I fall
into a tormented sleep as branches as big as Lincoln
Continentals continue to thud down into my roof.
The next morning I am incredulous. The power is still out. Never
in my 33 years of living in Pacific Grove has it been down more
than a couple hours.
I get humble, however, when I read of the two-county-wide
devastation. And when my electricity is restored after 24 hours,
I am restored to sanity.
Thus, I set out for my walk along the ocean in Pebble Beach.
Oh, my God! I am stunned by the havoc wreaked on the golf course
and roads there. All the turnouts on the 17-Mile-Drive have
disappeared. The asphalt is buried beneath several inches of
sand and dirt, kelp and boulders strewn so far you couldn’t
drive on a turnout even if you could identify one.
And then the magic: glinting in a momentary ray of sun, abalone
shells, a-swirl with opalescent colors, blanket what’s left of
the seaside trail. Of course none of them are whole, having been
dashed upon the rocks. But I remember 20 years ago when the
beaches were so littered with perfect specimens that locals and
tourists collected them by the armfuls for ashtrays and fences.
I stand at the Restless Sea turnout and watch 50-foot waves
swallow lesser waves beneath them while churning out rainbow
People braving this weather are talking excitedly and huddling
together to watch the majesty of something so much larger and
more powerful than humans that they are momentarily relieved of
the burden of carrying the world on their shoulders.
I understand now why people climb Mount Everest. It’s not to
feel like “king of the world.” No, it’s to feel small and
powerless in the face of something they cannot control. It’s to
feel right-sized in the face of nature.
Perhaps I even understand, a little bit (though I’m not
conceding much because my first and last trip to New York led to
being robbed on a Muni bus) why people brag that they “survive”
New York (you know the ditty: if I can make it there . . .) It’s
because they can feel their insignificance in the face of
seething humanity. And in that, they huddle closer for
protection from the havoc they wreak by their density of
Well, I’ve gotten a bit too esoteric here so I’ll end by
revealing that what I suffered in the power outage was so
insignificant as to be embarrassing. It turned out that
thousands of people were out of power for up to eight days and
trees took an innumerable toll on residents.
P.S. (post storm) I’m out biking my trusty rusty around Pacific
Grove and spy a house clearly being re-roofed.
In the driveway sit two cars, parked neatly beside each other,
with their roofs smashed identically down to the seat levels. So
I wheel up to a neighbor standing in his front yard.
“Say, did a tree come down on that house?” I query.
“Geez, don’t you read the paper?” the man says.
“Oh, (doy, doy) is this the house they wrote about on the front
He then points out a rather large stump and describes how the
tree once attached to it split in half and demolished the roof
“I had all my trees trimmed before winter weather,” I brag. But
I’m really thinking, “Holy cow! That could have been me. Still
You just Never Cantrell . . .