Archive for Thursday, December 6, 2007

Here’s a real squirrelly outage tale

December 6, 2007

With power outages being a hot topic again after Saturday night's electricity-less adventure, I figured it was time to share a personal outage story from a few months ago.

It came at a busy time -- when isn't it busy, though -- and I didn't share it. But, it seems like a fitting time now with the hour or hours we all spent Saturday, depending on where you were located.

For me in my cozy locale at the Temple Place in the Vinland Valley, the lights flickered and then went out about 6 p.m. In two of three times that's happened before in the last year, the lights were back on within 10 seconds. Not so this time.

After about 10 minutes, I decided to go to town. I needed to anyway to pick up a paper, check e-mail and SpeakOut!, the Signal's online community forum that's been "hot" lately. That would also give me a chance to see if it was just me without power. I wasn't alone.

Immediately I saw that my neighbor's house was dark, too. To my surprise, when I got into Baldwin City, the lights were on. But, when I got in the office it became apparent quickly that the power had been out here, too -- the computers were down and the answering machine was blinking.

So, I took care of business, jumped back into the Pony and headed back to Temple, fully expecting that my power would be back on, too. Not so again.

I was patient again -- for a while. I had the candles going and the flashlight handy. But, with the TV out, there wasn't much to do. Of course, I was wanting to be watching the Missouri-Oklahoma clash for the Big 12 Championship. Too bad.

My entertainment options were limited. Cell phone was about it. So, just to make sure KCPL knew that we were in the dark, I called the outage number and went through that series of nonsense. You know, the voice-generated craziness of speaking to a machine that, of course, doesn't have a brain in its head.

Having experienced this once before with KCPL and also with Dish Network's helpline on several occasions because of power outages, I was used to it. Dish's system works well. KCPL's doesn't. So, just for fun, I decided to scream and yell at the KCPL guy, just to see if that helped. It didn't.

But, eventually, I at least was able to get the point across that I was without power. Not that it did me any good.

So, about the only other thing I could do was talk on the phone. Problem. Because I hadn't charged up my cell before losing power, the various calls and what-not to KCPL had drained my battery. After several other calls -- which included getting updates on the MU-OU game -- I was down to one bar on the battery. I decided I'd better save it in case I needed to call 911.

It was back to sitting in candlelight. I really couldn't read a book or the paper I'd gotten in town. Lots of fun. And, to make it worse, what I'm thinking throughout this ordeal is that the lights would come on -- at any second.

After a couple of hours, I gave up and went to bed. I was awakened at about 2 a.m. when the lights came on. But, it didn't last. They went out quickly. They were back on when I awoke and later I found out we had power at about 3:30 a.m. Thanks a lot.

But, it also reminded me of my previous "real" outage experience. That was back in September. I was heading for Colorado on a 6:30 a.m. flight out of KCI on a Wednesday morning for publisher's meetings. Because of that, I had to have the A-section of the Signal finished on Tuesday night instead of the usual Wednesday. Yes, it was a push, but I made it.

I headed back to Temple at about 6:30 p.m. only to find no power. Prior to this had only been the two 10-second outages at the place, so I wasn't worried. After 10 minutes, I called the neighbor. He had power, so I knew it must just be me. He gave me a number to call to report it.

That was my first experience with the song-and-dance of the KCPL line. Such questions as, "if you're in a mobile home park, press 2." What? I won't go on about that except for the most excruciating example. I finally got to a prompt to enter my phone number. I did. It said "we have no record of an address at that location, enter your 10-digit account number."

Yeah, like I've got that right on the top of my head. I searched up a bill, found it and called back. Yes, I had to go through the whole phone thing again to get to the prompt for phone number. Entered mine again and got the same answer. So, this time I punched in my account number. The voice came back, "We show that account number to have a phone number of ..." Yes, you guessed it, it was my number, the same one I'd been giving them. Ugh!

Anyway, I finally got registered. Much to my surprise, about five minutes later I got a call -- from an actual person. He was checking to make sure I was without power. By this time, I could really tell I was, that it wasn't a breaker problem or something because my big outside light that's always on was off. When I told him that, he said it must be a transformer and he'd have someone there within 20 minutes.

It was 30 minutes, but I'm not going to quibble. The truck pulled in and he was flashing a spot light at my transformer. Suddenly the visions of trying to pack for Colorado by flashlight began to slip away.

Within minutes, my lights came on, even before I could get to the pole where he was at. He was kicking something that was in the grass. When I got there, he said, "I found the problem. It's a squirrel."

Sure enough, there on the ground was a fried squirrel. It had gotten into my transformer and shorted me out. After years of doing stories on outages, many of them caused by squirrels that many people refuse to believe and ridicule the various power people for, I'd actually seen it happen.

Yes, folks, it does happen. I'm a firm believer, whether it sounds squirrelly or not.

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