Grounding

Power outages ain’t what they used to be.

When I think about power outages when I was a kid, in rural Arizona, they were a lot different. Usually they happened during the July-August rainy season. And usually they involved big thunderstorms. The sort that get a CGI sequence in movies. Lightning every couple of seconds, wind that blew like jet engines, and cold drifts of blowing rain that cut through the hot air like icicles to splatter on the dirt and evaporate quickly. But the best part came before the actual storm: still air, distant thunder, and towering cumulonimbus clouds that were black as God’s wrath and almost as loud. It reminded you of how small your little house on a hill in the desert was. It made one little kid realize just how BIG the sky is, how high, how wide, how sublime.

Now it’s different. Now it’s during the day, but during the broad daylight. It’s during the time of day where the southwestern sun makes the air look flat. Like shadows are merely the parts where the sun hasn’t hit yet, they aren’t cooler or darker in any meaningful way. Everything looks like a bad photographer has cranked up the warmth way too high in photoshop. During the outage, those cool pockets of air we call buildings almost immediately heat up and become stuffy boxes of stucco. People appear on the street in denim shorts and bad moods. The idyllic “block party” atmosphere you’d expect from Coca-Cola commercials and TV show episodes consists of mostly pissed off adults griping about cell service and if anyone knows what the power company is doing. That one guy is calling his friends about what parts of town exactly are out. A couple kids are idly waving their arms and balancing on the sidewalk. It’s almost hard to breathe it’s so hot.

So people leave. They get in their cars, crank the AC up, fight through the downed intersections with the assistance of beleaguered police officers, and indulge in retail therapy. They run errands, or go to the movies, and they find the closest example of artificially cooled civilization that is still harnassing lightning.

There’s really nothing wrong with that.

It does serve to remind us of how completely ludicrous it is to live anywhere where the average temperature regularly can fry eggs on sidewalks and then to crank that temperature higher by seeding the landscape with vast oceans of concrete and asphalt that retain and concentrate that heat. Forget the choking smog of vehicles, the real source of the heat is the reflective glass and the concentration of bodily energy transfer. The apartment buildings with their stacks of individual environments, bio-pods of isolation, and the big box stores with row upon row of glowing fluorescent lights filling their industrial ceiling areas. Humans pursue individual areas of ideal environment by creating vast support systems that directly create hostile areas around that environment.

Also, anyone ever think about where that water is coming from? My family has worked on water wells for a couple generations, and even I am barely conscious of what I’m doing when I pull another glass of life giving water from the tap and slug it down.

Desert life, from LA to Dallas to Las Vegas, is in constant combat with the environment. The desert wants everything brown and flat. The blowing wind, sand, and punishing sun all say: adapt or die. The wildlife is all scavengers, burrowers, or actively venomous. The few true predators live in the mountains and other cool areas, and subsist by killing the scavengers, each other, or becoming scavengers themselves. Even the plants are thorned and poisonous.

So when the power goes out, it just reminds us that in the event of societal collapse. We are the first to go.

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