Janet Neal: Urban Camping

Thank God for electricity!

I am coming off of five days without power, heat or lights and although at first I viewed it as “an adventure,” the thrill had definitely gone. When I realized that the freak October snow storm had caused more than a minor inconvenience in the utility department — and managed to get back into the day, rather than following my thoughts into a near panic state over the long upcoming winter months ahead — I decided to make the best of this experience.

We were not, after all, in a war zone: everything we needed was around us, just not at our fingertips. So, it became a challenge to me to use our resources at hand and find that which we didn’t have.

Through those five days, my daughter and I developed a new routine: if we needed internet, we’d go to my office. We’d go workout at the Y and use their showers. And we sampled the cuisine at our favorite area restaurants and accepted the kindness of a friend for a meal as well. We came home only to sleep and had a routine there too: grabbing the strategically placed flashlight as we walked in, hustling the dogs upstairs and quickly dressing in layers and snuggling deep under layers of blankets and comforters. We went to bed when it was dark and awoke when it was light.

Although coming home last night to a well-lit, warm house was about the happiest sight I’ve had in a LONG time, this experience gifted me with new insights. Here are some:

I had too much food in my refrigerator. I threw out five large garbage bags of food last night, between two refrigerators. That’s an obscene amount of waste. And there was really no way that two or three of us were ever going to eat that anyway. Now not only do I have a clean refrigerator (something I’d been threatening to do for years), I can actually see what is in it! And probably use it!

The computer takes up so much time! When we had no power, I found time to exercise, to have a nice leisurely meal with my daughter AND get to bed at a decent hour. I got more sleep in the last five days than since the time I was on vacation. Last night when the power came back up, I was up until midnight again, doing “one more thing” on the computer.

It’s important to spend time with your teenagers. I cannot imagine going through this alone. My almost-16 year old daughter and I were buddies through it and found a lot of time to laugh and talk. I feel closer to her now than I have in a while, just by the nature of being with her so much. Neither of us were distracted by electronic devices or things that HAD to get done.
Things that HAVE to get done can wait. My to-do pile is still here and the world did not come crashing down because I did not adhere to my schedule. Living a simpler life for a few days slowed me down and calmed me down.

When you move into a new house, get your chimney cleaned. I had never used the fireplace in my house before but desperate times called for desperate measures. I said prayers the flue would work and it did — most of the time. For the first hour I had a lovely fire that I sat next to proudly, feeling like I finally was one-upping the situation. I left to get my daughter and came back to a house filled with smoke. Nothing serious, just a lingering smell on all our clothes as if we had been camping in business suits and neon tops.

It’s okay to have the dogs sleep on the bed. They are wonderful mattress warmers.

And, lastly, your attitude makes ALL the difference. With a eye for adventure, a bit of imagination, resourcefulness, flexibility, and trust that all will be well, you can get through and still have the ability to smile. And to say prayers of thanks to Thomas Edison.

Janet Neal is New Business Development Manager at Above & Beyond, Inc.and Executive Director/Founder at The Professional Women’s Center, Inc.

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  1. I’m not sure if Baristanet has a thread going on “who is still w/ out power” but as PSE&G announces that they restored power to 99% of households, there is still no power to some families on Forest Avenue between Bay and Osborne…

    There has been live wires down in yards, no taped off or otherwise marked since storm last week.

  2. Amen to attitude. We made it an adventure- but like most adventures, at some point we wanted to come HOME!!

  3. Great essay! I had many of the same thoughts, including the quality time with my own teenaged daughter. At night, we snuggled under many layers of covers and watched DVDs on her laptop (which she charged at the library when we were warming up there during the day), the dog at our feet.

    Oh, and I found out that you don’t NEED a hair dryer.

  4. I also had way too much food that had to be thrown away. Such waste! I am now going to rethink what I buy, and how much. The real test is my first trip back to Trader Joe’s….must be strong…

  5. I awoke to the loveliest of sights this morning: a blinking clock. I am so grateful for power, after nearly six days without heat, hot water, Internet, land-line phone, cable … In other words: essentially without a home. (I learned to bathe by boiling water on my gas stove and I couch-hopped at friends’ homes to stay warm.) What I have derived from this experience is a newfound empathy for those people who are permanently in this situation: the homeless. The first thing I did when I got online was to make a donation to the Coalition for the Homeless.

  6. A great many snarky types frequent this site, and quite often I lead the pack!

    But I must say sadie, that you sound like an absolutely wonderful person!

    Yours was a short but very moving post.

  7. And say thanks also to Nikola Tesla, who made practical the distribution of the alternating current necessary to light those Edison lights. See–by all means–Ben Clawson’s excellent “The Dangers of Electric Lighting,” now playing at Luna Stage.

  8. Being without power for four days was definitely challenging. When I told some of my students about losing the electricity in my home, one 8 yr-old boy who lives in Jersey City asked me if my power was shut off because I couldn’t pay. That immediately put things in perspective for me.

    Gail Prusslin

  9. Power outages are the only time Glen Ridge’s gas lamps really come into their own. Other times, they’re picteresque, but pretty useless compared to electric street lamps.

  10. Our power was restored this afternoon…a full 7 days after it went out. Who knew a week could feel so long. We had a strong spirit of adventure at first, but the family frankly limped to the end. And speaking of attitude, what to make of the PSEG team (hailing out of Trenton) that said I was the first person who was friendly and smiling upon their arrival??? They said every where they went they were being yelled at by grouchy customers. I stood there a bit stupefied…I mean these guys fixing the lines aren’t the problem. I was “hot” in less than 30 minutes and then flagged down a Verizon van. That guy has been schlepping to and from his home in Atlantic City every night after working 16 hour shifts in our area. During Hurricane Irene, he said, they put him up in a nearby hotel, but this time lots of us were in those hotel rooms so they could not secure them for workers. Last night he slept in a GSP rest area for two hours and just turned around and drove back here. So Inhope appreciation on lots of levels is mixed in my adventure attitude…and those of my neighbors.

  11. I posted at start of comment thread…

    And thank you (which I neglected to say), Janet, for a refreshing take on this trial.

    In any event, the big PSE&G push to get past this was today; trucks came to my home/my neighbors place and got everything done very professionally. These guys were tired, and I thanked them. They were very friendly and from south Jersey. Took about a 1/2 hr to patch back in hot line to home…

    We talked about the beach as they worked.

    My neighbors have yet to return, but their porch light is on.

  12. Nice story, Janet! And yes, Sadie is a wonderful person. I worked for a homeless agency for 10 years and am thankful for people like her.

    We didn’t have power for 7 days. Numerous PSE&G workers were in our backyard for 4 hours on Saturday. We chatted with them and expressed our appreciation for all their hard work. They were awesome.

    I’ve been married for 27 years. I think we had more candlelight dinners in one week than in all 27 years. lol!

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