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Power Structure


On the night of the ice storm, we were lucky enough to keep our power (and our heat!) until about five o'clock in the morning. We were also relatively lucky enough to have our power turned back on by Sunday. In the meantime, we were extremely lucky to have "empowered" friends to take us in, too.When Duke Power first announced that their plan was to have 90 percent of the lost power restored by the following Wednesday (a full week later), I thought they were adopting the Scotty (a la Star Trek) technique for dealing with emergency situations:

"Cap'n, it'll take me nine hours to get the warp engines rolling again."

"We'll be dead in nine hours, Scotty!"

"I'll do my best, sir."

And then, of course, he'd have the Enterprise soaring through space again in a matter of minutes, and everyone would think he was a miracle worker. In fact, he was just good at setting expectations. This is what I figured Duke Power was doing, too, and I really thought that everyone would have their power back over the weekend, leaving us all to think of Duke Power as the city's hero.

Now we know they were just telling it like it was. Oh well, let's hear it for dealing honestly with the public, I guess.

In the first day of Charlotte's Dark Ages, the issue of the socio-economics of electricity came up. Were the wealthy the first to get their power back? I heard people discussing this on the radio since I was glued to my radio, my only link to civilization at the time; but I heard this buzz from regular people well before I got it on a talk show.

As I huddled for warmth at a neighbor's house Thursday afternoon, he told me that a certain well-to-do Charlotte neighborhood that shall remain nameless (though it rhymes with Shmighland Shriek) already had power back on. He shook his head in disgust. I joined in condemning any kind of power structure that would keep people out of power for economic reasons. After all, the wealthy are more capable of roughing it at a hotel and, even if they did stay home during a power outage, they are much less likely to decide to heat the house with an outdoor grill or an open fire in the middle of the living room.

Apparently, this sort of outrage was building all over Charlotte -- and quickly -- especially when the news got out that South Charlotte wasn't hit as badly as the rest of town and had never even lost power. Low-level grousing in my neighborhood was amplified by the talk radio callers I heard condemning Charlotte's "powerhouse."

It turned out that, as with their repair projections, we made unwarranted assumptions about Duke Power. It seems that not all of Shmighland Shriek was back up and running the very next day, as I discovered for myself when one of my colleagues, a resident of that very community, told me of his family's exodus from the homestead due to the freezing temperatures. Furthermore, the mayor even noted, in hopes of appeasing the plebes, that his power took a couple of days to come back on. Finally, the Plaza-Midwood area was hit quite hard by the ice storm (my husband commented after driving through on the first day that it looked like a true disaster zone) and, despite the fact that a fairly well-to-do segment of the population lives there, they were among the last to get their power back.

By all appearances, Duke did things just as they said they would, concentrating on getting the greatest numbers of people up first, regardless of what neighborhoods were involved. I guess I'm glad to know that even in Charlotte, where money counts big time, the rich and poor sometimes suffer together. It's the way things should be. The ice storm hit us rather like life does; it wasn't fair, but it didn't discriminate, either. At least, not on the basis of race, religion, appearance or anything we humans usually use for discrimination.

Anyway, I'm glad to find Duke Power's name cleared of nefarious power-turning-on practices. For purely personal reasons, they're heroes to me. On Friday night, when we still didn't have power and I was staying at a friend's house, I began feeling my first labor pains.

"Please, fetus," I pleaded with it, "please wait until our power comes back on." All I could think about was leaving the hospital with no power and only a cold, dark house for the baby to live in. Fortunately, I had both a very cooperative fetus and a miraculous power company. Because on Sunday night, we got our power back. On Monday morning, my water broke. So by the middle of the week I was able to bring my son home to a warm, lit house, thereby bringing new meaning to a previously inane early nineties pop song: "Ice, Ice, Baby."

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