Cold Shoulders for Valentine's DayFeb 01, 2022 09:00AM ● By Maggie Barnes
“Happy Valentine’s Day.” I snuggled into my husband’s shoulder and kissed his cheek.
“Why is it so cold in here?”
The murder of this magic moment was brought to you by a husband with overdeveloped senses. Bob rolled to his feet and looked across the bedroom.
“Power’s out. Thought so.”
Propped on my elbows, I could see the alarm clock flashing 12:00. The house was completely silent. It is usually peaceful on our hill, but this was the complete lack of any mechanical noise.
Reaching for my robe I sighed, “Wonder how long it will be this time?”
Like most utilities, the folks who bring us power concentrate their restoration efforts in the areas of highest population. A tiny private road with four houses is never a high priority. We’ve seen some long, dark days. Consultation with our two closest neighbors confirmed the entire hill had lost juice.
“Whatever you do, don’t open the freezer,” Bob said over his shoulder as he left the room. Valentine’s dinner was to include shrimp and steak, now resting in our standing freezer. If we had power for the oven.
By the time I dressed in as many layers as I could get on and still move, Bob had a fire going in the front room and was bundled up to head outside. My husband is one of those people who absolutely must have time outside each and every day. His calm and centered demeanor is rooted in spending time in the natural world. It’s one of the pillars of life for him. On days like this, stepping outside also informs his understanding of situations. Ten minutes’ investigation and he was back with a full update.
“Most of the region is out,” he said, stomping slushy snow off his boots. “Must be from the high winds last night. We’ve got a wire down. Right in the middle of the road.”
“We need to report that to somebody, right?” I checked my phone and was relieved that it was fully charged, though the Wi-Fi was gone.
“Yeah, see if you can get through to NYSEG. Get a restoration time. And keep that fireplace going. I’m going to pull the generator. Check with Scott and Peggy. I don’t know if they can get past that wire.”
I set about my duties and listened to the thump of the generator shed being opened. It was a small unit, but able to power some lights, the fridge, the microwave, and, most critically, the furnace.
I called the power company to report our outage and learned our road was “out,” along with dozens of others, with a restoration time still “pending.” Then I called back to report the downed wire. It rang long enough that I forgot who I was calling and why. In between tossing more wood on two fireplaces, I kept dialing. No luck.
The day wore on, blustery and cold. We had heat and a few outlets worked. In an attempt to salvage our dinner, Bob ran an industrial extension cord through the house and hooked up the freezer to the generator. I tried the power company umpteen more times with no success. We were less worried about getting power back than we were about the downed wire.
A career in emergency services comes in handy at a time like this, and Bob decided to go that route. He called the non-emergency line for Chemung County 911. The pleasant woman on the other end informed us she could not find our address in their system and that we do not live in Chemung—at least as far as police, fire, and EMS were concerned. Bob replied with a level of humor he wasn’t feeling, “Really? We pay Chemung taxes. That doesn’t get us anything?”
She was adamant—no such address in Chemung.
We live very close to the border with Tioga County, so perhaps we were in their hands? Second call to a county 911 center.
“I’m not familiar with that address. Let me—no, it’s not here. You don’t live in Tioga County.”
We exchanged a glance. I raised my eyebrows. “Where do we live? Brigadoon?”
Bob was describing our situation using some of his “special words,” often reserved for golf and uncooperative tools. Allow me to paraphrase: “Well, what the hot dog is this baloney all about? We have to be in someone’s golly dang system! What the footstool are we supposed to do?”
He settled into problem-solving mode, and contacted a former colleague who manages 911 for Bradford County, across the border in Pennsylvania.
“Rob, can you get word to NYSEG for us that we have a wire down?” Bob was pinching the bridge of his nose and pacing around the orange lead cord in the kitchen. For only hearing one side of the conversation, I caught the gist pretty well.
“No, I tried that...Turns out we don’t live in either Chemung or Tioga counties...
“Beats me why the frisbee not!”
NYSEG was informed. They sent a guy in a pick-up truck to look at the wire. He agreed it was down and that it was a bad thing. He then spent the night in said truck, as they cannot leave a hazard once it’s identified. And for the moment, no crew could be spared from other areas to repair it.
Twelve hours in, with no restoration in sight, we cracked the door of the freezer long enough to grab the steaks and shrimp and headed for the grill. Valentine’s dinner was by candlelight and flashlight while the generator hummed a love song. Ah, the romance. Crawling into bed in two layers of sweats and smelling of wood smoke and not much soap, we resumed the pose the day had begun with.
“Thank you for a memorable Valentine’s Day,” I said.
Bob held me tighter, probably to stave off the frostbite, and said, “I may not know where we live, but as long as I’m with you, it’s still home.”
The outage lasted four days. One gray morning, I looked out to see the warm yellow lights of a utility bucket truck tending to our downed wire.
After a bit of a bureaucratic tangle, we were formally declared residents of Chemung for all matters—emergent and otherwise.
It was good to be home.