In San Francisco, we’re prepared for the worst.
The Big One might hit any time. Buildings and infrastructure might collapse in its wake, though they’ve gotten a lot more earthquake resistant, hopefully, since the Loma Prieta earthquake in 1989. We even have a new section of the Bay Bridge that is supposed to fare a lot better during the Big One than the old cantilever section did in 1989, parts of which collapsed – along with a lot of other structures, including the elevated, hideously monstrous Embarcadero Freeway that separated the city from its gorgeous waterfront (what was left of it was torn down after the quake, thank God).
We’re told to have enough food and potable water for at least five days. We keep a battery-powered radio on hand so we can hear emergency broadcasts. People in earthquake-prone zones get used to the idea of waking up in the middle of the night as chaos is breaking out around them.
In Wichita Falls, TX, in 1979, a tornado wiped out about a third of the town, starting two blocks down the street from where I lived. I saw it: it was a limitless dark gray wall with parts of houses flying around in it. In Tornado Alley, tornado sirens are a common sound. Other regions get hurricanes, floods, too much snow, killer heat waves, or terrible cold waves. But people face the wrath of nature stoically.
So in San Francisco, and in most of California, we’re prepared even for droughts that can last for years. And it did last for three years. So we prayed for rain.
But we’re not prepared for rain.
Finally, it has been raining this rainy season, and what arrived overnight would have qualified as a real rainstorm even in Texas and Oklahoma. When it rains there, all heck tends to break loose. Not here. Most of the time, if we get any precipitation at all, we get what people in other places consider a drizzle or a gentle rain that can go on for a few days. And that’s pretty much what our drainage systems are designed for.
But this one would be different. They started warning people yesterday. Schools are closed. Warnings on our battery-powered radio about overflowing rivers and urban creeks, and about flash floods on streets.
Then, in high-tech San Francisco where buildings have gotten “smart meters” years ago, the one thing that was not supposed to happen happened … shortly before 8 AM, the power goes out.
Due to the thick cloud cover, it’s fairly dark outside, but there are no lights anywhere as far as I can see, and I can see pretty far. The only exception is the Holiday Inn down the street, which is on emergency power. Traffic lights are out. Broadband internet is out. Our modem and network are out.
9:00 AM: I call my wife. Her office, which is on the Peninsula, has power. She tells me that power is out in much of San Francisco, not just in our neighborhood. And it’s out in numerous other places in the Bay Area. A blackout.
PG&E crews are working hard, trying to restore power – or so the updates said. Some roads, even major ones, are flooded and impassible. Parking near touristy Pier 39 is closed due to high waves apparently cascading over the area….
I try to work. My two laptops have fully charged batteries but no access to the internet. I burn through the first laptop, doing what I can. But I can’t upload the Contagion article to my server. I finished it just about the time the power went. I can’t upload anything else to the server.
11 AM: I go outside. Gentle rain. All businesses are closed. Fisherman’s Wharf is dead. Pretty good waves rolling up the beach at Aquatics Park. North Beach is dead. Very few cars on the street. I have my laptop with me, hoping to find a café that’s open. But they’re closed. They’re out of power too. No power, no espresso machine, no Wi-Fi.
This reminds us: nature still rules.
Despite all the tech razzmatazz and the cool software and the endlessly hyped Internet of Things, life goes on even without the internet and power. OK, not for the now dead fridge and Nest thermostat that can’t upload to their creators the data they collect from the privacy of your home. For the rest, life goes on.
But work doesn’t.
1:35 PM: Still no power. I’m writing this during the final moments of my laptop battery. When it shuts down on me, I’m heading to the dark fridge to pull out an IPA or perhaps an amber, depending on my mood, and I’ll do what I never do during the day: chill out and enjoy a good beer.
1:38 PM: Battery is down to its last electron. Bubble says it’s going shut down. Next step, I decided: IPA.
2:00 PM: Power came back a few minutes ago, halfway through my IPA, halleluiah. Booted up everything. But there is still no internet. Comcast’s internet access server must still be out.
2:40 PM: “We’re still experiencing technical difficulties with multiple channels in your area,” the Comcast recording said. “Our technicians are trying to restore the service as quickly as possible.”
I go back outside. Nothing left to do inside. No internet, no work. It’s still raining gently. Rain feels good. A storm sewer drain is covered with debris, and water shooting down the hill cascades over it and heads to the next drain where water is already pooling. My feet are wet. Rain is a privilege. Thank God, it’s raining. We need it.
3:29 PM: Internet is back! Thank God. We need it too.