On November 1—36 hours after the electrical grid went dark for 90%+ of the Pioneer Valley—this blogger—ensconced in Amherst, Massachusetts—pledged to begin all conversations with the greeting: “Are you on the grid or off?” As the week progressed and the grid played hard-to-get for 50% of the Valley’s captives, the salutation grew terser with “On the gird or off?” and finally the skeletal “On or off?”
“On the gird or off?” almost always evoked private revelations from friends, strangers, and everyone in between. “We’ve substituted one network for another--a face-to-face network grounded in community for the grid,” observed a friend. “Losing it has been harrowing, but we’ve connected on a deeper, communal level.”
Above all, “On or Off? elicited stories—tales of tree branches penetrating bathroom walls and bedroom ceilings; sagas of resentment and grid envy by homeowners who looked out their windows to view well-lighted homes a street away.
During lunch at my university’s Campus Center, I met a retired professor and his wife who had moved into the center’s hotel when the grid went down. Still without juice five days later, they vented frustration toward the town manager, who lived a street away from their home. Known for his integrity, he had by all appearances exerted no leverage to move his neighborhood up Western Mass Electric’s grid restoration chain. “You should see the pot holes on his street,” they complained. “No special treatment if you live in his neighborhood.”
On Wig & Pen’s own street, two neighbors—both liberal and self-reliant—took different approaches to the challenge. The first (with a wood-burning stove) welcomed it as a camping opportunity. Not to be outdone, his next-door neighbor rigged up a gas generator to his furnace and outlets. Regrettably, neighbor #1 had little patience with the generator’s incessant clatter. Climate change from fossil fuels, he griped, had probably been the underlying cause of the storm. Now, he lamented, his neighbor was powering his generator by burning gas and causing noise pollution to boot.
Finally, the story of a friend, who after three days without heat, threw himself upon the mercy of his ex-wife, who had just regained the grid. “For two days, I slept okay on her couch, which had once been our couch,” he confessed. “But after day one, her superiority became insufferable.” Determined to make good without her help, he resolved to find a warm companion at the Moan & Dove, a local bar. After two swift rejections, he struck up a more promising conversation. “Everything was clicking. We were both fans of Anne Rice and Dave Matthews. And we didn’t like camping. But then the bottom fell out--She wasn't on the grid."