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Lighting a Single Candle

The big blackout on the East Coast yesterday made me think anew about just how we, as a people, have come to rely on external forces just to simply get along. While I was feeling for the folks trapped in subways and elevators, I still couldn't help but think about it. I was heartened by one man who was quoted as saying, cheerfully, how he could actually see the stars in New York City. (Since I can barely see them from Phoenix, I can't imagine how much worse it is in NYC.)

A couple of weeks ago parts of Glendale, Arizona, were similarly blacked out due to upgrades being made in the system. It made all the news stations and there was near-panic in the streets because some people ("With CHILDREN!!!") were without air conditioning for a few hours on a hot afternoon (what's really annoying about THIS story was that it was a planned outage, people had been warned it was coming, and the workmen were being given all sorts of hell for "putting these people out" when they were only doing their jobs -- a job which has made, for all its problems, the Phoenix area one of the best when it comes to the power grid structure). Frankly, air conditioning was only invented some sixty years ago, and people were living in the Valley for a long time before that. In fact, people seemed to be able to get by not only without air conditioning, but without electrical power of any kind at all up until the early part of the 20th Century. Now we can't seem to get along for a few hours without it. Certainly, I'll grant a few hours without air conditioning in the Phoenix area is nasty. And I've been to Washington D.C., so I know it's no picnic back east, either. It does get horrible, and no, you don't want to do anything at all but sit around and hope for a breeze. But somehow, folks were able to live. There was a time when Phoenix, like New York City, emptied out in the summer as the wives and children were sent to the north country while the husbands dealt with the heat to make a living. People act like I'm insane because I don't have air conditioning in my truck and have never bothered to get it fixed when it broke -- but even if it was working properly, we are having an economic crisis right now, and air conditioning uses a tremendous amount of gas. It also puts a tremendous strain on your engine. I'd love to use air conditioning in the truck -- but I bet I wouldn't be driving a 1988 vehicle still if I did use it all the time. Not to mention I'm already spending $25 - $40 every two weeks for gas (depending on the cost at the pump), and that's just for going to work and back. If I do any more driving, that price can go up significantly. (Phoenix regular unleaded is at $1.79.9 a gallon today at the station I usually go to. If my tank was empty, it would cost me about $65 to fill up.)

I was somewhat amused by the description of tourists in New York, who couldn't get into their hotel rooms because of the advent of electronic keys -- sure, I felt sorry for them, too, but a plain metal key wouldn't have had that problem.

I don't really think I'm a "back to the woods" sort. (Well, in some ways, I can be.) I love my electricity. I apparently am unable to live more than a few hours away from a television set. I need my music and computer and all those lovely electronics with a need that comes close to rivaling the need for oxygen... but I like to think that I would be able to survive if suddenly they were all taken away from me. The worst thing appears to be the loss of the water pumping stations. Yikes. What 200 years of modern man living in North America has done to the water available is criminal -- fresh water is at a premium and this time of year, with all this record heat, boy, cutting off the water, that's a real danger. I think people could live just fine without electricity and air conditioning, but I know we can't live without water.

Anyway, I don't want to seem unfeeling or anything, but I just wonder about the American people sometimes. Have we become so pampered and spoiled as a people we can't get along without our luxuries? I give cheers to the folks of New York, who seemed to prove they can do just that.

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