Power and Other Failures in Altadena

Life off the grid, day by day

On Thursday last -- Altadena’s first full day without heat, light, telephone, internet -- I think we all expected power to return at any moment. Rather than wring my hands and fuss with the light switches, I decided to leave town. As they say, a watched pot never boils.

Driving down the tree-littered streets, we all seemed to be on our best behavior. Take, for instance, the  out-of-service 4-way traffic signals. Everyone stopped and waited patiently, waving the other driver through.

“After you.”

“No, please, after you. I insist.”

I returned at 8 p.m. to a dark house. Apparently the pot hadn't really cared whether I watched it or not.

On the second day without heat, light, telephone, Internet, I, as well as other neighbors, found there were only three local activities at our disposal – raking leaves, asking if anyone had heard anything, and going toe-to-toe on indoor temperature. "Your house is 50 degrees? Why, that’s practically a sauna. My house is 38." "38 degrees? Paradise. Ours is..."

Many of us spent most of Day 2 in our warm cars, renewing old friendships with someone, anyone who lived outside the San Gabriel Valley.  

On the way home that night, I noticed most of us were no longer driving with our best party manners. 

On Day 3 my mind started playing weird games. Paranoia ran rampant.  I wondered, with half the Valley dependent on the good graces of Southern California Edison, which city topped the power list. My exacta had San Marino to win, with Flintridge a close second. I imagined Altadena and Temple City in a dead heat for next to last place.

In any case, no one in the neighborhood had heard much of anything. And our local public radio station was no longer any help. With Pasadena already back up and running, KPCC found the whole power outage so yesterday’s news. “For current outage updates,” said the voice on my hand-cranked radio, “visit us online.”

Once again, I spent most of the day in the car. And it became increasingly apparent that, suddenly and effortlessly, we drivers were shedding the last vestiges of civility. At the dark intersections, some cars failed to stop at all. I laid on the horn and chased one transgressor for a block or two, until I pulled to the curb and stopped. What was I doing? What the hell was I doing?

On the fourth day, my neighbors and I looked soundly defeated. Defeated and really, really cold. We were also too stressed and tired to drive much, which was probably just as well. Now our only shared activity was to ask, "Have you heard anything, anything at all?" Usually the best we could get was a time frame provided by someone who had heard from the friend of a friend who knew the second cousin of the mother-in-law of an Edison employee that ...

But that night, a miracle happened. Our neighborhood hit the electric jackpot. 

There would have been dancing in the streets, except we were all inside, switching on lights, powering the phones, cranking up the furnace. Forgetting for the moment, there were still people in town without lights and heat.

There may be reasons, good reasons, why this whole thing is taking so long, yet we've been told so little. But as to what those reasons are, I'd say we're still in the dark. 

lonnie fehr December 06, 2011 at 10:58 PM
from lantern ,[ just make sure to vent fumes ] . had couple 12 volt batterys with a dc - ac converter ran tv and direct tv unit , to catch news etc . seems like edison needs is [ some ] sort breaker on power poles so if 1 line down it doesnt take all homes on that line down with it .
lonnie fehr December 06, 2011 at 11:02 PM
ie lantern coleman propane camping lantern , had heat and light ,
Karin Bugge December 06, 2011 at 11:36 PM
Here's another one of many questions: Our street came up at about 8 p.m. Friday night -- full functionality. Then it all went down a half hour later for the next two and half days. No wind was blowing, so I assume no trees were falling. How could we get electricity for a short period of time, then lose it again for days? As for generators, if I can find one that allows a heat hook-up, I can make do with battery-operated lights, hand-cranked radio.
Virg December 06, 2011 at 11:50 PM
I have no idea about how often this happens in your neck of the woods but every time a tornado, hurricane or ice/snow knocks ours out in big areas, we get wonderful help from power companies all over the south and east coast. I hope that's happening there! I feel for those that are still out. That's amazing.
Pasadena Adjacent December 07, 2011 at 01:16 AM
That first night I couldn't even find a match.
Alison Johnson December 07, 2011 at 03:09 AM
We go camping fairly often in the spring and summer, so we "camped." Warm clothes out, hats on, plenty of firewood (ha ha) for the fireplace, the gas stove still worked, and the biggest blessing was an ordinary gas water heater. Hot showers were a delightful luxury. The toilets flush, too! And no long hike from the tent to the privy, though it was probably just as cold. I actually ended up getting more sleep than usual, because after board games and card games by the fire for a couple hours after dark, what else to do but go to sleep? My daughter felt that the only problem was that we didn't have any marshmallows. I learned that e-bills and e-pay are not always the way to go; I am going to the bank this week to order regular old paper checks for backup in case of another extended outage. Also, I lost a week of grading for my half-internet college class that I teach at GCC, since all the assignments are turned in via computer. I am grateful that my house wasn't yellow-tagged, like a friend of mine's was in La Crescenta. It certainly gives one a sense of perspective in this world!
Karin Bugge December 07, 2011 at 03:40 AM
Allison, I do think you're on to something. In addition to what I did have on hand (batteries, lanterns, radio, water, and food for humans and dogs) I'll add a full tank of gas in the car, a working fireplace, a stove that doesn't require electricity, and marshmallows.
Patrizzi Intergalactica December 07, 2011 at 05:04 AM
"What was I doing? What the hell was I doing?" SCE PIOs are asking themselves the same questions after a tongue lashing by Antonovich about getting information out to customers. "But the media only works if you have electricity, so that’s stupid," Antonovich told Gutierrez. I'm so sorry you had a hard time. My daughter got power back in Sierra Madre yesterday. Mine didn't even flicker although my house is buried in branches and part of the roof has flown off on vacation. The cat keeps sticking himself on the window screens. I have no idea what that's about. A new amusement since the windstorm.
terry Morris December 07, 2011 at 04:04 PM
Allison, nice to piggyback onto your post again. Truly not trying to make light of homes without power for a week. We were out of power for five days. My approach after the last two big earthquakes, and Katrina was that being dependent on any outside entity in any kind of emergency situation might not be the best choice. Being angry at the various underfunded, deregulated or even just plain greedy and uncaring agencies and businesses, wasn't going to feed my family or keep them warm. We have a gas stove, so that we can still cook. We have a generator so that we can power the fridge and freezer to keep the food safe. The kids sleep in their sleeping bags with extra blankets, and I tell them to put on sweaters. We play board games and hang out together, enjoying the intimacy. We have a battery operated radio to listen to music and updates. There is a fireplace, and lots of batteries for the lanterns, and lots of candles. And we have set it up to be able to do this for two months. I swore after Katrina that I would never have to depend on a utility co. or a govt. agency to take care of my family in an emergency. We had a lot (!!!!) of fun during those 5 days. But I was damned happy when the power came back on, electricity make life easier. Thank God it wasn't snowing, that there were no fires, my neighbors weren't trapped in rubble or burning buildings. The Red Cross has great emergency lists that give all the info about what you should have in these kind of disasters.
doris finch December 07, 2011 at 05:44 PM
Terry and Allison, you have it just right. I've been through this in Altadena before, many days without power, We are well stocked with candles [use 'em for dinner every night anyway], flashlights, lanterns, firewood, an old gas stove, and traditional gas water heater. We have to learn that we must be as self sufficient as possible during any emergency as agencies are over-stretched. Way back in the day, I had a grandmother and other relatives who were a slice of the 19th century and we took for granted the way they lived. Ice boxes were cooled by the large block brought by the bandy-legged guy with tongs and huge shoulders. Plumbing [?] was a covered vessel under the bed and a pitcher and basin on the dresser. We just need to do what we can and adapt. We are pretty lucky because this is California, not Vermont in the winter after devastating flooding and winds.
Karin Bugge December 07, 2011 at 08:38 PM
My emergency preparedness plan is in place! Walk one mile east and knock on Terry's door.
doris finch December 07, 2011 at 09:05 PM
Don't care for my emergency plumbing ideas, Karen? Never mind, you would still be welcome.
PJ December 07, 2011 at 09:06 PM
I agree Terry, the Red Cross has check lists, etc.
Karin Bugge December 07, 2011 at 09:17 PM
Oh, that's also on my checklist. "Get Doris's address. Bring personal vessel."
doris finch December 08, 2011 at 12:11 AM
We should meet sometime, maybe over some surstromming. No, I'm not Swedish, and that item is one reason I don't yearn to be. My e-mail: ifinchi@fabart.net
SteveB December 08, 2011 at 12:36 AM
From wikipedia: A Japanese study has shown that the smell of a newly opened can of surströmming is the most putrid smell of food in the world, beating similar fermented fish dishes such as the Korean Hongeohoe or Japanese Kusaya. Nice.
terry Morris December 08, 2011 at 12:39 AM
LOL, we'll feed you from the garden. I am afraid there may not be much to share. All of my friends who refuse to prepare at all for any kind of emergency, just shrug and say, we'll just come to your house. oy. I am planning on work crews, hehe.
Karin Bugge December 08, 2011 at 12:46 AM
Hah! Another reason why, Steve and Doris, come next disaster, you supply the food and I'll just bring the wine.
SteveB December 08, 2011 at 01:41 AM
I wonder what wine would be paired with surströmming?
doris finch December 08, 2011 at 02:37 AM
My next door neighbor served beer. They opened the surstromming tins way down in the back under water in a bucket. One of the funniest and most vivd images I will ever retain is the face on the guy across the table as he took a bite, popped his eyes, ingested his napkin then blew it clear across the table while shouting Oh My God! at the same time.
Karin Bugge December 09, 2011 at 11:33 PM
Not a wine I'd ever drink, Steve. Doris, my parents were from around Oslo, so stinky fish products were never on the menu. That said, my dad would smuggle a cheese into the States, a cheese so pungent it could only be stored and enjoyed in the great outdoors.
Steve Gerow December 10, 2011 at 02:24 PM
I'd like to know why Pasadena had so many fewer outages than Edison, which completely surrounds Pasadena. Is there a deferred-maintenance issue or some other management failure that caused this? What's the difference that caused these results?
Lorraine Pozniak December 10, 2011 at 02:57 PM
Yes, Karin...that annoyed the heck out of me, as well...just shy of being without power for 48 hours, my electricity came on for 5 minutes and then went out for almost another 48 hours. I moved to the area a little over 6 months ago and my observation is that Altadena is treated like Pasadena's redheaded stepchild time and time again.
Revvell December 10, 2011 at 03:35 PM
I'd like to know why parts of Pasadena were still without power on Monday evening? Everyone seems to think we're the only ones with problems yet, I was driving down Los Robles Monday evening and parts of Pasadena were still without power. It's not just about us, folks!
Karin Bugge December 10, 2011 at 03:43 PM
Hi Steve Gerow, as I understand it, there are a couple of reasons: We've got an older and patchwork infrastructure up here (the wiring on my street looks positively comical), plus Pasadena, or at least most of it, has underground lines.
navigio December 10, 2011 at 09:46 PM
i've also spoken with people in monrovia and arcadia who still didnt have power, at least as of a couple days ago.
SteveB December 10, 2011 at 10:14 PM
Akvavit, perhaps? Oslo natives don't eat stinky fish? My Dad's family were Oslo folk, and he often tortured us by eating canned anchovies.
Steve Gerow December 11, 2011 at 12:47 AM
Karin, I didn't realize they had that many underground lines. That would help in a windstorm. The downside, as has been pointed out elsewhere, they are 2-3 times as expensive, have water-seepage problems and can be less reliable in an earthquake.
Karin Bugge December 11, 2011 at 01:33 AM
Steve G, I tend to agree with you. I'd worry about underground lines in an earthquake. And in researching generators, now I'm leaning towards a gas-powered mobile one. The permanent generators are hooked up to natural gas lines, which could prove inoperable, if not dangerous, in an earthquake. Steve G, anchovies are stinky fish? I beg to differ. Anchovies put a Caesar Salad at the top of my food pyramid.
Brenda Harlow December 12, 2011 at 05:41 PM
Karin, we are actually researching a natural gas / propane combo fuel permanent generator for our house. This way if natural gas was cut off, we could take our barbecue tanks and run the generator, at least for a short while. Also, propane can be stored longer than gasoline. We currently have a gas powered generator. It was nice to be able to move it to a new location, say family who did not have power after we got ours back. I guess there are pros and cons to both, so you just need to figure out what is more important to you.


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