Joe Volz: Feeling powerless in the wake of a superstorm -- Gazette.Net


It seems like only yesterday I was bragging about how we kept the lights on here in Frederick County while our wealthy neighbors down in Montgomery County were losing their power.

Just about every storm meant that our sons in Kensington and Bethesda lost their power for a week or so, and we didnít lose ours for even a minute. In fact, in the decade I have lived here, I have only lost power once for a few hours

The kids always rejected our offers to come and stay with us. What proud Baby Boomer wants to move in with mom and dad?

But this time around, the tables were turned. The power in our Wormanís Mill town house went off for five days. The kids didnít lose theirs at all.

So, I suppose I shall be careful in the future about my bragging. We have a new power company, Potomac Edison, and about 40,000 of its Frederick County customers lost service during Hurricane Sandy. I am not going to blame Potomac Edison. After all, Sandy was a furious visitor and struck here and there with the volatility of a spurned woman.

I thought we would be safe because our trees are small and limber, and our utility lines are underground. We donít have those big breakable old trees that crack easily. Or the Bradford pears that split on a whim, it seems.

However, I want to concentrate, not on any deficiencies of Potomac Edison, but on what one customer did during the big storm.

I could have gone down and moved in with the kids, like my wife, Kate, did, but that would have been admitting defeat. So I stayed hunkered down under a big quilt. After all, it did not get that cold. About 40 degrees inside. I had no lights except my flashlight and naturally the electric stove did not work, but I did have a big gas heater for hot water

What else do you need?

My portable radio provided brief headlines and some delightful classical music.

It was a little difficult reading from those flashlights, so when the sun went down I went to bed, catching up on my sleep. Why not?

Looking back, it was the first time I had been without power for any length of time since I used to go to summer Boy Scout camp in New Jersey half a century ago.

We have a pretty good record in the United States for providing electricity. We donít have rolling blackouts, and it is unfair to call Pepco down in Montgomery or Potomac Edison, the Pakistan Electric Co.

But back at Camp Kenetiwapec we used gas lamps and they worked just fine. Of course, in the summer it wasnít cold, and that was an advantage.

We have become so used to electricity that we find it a hardship to do without it. Too bad. What kind of pioneers have we become?

We ought to impose power outages once in a while to force us to live without TV and spend more time with our pets, who, by the way loved the quilt.

Nevertheless, I have to admit after almost a week, I was ready to have the electricity back on.

Joe Volz, a former Pulitzer Prize finalist, has written for newspapers in New York and Washington. You can reach him at