Do you know how many years since journalism school that I have waited to write a headline like that? And it was true! Nobody got hurt, the lights are back on, but it was all way too much excitement to kick off February.
At noon or so, the lights started to flicker--hard. We've always had a few cranky circuits, but this was everywhere. Then, from down in the street, a concussive boomph, followed by car alarms going off. It's a funny thing, an explosion--the sound is pretty unmistakable. I ran downstairs to find acrid smoke and Roman candles issuing from the manhole cover directly in front of our house, and called 911.
My mind kept rerunning our killer steampipe explosion here in New York last summer, and racing over what to do if I had to evacuate. Alone in the house, I got out the big carrier and rounded the 3 cats up into one room. Within about 2 minutes, Da Pride a Flatbush and at least one other company were at my doorstep with pikestaffs, canisters, axes, and a portable CO detector. After marching down to the basement and ascertaining that all was well, they waited on the porch out of the heavy rain for Con Edison to come and deal with what was apparently a fire in the buried cables. They were all absolutely adorable and some looked impossibly young; I offered them coffee, which they politely declined. Gosh, I wish I could have made them coffee.
What followed was a Tale of Three Trucks. Con Ed arrived, in a zippy red emergency truck ; guys in lime-green suits lifted two manhole covers and were jolted by another pooooof of smoke. They dug around like dentists probing a filling, and assured me that they'll fix 'er up and we won't even lose power. Then--the power cut out, only in our house, not the neighbors'; turns out the damage down there was worse than they thought. "I know what you're thinking," said the taller of the guys in a lilting Jamaican accent, accompanied by a broad smile. "You're thinking, 'Why me?'" Uh-huh. It's beyond the power of the Red Truck, he tells me; they will have to dispatch the Bucket Truck, whose crew will hook up a temporary line to the streetlamp across the street. Okay, this works; we know, because back in the '80's, the local crack dealer did something similar after they turned off his power and boarded up his house.
As I waited for the Bucket Truck, I kept thinking of ways to pass the time, since my computer was, as the haiku stated, "but a simple stone." I could vacuum!--er, no. I could do some laundry!--ah, no. I could read! Not really; the house was sepulchrally dark on this dismal day. It was also preternaturally quiet; I became oddly aware of it around me as a big, inert wooden box, without its thrumming neurons underneath.
Soon the Bucket Truck arrived, and the stringing-up of Crackhead Electrical Service unfolded: A line was run to the basement, lifted up to the lamppost, then swagged against the second floor of our house to keep it airborne.
Meanwhile, down in the basement, a seasoned guy named Eddie spliced the line to our ancient electrical service box. Turns out that when the pseudo-electricians rewired the house 20 years ago, they never replaced anything beyond our exterior walls. The wires between the street cable and our box, Eddie said, were encased in "lead sack," something not commonly used after about 1910. Sounds about right; so our juice has been running underground on the original wires for a century. I asked Eddie if he and the other guys hadn't been breathing lead-contaminated smoke just now. He shrugged. "After what we all breathed on 9-11, y'know? What're ya gonna do?"
Finally, the lights came on, and it was clean-up time. Up comes a big tanker truck with a gigantic flexible hose and a smaller tank, labeled "fresh water." This is the manhole vacuum. (Oh, that phrase should get some good Google hits.) After the explosion, the manhole is full of mud and toxic debris; one guy shoots down pressurized water through a wand, while the other one sucks out crud with the monster vacuum. At this point, my inner 5-year-old simply surrendered to the oversized Tonka-toyness of it all.
All that remains is for Con Ed to schedule the surgery for installing new permanent line from the street to the house. They claim (I paraphrase) that this can be done laparoscopically, without an open incision in our hardscaping. They also said we wouldn't lose power today. More on that as it happens, and more very soon on the Bizarro World of Wiring that Eddie discovered in the basement.
Many hours later, describing the day's excitement to Spouse, I said the words "emergency truck" and felt a wave of memory. When I was very little, somehow my dad and I developed a bedtime story ritual involving "Truck Stories." I would beg for them, and my father, the ultimate Tool-Time Guy, would weave a yarn involving lost kids, burning or collapsing buildings, gas leaks, and lots of fairly technical rescue equipment. He did tales about fire trucks and police trucks but my favorite of all was the emergency truck; no matter how much peril those kids were in, the guys would pull out some amazing gizmo and save the day. And then he'd kiss me goodnight, but I'd be too excited to sleep.