“We’re living like the damn pioneers,” my cousin texted me. I had reached out Tuesday morning to see how she was faring in this blackout, hoping maybe she was doing better than me, and she was, sort of. Although she had at least gotten her power back to her Greenway Plaza-area apartment, her heater hadn’t turned back on.
As for me, I was over in the Heights, and, like many others, I'd been without power and heat since sometime in the wee hours of Sunday morning. What has living with no power looked like? Well, darkness, for one thing, in the evenings, when it’s so cold and black that not even candles seem to make a difference. It has meant shuffling around my apartment with a lantern (I really do look like a pioneer). It has meant lots and lots of blankets piled in a mess on top of me at all times.
It has also translated to sitting in my car (outside, don’t hang out in a garage, y’all) for hours on end, getting warm and charging my phone, watching the gas in my car slowly deplete. And at night it has meant using whatever charge left on my laptop to charge my phone when it's been too cold outside to even sit in my car and wait.
Like many, I never expected it to be like this, and, considering I went to school in the Midwest, if you'd asked me before today I would have been sure that I would handle it better. I know how to deal with a little cold. It’s not even that bad, I thought on Monday when it first snapped off, settling my apartment into an eery silence. I could trek across campus in 0 degrees. A day without power when it’s 20 outside should have been nothing, especially as my friends back in the Midwest were dealing with frigid temperatures as low as -11 degrees. I didn’t want to be a wimp.
So on Monday morning I pulled out all my old too-thick-for-normal-Houston sweaters, wrapped myself up in a blanket, and prepared to ride it out. And Monday really wasn’t too terrible. I still had water—family out in West Houston were already scooping buckets from their pool to flush. But I was even able to get hot water, enough to make some weak tea and take a very quick shower.
And then, when I got my power back for a few hours late Monday afternoon, I thought it was over. “AND I HAVE POWER!!!!” I messaged my coworkers as I finally signed onto work and made myself a cup of strong tea. But my joy was short-lived. At 6:50 p.m. my power shut off again, leaving me in the pitch-black cold.
Monday night was miserable, almost Dickensian. I got back under my pile of many blankets and tried to stay warm enough to sleep. Tuesday morning was even colder. I stayed huddled under my covers for as long as I could, until my boss and my mother convinced me to go fill up my bathtub as reports of low water pressure began to surface. Otherwise, the cell towers in the area were down, so I could only send out messages sporadically, and couldn't keep up with what was going on with the news. It was strange to feel so isolated in the middle of the city.
Not much changed over the course of the day. It was cold. I checked in with my boss. I tried to stay warm, digging out more sweaters from my college days and layering them on. I talked to my family who still had power as the day wore on, getting grumpier and grumpier as the cold crept in past my layers, making my fingers and hands ache. I at least had better cell reception, so I could look up the news myself, although I wasn't too hopeful about what I saw. I was already feeling low when a friend who works in energy reached out to tell me that it was going to take longer than what it was saying on the news for ERCOT to get things up and going (we still, in fact, don't have a solid timeline on when the state grid will be fully back online). That’s when any optimism I had pretty much gave out.
Like so many in the Houston area (1.37 million, still, as of Wednesday morning) I’m now on day three, with no idea when I’ll be able to do something as simple as snap on a light, let alone go back to even a pandemic-level version of normal. I still have running water, but can no longer flush my toilet (and yes, the filled bathtub is proving to be useful.) There’s now a boil water notice for Houston, but since I don’t have power, I'm frankly not too concerned about that just now. Boiling water would be a luxury at this point.
But there is a little bit of hope. My family out in West Houston got their power back early this morning. Besides a few small drifts, the snow outside my home is melting, and the temperature is slowly rising. And I still have food in my pantry and gas in my car. I could be a lot worse off.