View from Mudsock Heights

In a far corner of my office-library-study is a digital clock with large red numerals. Most of the time it is blinking, because it’s inconveniently located. It’s a pain to reset it when the power comes back on.

This clock, I thought, is a harbinger, which is why when I got tired of its blinking (and incorrect time) last Thursday, I didn’t reset it. Normally, when I take the trouble to get to it and provide the proper time, the power goes out within a day and the effort proves to have been wasted. So I didn’t bother.

The next day was not without its little potholes. A computer issue had forced me to undertake a process that renders the machine unusable for several hours. Once it has started it requires nothing of me until it is completed, in fact I mustn’t touch it, so I thought I’d sit back and watch the final several episodes of the very good Re:CREATORS. The show was building to its exciting conclusion, the critical moments about to unfold, when . . . the power went out.

The power goes out where I live fairly frequently. Usually it is the result of what American Electric Power calls a tree out of line, which is to say a tree onto a line, somewhere between here and a substation south of Route 550 and a little east of Route 33. And usually the drill is a simple one: report that the power is out, which I can normally do via the internet – I got a dedicated uninterruptible power supply just for the router – and wait for a couple of hours until the power comes back on.

But this time the phone and internet were down, too, so I had to get in the car and drive nine miles south to the nearest cellular service and phone it in. I got to the Marathon station and pulled in so I could park and make the call. Hmmm – the Marathon was dark inside, though it was about 1:30 p.m. The Marathon is never dark during business hours – it’s usually so brightly lit that some nights I wonder if they have a small nuclear reactor in the basement.

Before I could make the call, I got email from AEP on my phone: The power would be back at about 6 p.m. I turned around and headed toward home. Then I remembered that Friday there was “a billion dollars” up for grabs in one of the big lotteries. This seemed worth entering – who couldn’t use a spare billion dollars? (Of course, the winner receives nowhere near a billion dollars. The billion is before taxes and if paid out over a very long time, and there are other qualifiers that diminish the actual award. The lump sum payment of actual money would probably be a quarter of a billion or less. Then again – who couldn’t use a spare quarter billion dollars?) So I kept going and ended up in Amesville.

The power was off there, too. I pulled into a parking place at the store, where there were lot of cars already. The staff was standing out front; the store was closed. It is formally called “Coonskin Crossing,” but I’ve never heard anybody call it anything but “the store in Amesville.” The fact that people had kind of gathered there was something you’d expect; it’s the sort of thing that happens in the country. Information was exchanged: one fellow said Glouster was dark; I added that there was no power as far south as Route 50. More people arrived and some of us left.

Getting home, I turned on WOUB on one of the several transistor radios I keep around for such occasions, being as I am the child of the era in which we were warned that we would need to tune to 640 or 1240 on the dial in the event of an emergency (defined generally as the appearance of Soviet bombers). “CONELRAD,” it was called. And, during a break, Chris Riddle announced that the whole Athens area was without power, something he would repeat when he got the chance until 7 p.m., when the rerun of “All Things Considered” got over.

WOUB would keep us informed, he said, and would be making announcements of “warming stations” (I think that’s the phrase he used) should any be announced, inasmuch as Friday night was supposed to be pretty cold.

I started bringing in extra firewood, and planned to sleep on the couch, which is closer to the woodstove than the bedroom is, to keep the stove fed during the night if the power stayed off. As the magic hour of 6 approached, Chris told us during the local inserts that AEP was saying it might be later than 6 p.m. and in some places maybe as late as 9 a.m.. But again, WOUB would be on it and informing us through the evening.

Sad to say, WOUB wasn’t on it and didn’t keep us informed. Much of what Chris was telling us, he said on the air, came from The Athens Messenger. And after 7 p.m., WOUB told us nothing. Does WOUB have no telephone? Does it have no number for AEP? Does it have no reporters?

It is my understanding that Ohio University has a journalism school; it is my further understanding that WOUB’s licenses are owned by Ohio University. It could be – I’m just guessing here – that there could be some arrangement made whereby persons from the former might be used to cover, oh, I don’t know, how about a breaking story inconveniencing the whole area? And the information gained could be broadcast over the latter? I am not particularly flush, but I’d be willing to chip in a few bucks to get WOUB a telephone, if the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism would include in its curriculum how to use it. That the radio station of a state university with a journalism school can do no better than gathering its news from the website of a small local paper with an overworked staff is embarrassing, is it not?

Many people in WOUB’s service area have recourse to nothing else. It would be good if the companies that have gotten millions and millions of government dollars to provide wireless service to places such as rural Athens County would do the frigging job for which they’ve been handsomely paid. As it is, there are no communications at all in times of emergency, and one of these days people will die because they couldn’t call for help or get lifesaving information.

In due course – a little before 1 a.m. – the power came back. I watched the very satisfying final two episodes of Re:CREATORS and went to sleep.

It was too late to get a lottery ticket. I still haven’t checked what numbers were drawn – learning that I would have won if only I’d been able to buy a ticket would make me cross.

It took me until late Sunday afternoon to get the computer sorted out. And the clock at the far end of the office-library-study is still blinking.

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