At 5 p.m. on March 27, my power went out, along with 7,000 other Palo Alto residents'. I think for all of us on the Peninsula, power outages occasionally occur, so this was our turn — residents in the 94301 and 94306 areas.
My husband tried to report it. He called the Palo Alto Utilities emergency number, but there was no answer. He tried several times and finally heard a robot woman say, "If you want to report an outage, call this number." When it was answered, he was asked to go down the telephone tree — do you have a question on billing, your account, etc. Finally, to report an outage, press #4 (or some number she said). First question: Do you want a technician to call you to help you with your problem? If not, he was to call a different number. (We were using our cell phones and mine was only 25% charged.) I went to look at the city's outage map. "No outages reported," the screen said.
He called the Office of Emergency Services. No answer. I went back to the Utilities number. Repeated calls were disconnected — several times.
No news on CBS or on email, and our local emergency radio station, KZSU, was playing music
We looked at each other and decided to opt for our 6 p.m. dinner reservations at La Boheme on California Avenue — if their electricity was on. And what follows is a fun tale of how people react to a power loss (or any comparable experience).
The maître d' said all of California Avenue had no power. Their own kitchen had no windows so it was dark. All they had was cold bread. So, we each had a glass of wine — and three slices of bread. One of the waitresses went home to get her generator to use in the dark kitchen. Another waitress said she could offer cold food — oysters or salmon tartare or.... After I heard oysters I stopped listening. My husband wanted a leafy green salad. A nearby table stopped the waitress and said, "Two more orders of oysters." He waved at me for thinking of oysters.
"Did you find any info on your computer?" I asked.
Another man nearby said, "No. I've been checking everywhere but there's no information about the outage."
The man behind us said that the outage was a big one and went up to Atherton. Next to him the woman said she understood it hit the whole Bay Area.
Someone else said that the blackout was supposed to be over at 9 p.m. The waiter chimed in that he'd heard there was a problem at the park on Park Boulevard, where a mylar balloon got caught in the power lines.
The woman two tables over suggested we "ban the balloons." Someone else said we should just ban kids with balloons. Another facetiously said that maybe we should just ban babies.
And so, we ate the oysters, bread and a leafy green salad while watching the table hopping. By the time we left at 7:15 p.m, most of the customers waved to us. We waved back.
It was one of the funnest dinners I've had in a couple of years — a new experience talking with everyone in the outside eating area. And the oysters from Oregon (with a lemon slice) were wonderful.
The maître d' said the blackout was a big surprise — and such a big loss. Business was coming back, and for the first time in months, the restaurant was fully booked. Unfortunately, only 10% showed up.
"We lost 90% tonight, including all the extra food we bought for a full restaurant."
I respect how they all tried hard and did a great job.
We came home at 7:30 p.m. and our lights were on!
Things really need to be fixed in the city's emergency services system. All the telephone numbers we called to try to report our outage were useless. The outage maps didn't appear until at least one-and-a-half hours after the power break. I thought the dedicated purpose of our emergency system was to keep residents informed.
I write this on Monday, and I still don't know details about the outage, except that something happened at the Park Boulevard substation No. 4. Why the silence? I get all Utilities Department notices and agendas sent to me. But not today. We all feel better if we know what's happening and when it may be fixed. Just knowing makes a mental difference.
The city is talking about having new residences and offices be all-electric. The "good for the environment" flag was waved before the City Council, and they saluted. But what if the electricity goes down again? What if one of those helium balloons disturbs the system? What if a plane accidentally lands on utility lines in East Palo Alto as happened several years ago?
What if our electric cars aren't charged? Then, city officials, what do residents do?
What I learned from this experience: Keep several flashlights around the house; keep candles and matches ready for use; keep your car gas tank reasonably filed; charge your electric car every night; keep you cell phones charged; post utility emergency telephone numbers on your refrigerator; keep telephone numbers of your neighbors available on a cell phone; have a cell phone charger in your car; and, of course, have a good book ready to read in a dark house.