Editorial / When the plug is pulled on instant gratification
Published 1:35 pm, Thursday, September 1, 2011
No one under the age of 25 will believe this, but it's true.
There was a time when, if you were away from home and needed to make a phone call, you had to find a public phone and put coins into it to make a call. And if you didn't have enough coins or nobody answered, you were flat out of luck.
There was a time when, if you wanted to see the box score from that night's ball game or check tomorrow's movie times, you had to wait for the morning paper.
There was a time when if you wanted to see a movie, you had to go to the movies.
And there was a time when, if the power went out, you lit a candle, turned on a transistor radio and waited.
Now, of course, everyone over the age of seven has a cell phone. We can call anyone instantly and be called instantly. But even that is so 2001.
Why strain your vocal chords instantly when we can text instantly, email instantly or tweet instantly -- from anywhere with a device that fits in your pocket.
Why go to the movies when you can get the movies to come to you -- on demand. And instantly.
Technology has made us a society of right-now, instant gratification.
Maybe that is why some among us seem unable to summon an ounce of patience when the power goes out and they smell a conspiracy if it's not back on before their laptop batteries die. There is no button to push, no 4G device to get power restored "on demand."
We have chosen to live in a coastal community, one where the power of the sea makes us especially vulnerable to severe weather -- both to nor'easters from December to March and to tropical storms and hurricanes from August to October.
After Tropical Storm Irene came crashing into Connecticut early Sunday, she left nearly a million electric customers without power -- 8,300 of them in Westport, about two-thirds of the town.
Yes, Connecticut Light & Power had plenty of warning about this one.
Yes, by late Wednesday -- more than three days after the storm hit -- CL&P still had not restored service to a couple of thousand Westport customers.
Yes, it could be as late as Tuesday before power is restored to everyone in CL&P's Norwalk service area -- of which Westport is a part.
Yes, when everyone is plugged back in, state utility regulators should conduct a thorough investigation of CL&P's preparedness, its communication with municipal officials and customers and its effectiveness -- or lack thereof -- in restoring power.
So no, we are not an apologist for CL&P.
That said, some in Westport have had unreasonable expectations.
Just 24 hours after the storm hit, before floodwaters that spilled from the Saugatuck River into Main Street had fully receded, some impatient Westporters were on the phone, angrily demanding to know why their power had not been restored, accusing both CL&P and town officials of lying to the public and insisting that an investigation be launched.
On Wednesday afternoon, Westport public works officials were giving CL&P high grades for its communication and cooperation working in unison with town crews.
Two town public works crews were paired with two CL&P crews and were methodically working together -- the town crew clearing away debris so the utility crew could restore power, or, in some cases, the utility crew first killing live wires so the town crew could safely remove felled trees.
That is a far cry from neighboring communities served by United Illuminating Co. In neighboring Fairfield, town officials are livid because the utility's communication has been so poor they can't coordinate public works crews with utility crews.
While CL&P has been providing regular updates on its website to customers in scores of individual communities, UI's website has been unable to handle traffic from thousands of customers with no clue when they might get service.
Twenty-hour hours after the storm hit, a woman in Fairfield planted a sign on her lawn that read, "Where's My Power?"
At that moment, half the town was without power; at least 25 streets were closed because of felled trees, live wires in the roadway or other hazards; eight schools were without power; and officials were making it a priority to first restore power to commercial areas where people could buy food, drinking water, gasoline and other necessities.
"Where's My Power?" Not our power or even the power but my power.
Sadly, there were some in Westport with similar attitudes. For every family with young kids who made an adventure out of it and went out for pizza, there was somebody angry because their WiFi was out, they couldn't find a place to charge their smart phone and the authorities failed to make them a priority.
Take issue with CL&P's response and hold the company accountable. But no matter how quickly or slowly they plug people back in, somebody gets to be first and somebody has to be last.
When misfortune strikes -- whether a simple flat tire or a major health crisis -- somebody with a sense of entitlement will ask, "Why Me?"
Someone who is democratic will shrug and ask, "Why not me?"
Too bad there's not an app for that.