A Winters tale: Feeling powerless

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I am sitting here, writing the first draft of my column in the dark.  Outside my window a small, sputtering gasoline generator is providing just enough power for my computer, while annoying my next door neighbors.  Like most everyone in the countryside around Winters (and most in the city itself), we are being punished by our great electrical master, PG&E.  Truth be told, I feel very much like a victim of the mental disorder known as Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy.  If you’ve never heard of it, let me explain. This disorder involves a caretaker and someone in their charge. The caretaker, usually a parent, for reasons of mental illness, deliberately causes the child to be sick.  Then, the parent brings the child in for treatment, thus becoming the savior.  The victim is often grateful to the caretaker, and the pattern continues.  Well, I think we were all victims last week. PG&E’s power shutoff stunt was a way for the utility to appear the hero, given the horrible way they have managed our electrical grid. Not to mention their responsibility for the deaths of 86 people in the Camp Fire last year.  To save face, they initiated a crisis, and scared us into believing that apocalyptic conditions would soon be upon us.  At our house, the winds were high, but we’ve felt much higher. The red flag warning was on, but we’ve had half a dozen of those already this year.  They pulled the plug here, and in places as widely divergent as Sausalito and Oakland at the same time, as though the “wind event” were the size of Typhoon Tip, the largest cyclone ever recorded.  They may have used science to determine which homes and businesses would go dark, and when. But we’ll never know. They simply tell us their experts determined the pattern and duration.  Our neighborhood was the first to lose power. Somehow, defying the rules of logic and fairness, I figured we’d be the last to be restored.  I was right. Now, here’s my real fear. Mother nature decides that this year, unlike in recent ones, she will spare us any great conflagrations.  And this will allow PG&E to claim responsibly for saving us, thus guaranteeing repeat performances in the future.  When the lights finally snapped on at our house, after being told we would have to wait for a few more days, guess what?Like a Munchausen victim, I actually felt grateful to PG&E for coming to my rescue.  The feeling lasted about a micro-second. One thing I am grateful for is how officials in our city rose to the occasion.  Though I like to poke fun at him occasionally, our City Manager did was he does best—-he managed.  John Donlevy is calm in the face of chaos, and a master of logistics. Emergency bulletins. Check.  Water for the animals in Golden Bear. Check.  Fire Hydrant for the rest of us. Of Course.  No TV? Come watch the game with the firefighters!  John even announced that if one needed to pull a building permit during the outage, there would be someone available to take the money.  It was Donlevy efficiency writ large. On the first morning of the blackout. I rose early and took a drive to survey things. Most of the town was pitch black. A few buildings had power, including, of course, PG&E’s campus. Peering through the windows, it appeared that every single light in the place was glowing.  After listening to a chorus of sanctimonious utility spokesmen on the radio warning us to conserve power, their Winters facility, gleaming ever brightly during the night, stood as a shining beacon of hypocrisy.  I thought of John Donlevy in that moment. I felt for him in the way I feel for any man who sticks his neck out for someone, and is not repaid with appreciation, or at least kindness.  After all John did—-the welcoming, the incentivizing, the graciousness in rewarding PG&E with a prime spot in our community—-this is how they repay him?  They wouldn’t even send power to the beating heart of John’s city, his beloved downtown.  But John’s a pro, and would never express disappointment publicly.  I did think I saw a slight tinge of sadness on his face, as he briefed the city the day before the plug was pulled.  He was powerless to stop it. He ended his briefing by declaring that perhaps all of this would turn out to be a colossal waste of time.  John was right. It was. ]]>

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