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July 08, 2024

Hamtramck Unplugged

By Amy Probst

So here is what happens in a Detroit neighborhood, in 2003, when there's no electricity.

8:15 a.m.
You have no water, for one thing. Losing water is way worse than losing power, it turns out. I would've assumed otherwise, I think. But the power feeds creature comforts and mental needs, while the water takes care of basic health and life. I can't wash anything, even my hands if I get something funky on them. Even low-model germs can't be kept at bay. The cat food cans, for example: I can't rinse them out. And the uneaten food can't be flushed; it's in the garbage now. And it's ramping up to be 90 degrees and off-the-charts humid today. The radio guys (miraculously, I found batteries in the attic, probably from an inspired moment of smoke alarm safety never carried through) joked that locust and the plague are next.

11:00 a.m.
Walked to the corner and bought a case of water . The scene inside the dark store was restrained frenzy and very moviesque.

11:15 a.m.
Information is like crack, and I am jonesing. I'm annoyed that listening to my neighbors talking outside yields no information, because I understand only English. Mary Jane, across the street, speaks English, and I brought her two of my precious bottles of water. She lives alone and is kind of at a sixth-grade mentality level. I've seen posters on her living room walls and dried chunks of food on her shirts. She eats every meal at The Clock, which of course is closed, and I'm worried about her over there. For those of us non-cookers, closed restaurants are a very big deal.

2:35 p.m.
I bought a jar of peanut butter and a loaf of Polish bread that I picked out in the dark back aisles of the corner grocery. I wonder if Mary Jane has anything other than the tuna salad in her fridge that she doesn't want to believe won't be okay to eat when the power comes on. (It's been too long.) "But I spent so much money yesterday--you mean I have to throw all that food away?" There were tears in her eyes.

4:30 p.m.
After sweating to a genderless bloat all day, I've now put on a little makeup and biggened my hair. Also brushed my teeth with precious bottled water. Personally, my womanliness seems more marketable in these primitive conditions, when things like dirty fingernails matter less than pretty eyes or foofy hair.

6:10 p.m.
The birds are sounding pretty chipper this evening. Can they tell the wires they're sitting on are different today? I wonder. I'm also hungry. Jif has been a real disappoinment, let me tell you. Where's the salt? It's hard to breathe. The air is too thick, and mixed with panic.

9:45 p.m.
It's nighttime, and my neighborhood feels like a campground. We've been on our porches all day, a friendly family thanks to the shared boat we're in, but we can't see each other now, even across the street. Two houses have candles on their porches, and this light alone has half the block glowing orange. A group of scary teenagers walked by, and it turns out that a mere flashlight can be menancing; they beamed it at houses and inside cars. In this darkened situation, the guy behind the light has incredible power.

10:15 p.m.
Matt called me from I-696 & Woodward, a big-city intersection, and said it felt like being out in the country. All down Woodward, from Ferndale to Birmingham, was blackness. Except for the Chicken Shack! Glowing bright yellow, serving their generator-powered chicken to the gobs of humans flocked around their sole light like the bugs round the porchlight up north. Funny about the country feel of our city without power. I guess buildings alone don't create the feel of a city.

11:00 p.m.
The sky above Hamtramck is full of stars every night, but tonight we can see them, like our great-grandparents could. It's beautiful, and I feel good.

Article © Amy Probst. All rights reserved.
Published on 2004-03-13
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