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Off the Grid in the Age of Online

Has Con Ed "epically failed" you? Are you among the dozens in the Villages still without power after an intolerable 11 days? Here are some of their stories.

The thousands of people without power in our villages has gone down to dozens. But these dozens say they are no less significant merely because there are less of them.

Imagine 11 days without power, as nights dip down below freezing and an insulting Nor’easter rips through the region.

“It just absolutely boggles our minds that because only a handful houses on our block are without power, we are being pushed to the bottom of the priority pile again and again,” wrote one Philipse Manor resident who didn’t want to use her name.  “Because Con Ed wants to restore power to 'clustered' areas first and now with the Nor’easter… I guess it defies any more commenting…”

Many who are just small dots now on the Con Edison outage map feel isolated and forgotten.

The isolation can be literal in an age when most communication comes by way of emails, websites, Tweets, Facebook posts. At first the most pressing concern seemed to be for many to get to outlets and wifi, with places everywhere offering up their electrical abundance.

W@tercooler of course became one of these buzzing hubs, just doing more of what it typically does anyway: bringing people together. Certainly there was community that came from hardship.

Read about Finding Coworking (and Community) in the Burbs after Sandy here.

Exchanging online tips on warming shelters morphed into tips on where the gas line is shortest, or who has gas in the first place.

Of course this all assumes one has “devices” to charge or connect on. But what about the elderly?

It started to get colder as the days wore on and people started coming to the shelter for that “warming” part as well. One elderly couple was trapped in their home for several days in the cold because they didn’t know how to open their electronic garage door. They also had no resource for getting information on where to go – until they did get out and talked to a teller at the Chase Bank.

Those lucky to have generators are also a little at risk if they aren’t cautious enough. One woman in the Crest Neigborhood, buzzing with the sound of generated power, was worried she was getting fumes in her home. The Fire Dept. made a positive reading for Carbon Monoxide.

And the Tarrytown Police Department and county offers safety tips for generators here.

I was relieved to see police officers going door to door in Sleepy Hollow to tell people about the shelters available to them. Then the Mayor did a little of the same. In Tarrytown, I went around a bit of door-to-dooring myself. It was almost eerie in a third-world kind of way to hand my flyer with information to one lady walking a dog and watch the pair disappear into the density of tree limbs blocking access to their own street and home. Everyone I cornered on their own property looked like they hadn’t showered in a while, and they looked tired. Perhaps they were even slightly wary of anyone wielding a "flyer" with so many political canvassers on the loose.

As the Tarrytown Police told me, there’s no master list of all the old people in town. The best they could really do is follow a concerned relative’s phone call with a “welfare check” house visit. But what if an old person has no family?

Hopefully, we are looking after our neighbors. And it seems that one good thing that comes of such circumstances is people really do come together.

Suddenly I find myself on the Irvington Parents email group, though I live here in Sleepy Hollow, and the emails come constantly now despite, or because of, the lack of power in certain neighborhoods.

Catherine Johnson of Irvington shared her dizzying eight-point list with the group on:

How to Get Through to Real Person at Con Ed

800.75.CONED, 800.752.6633

1.To continue in English – Press 1 

2.To report hazardous conditions – Press 1 

3.To report an electrical outage or a problem with lights – Press 1 (for gas, Press 2)

4.To hear outage information for Westchester Press 1; to BYPASS audit information – Press 0

5. "For faster service our system is attempting to look up your account using the phone number you are calling from" -- If your account is under your landline & you're calling from your cell, they will say they can't find your account OR they will give you the wrong account if you are calling from a friend's landline

6. If this account information is not correct – Press 2

7. Please key in your landline number, Con Ed account, or social security number

8. The automated voice now finds your account and reads your address [I think you Press 1 if correct]

"We have a pending electrical trouble report for your account and will investigate as soon as possible … and call with an estimated repair date… If you have additional information about your outage and need to speak to a customer service representative – Press 1 

Assemblyman Thomas Abinanti, uncontested in the recent elections, had the time to rail against Con Ed instead. He aims in second two-year term to “unplug Westchester from Con Edison” for their “epic fail.” 

The Irving neighborhood of Tarrytown, on Irvington’s border, was still without power as of yesterday afternoon. I haven’t heard an outcome on that yet, but the Village reported no less than 11 Con Ed trucks and 20 workers there.

Jen Kasoff, of this area, wrote on Facebook when I asked who was still out there in the dark: “11 days. No work, no word, nothing. That's about 40 houses. It's ridiculous.” At 4:45 pm. she said, “Not a truck here.”

Having a Con Edison truck sighting has become akin to spotting Santa’s sleigh in the sky, generating all kinds of online chatter. A quick photo I posted on Facebook the other day of just a Con Ed truck driving down Beekman quickly generated 37 “Likes.”

But what’s it really like to live so long without power, with kids, with pets, with no heat?

The same Philipse Manor mom described:

Friends of ours, 2 houses down are lending us a bit of power through an extension cord to have at least fridge run and occasionally charge laptops or cell phones. Since our kitchen is fully electrical equipped no chance in cooking, just cold cuts or, of course, deliveries or take out.

Oh yes, I almost forgot, since FIOS is down too, we had to organize a hotspot (for which Verizon charges us too), but at the same token still have to pay for the FIOS line which very obviously does not work because there is no power. Screwed up world isn't it?

This woman was worried as well for the elderly and actually considered her family lucky with their helpful friends and neighbors and their working fireplace. She too was thinking of “the elderly people who (still) think they can handle anything, but in reality are very fragile in a dire situation like this,” she wrote.

Nicole Gilpin shared on Facebook how she came across someone upset in C-Town and gave her number in case she needed something.

I met a woman in C-Town yesterday who hasn't had power or heat for ELEVEN DAYS. She was arguing with a ConEd supervisor because, as with several times before when she called, they had no further info for her. She has a sick son at home. I gave her my info, but something isn't right here when that happens. Her area of Tarrytown or Sleepy Hollow has been abandoned, she feels, by ConEd and the linemen who came, said they'd return, and never did.

People without power also have been worried about the coverage of this story waning now that more lights are coming on. Please keep sharing your stories with me, and I will continue. 

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