In 1992 I was both newly married and newly moved to a little town in the California's Central Valley, the kind of place that time had seemingly forgotten -- where we knew the cops by name and where there was (at the time) little crime or even news, for that matter. (The day the Taco Bell at the shopping center opened, it was front page news for several days, I kid you not.)
It was sitting in that sweet, safe little town, in the comfortable living room of our rented condo, that I watched my hometown of Los Angeles fall apart, live on television, during the riots that took place after the Rodney King verdict.
While the 1992 riots were violent and therefore more shocking, I found myself once again watching my home state on the evening news last week. Only this time the news was about PG&E shutting off power to a million customers in Northern and Central California during the inevitable and (nowadays) annual autumn wildfires. It felt oddly familiar -- watching from a distance something that was having a huge impact on parts of my home state, where I still have family and which I will always love.
I have a running theory that when major grid blackouts start occurring any place, whether it's Aleppo, Syria or Calistoga, CA, it's a sign that something is going on, whether the blackout is deliberate or not. In California, you could argue over whether the "something going on" is 1) climate change or 2) a corrupt utility that hasn't done its part to maintain its aging equipment, but the truth be told, it's probably both of the above. But it doesn't bode well for the future of the Golden State.
Our new state of Oregon is not without its own issues, to be certain. In our state, it's bridges everyone is concerned with. Oregon's bridges are old, they lack seismic updates, and no one can agree how to pay for the needed repairs. But at least you can structure your life so that you can avoid needing to use a bridge, at least here in Salem. We (deliberately) chose to live east of the Willamette River, so the I-5 corridor and most of Salem is on our side of the river, so if a bridge were to be out of order -- or gone -- our lives would not be severely impacted, unless we wanted to drive to the coast.
But avoiding a week-long shutdown of your electricity? It's hard to avoid that. You can have generators, candles, fireplaces and every other off-grid convenience known to mankind, but a week-long power outage will put a strain even the most well-provisioned among us.
It scares me a little that this is only the beginning of the pain of living with a climate that is changing, combined with transportation and electrical infrastructures not equipped to handle those changes.
The only question is, how much pain will we endure before facing the pain of paying to keep our old way of life in a new world? I have no answers, just questions, like everyone else.
But if the fires of autumn and the pre-emptive blackouts are any indication of what's to come, we're in for a wild ride.