When the lights go off

These days the best customer service appears to be robotic customer service
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While snow chasers — not to be confused with chub chasers — spent much of last week zooming to the mountains in pursuit of virgin powder, the rest of us coped with such storm-related inconveniences as no electricity for hours at a time, from dusk to dawn and beyond. I went to brew myself some consoling tea, only to be reminded, when the burner under the kettle would not catch, that while the stove is a gas stove, its ignition elements are electronic. These small but indispensable bits of gadgetry had gone into involuntary hibernation, as had the ignition element for the furnace (ergo: no heat), along with the modem, the router, and the cordless telephone. I lit some candles, but I couldn't brew tea with them.

By nightfall, I felt as if I were on the set of a Brother Cadfael mystery. Naturally, we went out to dinner. Alice Waters once described how she cooked an entire meal in a fireplace in some remote but charming inn; I would like to go her one better, by describing how, lacking even a fireplace, I cooked an entire dinner over a Shabbat candelabra (and used a fully lit menorah for searing), but I can't, because I couldn't. Instead it was off to a cheery Italian place in the neighborhood, with iffy bread, butter pats wrapped in foil (does any get recycled?), overlarge servings, and a stiffer-than-expected bill. Had the Google riche discovered this once-homey spot? Had their electricity failed too? Why didn't they just stay in their luxury buses?

Privately, one was galled to find the power on and lights burning brightly just a few blocks away. One then screamed, somewhat less privately, at the utility's automated complaint line, with its endlessly shifting stories of what had happened and ever-changing predictions of when it would end, and the automated voice's chirpy implacability in response to one's frothings. These days the best customer service appears to be robotic customer service that induces despair and causes the unserved to hang up and go away.

The temperature in an unheated San Francisco house in mid-January soon falls into the middle 50s, which — lo! — is a good temperature to serve red wine at. I cracked open a bottle of holiday-basket Concannon cab and bathed my tender larynx. Let there be light. And at last, past my bedtime, there was.

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