Saturday, November 14, 2009

I Feel Shocked

In Dodgeball, one of the most ridiculously hilarious movies of all time, Cotton McKnight says "Average Joe's wins in a shocking upset!" to which his broadcast partner Pepper Brooks responds "I feel shocked!" I love that scene. Anyway, you know when I feel shocked? When I zap myself with electricity. Like, for example, when I am removing or installing a battery in my car or a bulldozer or something like that and I accidentally touch the wrench I am using to connect the terminals to the battery to the metal side of the vehicle and it sparks and shocks the hell out of me. That makes me feel shocked. Not that I've done it before, but electricity makes me feels shocked. And so it did to 60% of Brazil and 90% of Paraguay when the power went out last week.
Yeah, it just went out. No big deal, I hear you say. No big deal. Power goes out here all the time when there is a storm or when a squirrel climbs into a transformer or good old Uncle Earl has a couple too many and crashed the Taurus into an electric pole on his way home from the bar. It's no big deal, the power usually comes on in a couple of hours or so unless it's a big snowstorm or something. I can't imagine it was too big a deal.
But it was a big deal. A really big deal. Among the cities that were affected were Rio de Janiero and São Paulo which, oh, by the way, are two of the larges cities and metropolitan areas on the entire planet. You should go take a picture, it's really kind of stunning. There are some completely gorgeous pictures of the beach at Rio, but other than that the pictures are stunning in their silence. The only lights are those produced in white and red by the cars attempting to navigate the streets by headlight.
What is actually the most shocking about this incident is not that it happened, but how it shoved in our faces just how much the developed world relies on electricity. Think about it. When the power went out the subway trains stopped. People had to walk out of pitch-black tunnels to the stations. When the power went out the stoplights went out. Cars were getting into giant traffic jams at intersections. When the power went out the streetlights and phones went out. In Rio especially muggers took advantage, although it has been said that in Rio crime did not rise (doubt it) and in São Paulo crime actually dropped (doubt that too). When the power went out air conditioners stopped working. People flocked out into the streets on the hot spring night. No TV. No radio. No lights. No refrigeration. No cooking. None of it. The scope of just how many crucial things in our lives rely on electricity is never really clear until it is gone. Like it was gone in Brazil and Paraguay.
Now, the other astonishing, sorry, shocking, fact is that a country could have its infrastructure set up in a way that would allow something like this to happen. There should be backups and diversions and other ways of transforming power so that when a heavy rainstorm knocks out all three transmission lines that carry power away from your largest power source, which is what they claim happened in this situation, the grid can stay up and the lights can stay on. Especially when your country is going to host the World Cup in five years and the Summer Olympics in seven. Now granted, I know that something like this happened in the US and Canada in like the early 90s or so, maybe the 80s, but we learned from that and I am sure we weren't holding the results of those lessons back from the Brazilians had they asked about them. That being said, let's not ring them up on this, let's just see where they go from here. And let's thank the heavens and the engineers and the linemen that the power is still on.

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