Kevin Courtney

Kevin Courtney is city editor of the Napa Valley Register.

I hate cold showers. Didn’t like them in the army, like them even less now.

When PG&E announced it would be pulling the plug last week, that’s what my fears latched onto: Cold showers.

Cheryl focused on our food supply. What could we eat without letting the cold out of the fridge?

Our freezer contained peak-of-sweetness peaches harvested just weeks earlier from our backyard tree. Instead of freezer burn, we’d now have worry about thaw rot.

Keeping the fridge locked tight, I suggested we eat peanut butter and crackers. For diversity, maybe cheese and crackers. Perhaps a hearty cheddar that can handle multiple days at room temp.

Cheryl had other ideas. Let’s eat out.

Wednesday morning was as predicted: Dark. Very dark.

We got up early and assessed the weirdness of living in an unelectrified house in an unelectrified neighborhood. This should have been a jog day, but running on streets without lights was too intimidating

Instead, we washed our faces in cold water and brushed our teeth by the light of a glass pumpkin stuffed with a string of battery-powered lights, then beat it for the nearest Starbucks. Cheryl brought with her a bag of cosmetics for application later at work.

Not succumbing to blackout despair felt exhilarating. At Starbucks, we wouldn’t just be surviving. If viewed in a certain way, we’d practically be thriving.

At the same time, I didn’t know if the Register offices on Soscol had power. Can’t put out a paper without power. What then, PG&E?

As it turned out, we did have power and I had coffee and the rest of the day went just fine, journalistically speaking.

Mid-day I got a text from a next-door neighbor. They’d turned on a generator and it was making a racket. Sorry about that.

This wasn’t the best news of my day, but I didn’t begrudge them their emergency source of power. I wasn’t expecting to bliss out on the Napa Valley vibe this week anyway.

When we got home from work, the neighbor’s generator was roaring as predicted. In the distance, I could hear other generators. It felt like the dawn of the Industrial Revolution.

A neighbor came off his hill. We talked about why PG&E had pulled the plug so early Wednesday when peak winds weren’t predicted until evening. Another neighbor joined us.

I’d never had a three-way chat with people on my street. The power shutdown had brought all of us together. Thank you, PG&E.

Cheryl and I planned to spend as little non-sleep time in our dead house as possible. While it was still light, we went on a long walk and counted all the roaring generators. It was impressive. These Browns Valley families were on it! As darkness fell, we headed out for food. After some debate, we chose Gott’s where the line was long, but we didn’t mind. Burgers, fries, a lit environment — what could be better than that?

We returned home to a pitch-black house. We washed a bit by pumpkin light, then crawled under the covers.

Sometime around midnight the wind began to howl. Was this it, PG&E — the predicted wind storm that prompted the historic plug pulling?

It was hard to sleep. Wind filled my brain. And I was itching to jog.

I rose at 4:45, put on my running gear and grabbed a tiny flashlight. Out into the elements I went.

The starlit scene was wildly magical. Leaves tumbled, eucalyptus bark shredded, a few solar-powered yard lights suggested a lost civilization.

I jogged carefully, very carefully. I didn’t kill myself as Cheryl had feared.

Upon returning, I rousted Cheryl from bed. On to breakfast!

But first the cold shower. I set a world’s record. In and out in less than two minutes. I didn’t swear once.

We chose Peet’s this time. We welcomed the hot coffee, the pumpkin bread, the Wi-Fi.

The loss of power had displaced us from our home, but we were feeling good about life. We still had a house, though a dark one. The outage would end one day, if not this one. Our bellies were full.

Like I said, we weren’t just surviving. It felt like thriving.

(Editor’s note: The Courtney household regained power Thursday night while they were away in search of comfort food.)

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Kevin can be reached at 707-256-2217 or Napa Valley Register, 1615 Soscol Ave., Napa, 94559, or kcourtney@napanews.com.


City Editor

Kevin has been city editor since September 2010. He joined the Register in 1973 as a reporter. He covered Napa City Hall and assorted other beats over the years. Kevin has been writing his Napa Journal column on Sundays since 1989.