'Power-less' people flood public access points to stay plugged in
Published 1:04 pm, Thursday, November 1, 2012
Power-hungry residents from throughout Fairfield County, particularly in hard-hit Westport and Fairfield, zigzagged through the maze of power-line and tree limb-strewn streets in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy this week in search of functional electrical outlets.
With so much of their communities dark, it was difficult to find power sources to charge electronic devices, ranging from cell phones to laptops to tablets. But few wanted to face a communication blackout for the duration of the predicted week to 10 days it initially was predicted it may take to fully restore power.
The Starbucks shops in Westport and Fairfield, where so many people get their jolt of caffeine and electricity, were closed earlier in the week as was the Fairfield Public Library -- although it opened Thursday, and is available for the public to re-charge electronics.
The Fairfield Police Department on Tuesday opened its headquarters doors to the public, allowing them to charge computers, cell phones, iPads and other electronic devices in the lobby.
Janet Stone pressed her luck, bringing a Krupp's coffee maker to the station.
"I just want a hot cup of coffee. If there's cream in this building I'll find it," she said, and she did, with help from Deputy Chief Chris Lyddy. "I feel like I deserve a cup of coffee after a tree came through my house and a branch pierced the roof into a bedroom. We're lucky no one was hurt," said Stone, who lives near Fairfield's beachfront.
The Westport Public Library opened its doors by 1 p.m. Tuesday, when a stream of people poured in for access to its electric outlets. Seven tables were set up in the MacManus Room to help with the overflow.
"Every seat is taken," said library Communications Coordinator Marcia Logan. So was every parking space. Some patrons sat on the floor, on stools among the stacks and in the hallways, grateful for a place to plug in.
"We're lucky that we upgraded our WiFi a few months ago because of the last storm (in August 2011). We upgraded it to accommodate more people. Some people have multiple devices to plug in," she said.
"The whole family is here to get out of the house and to charge our computers and phones, and to have a family outing," said Gwen Cohen of Westport.
Elaine Shay of Westport and her 11-year-old twins Strat and Seren were at the library to charge her new iPhone and two computers, but also to give the kids something to do.
"They were bored. They wanted to go outside, but I wouldn't let them," said Shay, who was worried about downed power lines and trees.
Rachel Peterson of Westport was one of the lucky few who never lost power, but she came to the library anyway to work on a puzzle. "You meet people here. It's interesting to talk to people you don't know. It's relaxing. It's back to basics. It feels like a happening place and you want to be here," she said.
One of the few places open for business in the immediate aftermath of the hurricane was the local Whole Foods supermarket and its cafe was filled to capacity with customers, particularly those desperate for connections. The market provides free WiFi in its cafe.
"We usually shop here, but we don't usually hang her," said Kevin Knight of Norwalk, who came to charge phones and computers with his 15-year-old son Johanan.
"What's been great is that we've run into neighbors and there are people I met I didn't even realize were neighbors. Catastrophe aside, we wind up connecting with our neighbors and meeting new neighbors. It's wonderful and sad at the same time, but we fared better than the last time. More trees down, but warmer weather," Kevin Knight said.
At home in Wilton, Seth Benjamin had no power nor Internet access. "And there's poor cell coverage -- a triple threat," he said. "At least I can stay on top of things and assist clients with what they need. With the Web and remote access there's virtually nothing we can't do," said Benjamin, who set up shop for an hour or so in Whole Foods charging batteries, checking in with clients of his corporate Macintosh Support firm, and doing something practical. "I was YouTubing how to install a generator," said Benjamin, who, from experience, knows the Sandy aftermath means the region may be in it for the long haul.
Michael Jacob of Westport was thinking long-term, too. "We're hoping to hold this table for seven to 10 days," he joked, mentioning the length of time that utility officials and town leaders anticipate it may take to full restore power.
Back in Fairfield, residents were grateful to the Police Department for opening its headquarters doors. Chief Gary MacNamara said it was the first time the department's lobby was opened to the public to serve as a charging station.
"This is fantastic. It's the only way to charge," said Sue O'Brien, who lives near the beach.
"It's amazing how dependent you get on that online channel ... It's become part of your intellectual nourishment," said Don Hyman of Fairfield.
"It's been helpful because I have two children in college and texting is my way to communicate with them. It's kept us calm," said Beth Sullivan of Fairfield. Sullivan had expected to see a long line of residents waiting to use outlets, but was pleased to get right in.
"We've been using it all day. This is my second time here," said Theresa Bartovic.
Matt and Bronwyn Prohaska and their daughter Danielle, 7, charged five devices at the police station -- "an iPad for Netflix, two computers so we can play DVDs and two (cell) phones," Bronwyn Prohaska said.
The police headquarters was their only option, she said.
Matt Prohaska said most of their friends also lost power so "we're all in the same boat."
Boats were also on the mind of his daughter Danielle, who played Power Boat Races, a game on an iPad app, while it was being charged. MacNamara took a few minutes from his hectic crisis-mode schedule to watch her virtual boat zoom through canals.
Janet Stone was craving her cup of coffee all day. When she couldn't brew a pot using her car's lighter she decided to bring it into police headquarters while making a cup as her cellphone charged.
"Oh, this coffee smells so good. I've been wanting to smell it all day," she said, as she poured her first cup just after 6 p.m. "Now the day has started," Stone said, adding that she doesn't mean to make light of anybody's misfortune during the storm.
But MacNamara reminded her: "We have to laugh through crisis. We're dealing with serious stuff. Otherwise, you lose your sanity."