After the Windstorm: 24 Powerless Hours in Beachwood Canyon

December 2, 2011 § 1 Comment

No Power, No Groceries/All photos Hope Anderson Productions

The lights went out in Hollywoodland around 1:15am on Thursday morning, hardly a surprise given the 100 mph winds that roared through the Canyon all evening. Power outages occur a couple of times a year here, usually because of windstorms, and generally last a few hours. But this one was different: there was no electricity when we got up in the morning, and none during the day and evening that followed.

It wasn’t just Beachwood that was affected: some 300,000 households in a wide geographic area–including Pasadena, Eagle Rock, Echo Park, Silver Lake and Los Feliz–lost power for an extended period of time.  Some areas, such as Sierra Madre and Altadena, were without power for 48 hours or longer.

Having worked late the night before, I didn’t feel pressed to seek out a Wifi connection outside the Canyon. Instead, I decided to see how long I could be productive without electricity–and found enough to keep me busy until 2pm. By that time, I needed to escape the oppressive silence that had descended on my office, and took my dog hiking. On the way up the Canyon, I expected to be impeded by downed trees and other damage from the storm, but there was nothing more dramatic than some branches by the road and an uprooted tree at Lake Hollywood Park. Nevertheless, for the first time I can remember, there were no tourists at the Lake Hollywood lookout and the picture-taking area for the Hollywood Sign.

Mulholland Highway, 3pm December 1st

3pm, Lake Hollywood Lookout

The Lake’s surface was like hammered silver in the afternoon sun.

Lake Hollywood, 2pm

At the head of the trail, a big pepper tree had shed thousands of pink berries that crunched satisfyingly underfoot.

Further along, a downed tree blocked the way.

toyon (California holly) was full of red berries, just in time for Christmas.

Afterwards, I swung by Beachwood Village, where the Market was closed due the power outage.

Around the corner, the Village Coffee Shop, which had closed its doors the previous day (the space will be reincarnated as the Beachwood Cafe in March), displayed Christmas decorations in its window.

Shortly afterwards, outside my house, I ran into a neighbor who passed on the news that we might be without power for another 2-3 days. I called DWP and listened to a recorded message that stated that power would be restored by 3:30pm, but by then it was after 4, and I found no reason to be optimistic about the coming night. I arranged  my flashlights and candles before going to the gym to work out and shower, and arrived home in pitch darkness.

Without electricity, night in the Canyon was hushed and premodern. The only illumination came from the radio tower and ranger station above the Hollywood Sign. Undisturbed by lights, the coyote that normally hunts on my hillside in the small hours started chasing tree rats at 6:30. My routine was no less altered: normally, I stay up late, reading, writing and watching TV. Last night, I cooked by candlelight and washed the dishes (with water boiled on the stove) before 9pm. I tried to read. Then it was flashlights out at ten.

The lights came on almost 24 hours to the minute after they had gone off. I woke up immediately and went downstairs to start the dishwasher. Later, I remembered to take the milk from the freezer and return it to the refrigerator. Sleep was impossible: suddenly everything hummed with electricity, and the previous day and night receded like an odd but compelling dream.

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