Chicago, IL

Lengthy Power Outages Bring Out the Very Best in Chicagoans

Natalie Frank, Ph.D.

Yesterday, there was a power outage that extended for a circumference of 4 to 5 blocks in the Rogers Park neighborhood of Chicago, but instead of being annoyed, residents took the opportunity to help their fellow neighbors

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Street lights were out and buildings were dark Thursday morning in the Rogers Park neighborhood of Chicago due to a power outageAuthor

Yesterday, despite there being no storm or other violent weather, a large portion of the Rogers Park neighborhood of Chicago lost electricity. Starting around 8:30am customers on Jarvis and surrounding streets noticed that their electricity had gone out. There were no serious weather patterns, not even high winds, that might have accounted for it. Many residents dialed up ComEd, to find out what was going on and were told there were some repairs that had to be made in the area and the electricity should be restored around 3:30pm.

It’s rare that we lose power in Chicago, unless there is a major weather event of some kind. Having lived here for 7 years, this is only the third power outage I have experienced.

The first one, was several years ago during a blizzard with temperature around zero. It took about 6 hours before power was restored by which time the building was freezing, and residents were huddled together in the lobby under a patchwork of blankets each person had brought from their residence. It was cold enough to see your breath and the number of cold children was heart wrenching. Many adults took their own blankets and tucked them around the little shivering bodies despite not knowing them.

The second time the power went out, was by far the most serious. It was about a year and a half ago when a waterspout over Lake Michigan, came on land, turning into a tornado and surging violently down my street felling trees, picking up and throwing cars and causing our transformer to blow. This left us in without power and largely trapped due to the enormous trees that were blocking the streets for over two days.

Once the devastation ended neighbors began to emerge from the different buildings and taking a survey of the damage, quickly began organizing to help out anyone in the neighborhood who wasn’t able to. Those who could wield power saws began cutting apart fallen trees to try to get some of the blockages cleared. Others offered extra candles or flashlights to those who didn’t have any. Still others offered a place to stay for neighbors who couldn’t get back into their home that evening.

Amazing footage of the 2020 tornado that came in off the lake and destroyed a huge swath of Rogers Park, taken by a neighbor:

The third time I have experienced a power outage in Chicago occurred yesterday. It was morning so we wouldn’t have to worry too much about it getting dark for a while, but many people had to figure out how to get ready for work despite not have the normal comforts of home. Upon calling ComEd, I was informed that there were repairs that had to be made in the area and they hoped to have the power back on by 3:30. As luck would have it, the day was also the first really cold one and temperatures inside were already starting to drop.

I took a walk to see how far the power outage extended only to learn it extended at least 4 to 5 blocks. Something that I noticed that amazed me was the drivers on the streets. Chicago is not exactly known for having the most courteous drivers. In a 2019 ranking conducted by Allstate, drivers in Chicago were among the worst in Illinois and were in the bottom half of the list, placing at No. 133 out of 200 cities.

Whether you drive or not, it’s hard not to notice the less than stellar drivers in the area. It often seems that the negative behavior drivers display is intentional, such as refusing to let other cars in when getting on the highway or interpreting red lights to be just a suggestion for five seconds after they turn. I have learned to wait on the curb counting “One, banana, two banana, . . .” to five before starting to cross a street once the light turns after almost being hit twice and seeing a bicyclist knocked halfway across the street when properly crossing with the light.

Yesterday, I was a bit concerned, needing to cross a major intersection to get to the subway as the street lights were also out. However, when I arrived at the curb, something astounding happened. The cars in both directions stopped and waited for me to cross. No one blew their horns or seemed impatient. One driver actually even waved at me and I waved back. That was a first.

Walking around the neighborhood I saw similar acts of kindness playing out. Every time a person came to the curb intending to cross, cars stopped. One car broke down and three other drivers pulled over and jumped out of their cars to help the older man. First, they pushed the car over so it was no longer blocking traffic. Noticing that the man wasn’t dressed for the weather, one driver ran back to his car and brought a spare coat and blanket back to the man. They waited for AAA together, and a fifth man joined them, bringing everyone coffee from the convenience store about a block away.

The third time I have experienced a power outage in Chicago occurred yesterday. It was morning so we wouldn’t have to worry too much about it getting dark for a while, but many people had to figure out how to get ready for work despite not have the normal comforts of home. Upon calling ComEd, I was informed that there were repairs that had to be made in the area and they hoped to have the power back on by 3:30. As luck would have it, the day was also the first really cold one and temperatures inside were already starting to drop.

I took a walk to see how far the power outage extended only to learn it extended at least 4 to 5 blocks. Something that I noticed that amazed me was the drivers on the streets. Chicago is not exactly known for having the most courteous drivers. In a 2019 ranking conducted by Allstate, drivers in Chicago were among the worst in Illinois and were in the bottom half of the list, placing at No. 133 out of 200 cities.

Whether you drive or not, it’s hard not to notice the less than stellar drivers in the area. It often seems that the negative behavior drivers display is intentional, such as refusing to let other cars in when getting on the highway or interpreting red lights to be just a suggestion for five seconds after they turn. I have learned to wait on the curb counting “One, banana, two banana, . . .” to five before starting to cross a street once the light turns after almost being hit twice and seeing a bicyclist knocked halfway across the street when properly crossing with the light.

Yesterday, I was a bit concerned, needing to cross a major intersection to get to the subway as the street lights were also out. However, when I arrived at the curb, something astounding happened. The cars in both directions stopped and waited for me to cross. No one blew their horns or seemed impatient. One driver actually even waved at me and I waved back. That was a first.

Walking around the neighborhood I saw similar acts of kindness playing out. Every time a person came to the curb intending to cross, cars stopped. One car broke down and three other drivers pulled over and jumped out of their cars to help the older man. First, they pushed the car over so it was no longer blocking traffic. Noticing that the man wasn’t dressed for the weather, one driver ran back to his car and brought a spare coat and blanket back to the man. They waited for AAA together, and a fifth man joined them, bringing everyone coffee from the convenience store about a block away.

East Rogers Park has a number of rehab and nursing facilities, where a loss of power can cause real problems. It is not unusual to see ambulances in the area, but yesterday the way the paramedics acted was different than they normally did.

I watched as one ambulance brought an elderly resident back to a facility. When they had the individual at the door and realized that the power was out, they spoke with an administrator, then took the person back down the ramp and returned them to the ambulance. I asked one of the paramedics if they were clearing the facility as they were perhaps anticipating a long time without power and he replied, “No, but they said the temperature is dropping and Mr. ___ is just getting back from the hospital. We figured better he should stay in the vehicle which we can keep heated.

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Ambulance stands in front of a rehab facility with an elderly patient being kept inside the heated vehicle with paramedicsAuthor

I asked what would happen if another call came in. The paramedic said that they’d see if there was anyone else close enough to take it. If not they’d have to take their patient in to handle the emergency. I asked how long they would be able to wait with him, and the paramedic said, “As long as it takes a call to come in that no one else is around to handle.” This time I was the one who brought back coffee.

Power was restored around 2:30 pm and I found myself feeling just a touch disappointed. The caring and compassion that Chicagoans show during outages is something that the city could use all the time. Perhaps some of the genuine human kindness displayed during this power outage will last at least a little longer.

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Chicago, IL
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