Published on March 9, 2021

The View from my Seat

Record freeze, power failure, busted pipes start off 2020.1

By Ernie Williamson / The Bulletin

Was the year 2020 merely a prequel to 2021?

Last year, remember, we were all wishing 2021 would hurry up and get here. We desperately wanted to forget 2020.

But as bad as 2020 was with its pandemic and vicious presidential campaign, we are off to a worse start in 2021.

While vaccines for the moment are slowing the spread of COVID-19, mutations now are lurking everywhere.

Meanwhile, the heated rhetoric of last year’s political campaign has been replaced by this January’s actual assault on our nation’s Capitol.

And now we can add a record freeze and statewide power outages to the list of 2021 miseries.
Oh, I almost forgot about not having water. Or having contaminated water you can’t drink.

In some cases, there were so many crises that they got in each other’s way.

For instance, some Texans choose to stay in their freezing homes rather than risk catching Covid-19 in heating shelters. Other Texans who were signed up to get vaccinated didn’t get their shots because the cold weather closed vaccination sites.

It all felt as if we were suddenly living in a Third World Country. Can locusts be far behind?

The recent freeze posed severe challenges for those of us in wheelchairs because of disabilities.

For me, the biggest challenge is adjusting mentally and emotionally to the fact that there is little I can do to help prepare our household for the cold weather. My wife has to carry the load.

It is painful to watch Kelly, already burdened with way too many daily tasks, now have to purge the sprinkler system, wrap the pipes and carry in fire wood.

There was one particularly awkward moment during the freeze.

In an effort to take a break from the wheelchair, I thought I could stretch out in my recliner. Oops, can’t do that! It’s a power chair. Is this really progress when your favorite chair won’t budge because of a power outage?

Because the chair is located in a place that is hard to inspect from my wheelchair, I momentarily considered asking Kelly to look for a way to adjust the chair by hand, the old-fashioned and reliable way.

I quickly dismissed that idea. I didn’t think it appropriate to ask my wife to help me settle into the recliner while she was venturing outside in freezing weather to bring in fire wood.

Some observations about the Big Freeze of 2021:

GIFTS YOU THOUGHT YOU WOULD NEVER WEAR: The record cold gave us all an opportunity to dig deep into our closets to find all those heavy jackets and ugly sweaters that have piled up from Christmases Past … but never had been worn until now.

TOUGH TO SWALLOW: Besides the homeless, I feel the sorriest for restaurant owners and workers. Suffering from the pandemic restrictions, I imagine they were looking forward to a brisk business on Valentine’s Day, only to hear weather advisories on that Sunday warning people to stay off the icy roads.

WILL I EVER LEARN? There was nothing more depressing than poking my head outside to check on the weather and hearing my neighbor’s generator. I could only imagine the scene in his house: TV going, well-cooked meals and plenty of heat. I wished he would invite us over. Or maybe I should buy a generator? How many years have I thought about doing that?

FEELING STUPID: I lost count of the number of times during the power outage that I would roll into a darkened room with my flashlight in hand and still try to turn the light switch on. Habits are hard to break.

IT COULD BE WORSE: Some Texans faced a difficult choice: Pay an astronomical amount for power or go without. The Daily Beast reported that one power company sent customers a message urging them to switch companies because “prices are about to explode.”

The company, Griddy, sells wholesale power for a monthly membership. The Griddy business model charges subscribers a flat $9.99 monthly fee and then sells them raw power at its going wholesale value.

This often saves Griddy customers money, but the wild surge in costs during the freeze ran bills up to astounding levels.

Scott Pierce, a contractor who lives in a two-story house, paid only $330 for power last February. As of Feb. 14 of this year, he owed $8,162.73. His bill had skyrocketed by more than $7,000 in the first two days of the storm.

“It’s not a great feeling knowing that there is a looming bill that we just can’t afford,” he says. He is now keeping his thermostat at 50 degrees.

Welcome to 2021!

And we haven’t even hit hurricane season yet.

(Ernie Williamson welcomes reader input. Please contact Ernie at williamsonernie@gmail.com. Or, send letters in care of The Bulletin, PO Box 2426, Angleton, TX. 77516)