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Kyle Eller: Some of us have power outages every day

At six in the evening Monday before last, we made the call: With power still out and ambiguous reports of when we could expect it back, we made the same choice many Duluthians made and booked a room at a local motel.

At six in the evening Monday before last, we made the call: With power still out and ambiguous reports of when we could expect it back, we made the same choice many Duluthians made and booked a room at a local motel.
The reason, of course, was the weather and its consequences. The mid-April storm that came through brought temperatures in the 32-degree range, meaning a mixture of slush and ice and sleet and snow and plain old rain. I was up at the University of Minnesota-Duluth when the power went out there, departing in a couple of inches of slush down Woodland Avenue. By the time I got to Lincoln Park, what was falling was mostly rain.
But the power was flickering. At about 4 a.m., it went out altogether, leaving our apartment not cold exactly, but definitely cool.
Going to a motel was not an easy decision. The temperature was a gray area, and we're tough people, plus we have a dog. We could light our gas stove manually without the electric ignition, and since I'm vegan, it's not like much of our food had spoiled. We try to live simply and within our means.
But we were tired and had not showered for the day, and we wanted to be comfortable. We had the extra $40 or so available.
Our first call was to a nearby place we like with a pool; it was full, and they don't take pets anyway. The next call was to an even closer place that's cheaper and has no pool. They "leave the light on" for you, if you know what I mean, and they had the added bonus of accepting pets, which meant we wouldn't be smuggling our Tia in under a coat.
And so it went. We stopped at a local restaurant for some grub and then checked into our allegedly smoke-free room.
A couple of hours later, I checked back to discover the power was on in our neighborhood and our building was heating up nicely, but by this time, we were showered and settled into our room -- no point in repacking and moving again.
We weren't alone in our decision. Every glance out the window showed another apparent local circling the ol' building with a pooch over the same 10 square feet of grass.
I felt a bit guilty, I have to confess. We were not going to freeze or starve even if the power didn't come back on. Plus, I don't like to spend money needlessly, and I pride myself on being able to make do in trying circumstances.
Yet here I was, the prototypical American overconsumer, unable to survive another night at 45 degrees. I figured if I could, I might as well be comfortable. Conspicuous consumerism at its best.
Duluth motels did probably their best Monday business of the year because of this same choice repeated over and over.
Can you imagine what would have happened if the worst of Y2K had hit? Instead of 12,000 people out of power -- or whatever it actually was -- all of us, including motels, would have been down. The temperature would not have been hovering around freezing but potentially well below zero.
Well, I digress.
The point I want to make is this. We live in a city of more than 85,000 people. The climate is a bit severe, but nothing we can't handle -- apparently so long as strings of metal and plastic remain suspended between poles and bring power to our homes.
Of course, there are places in the world where regular power is not taken for granted, and I'm not even talking about California.
And there are people in this city, more of them than you might expect, who live often or always without power, without stoves, without showers and sometimes without food or shelter at all. They come in every race, every gender, from children to senior citizens. Some of them are developmentally disabled, others brilliant. Some are mentally ill, some are down on their luck.
Some of them have jobs that simply don't pay enough.
And when the going gets "tough," they don't just jump in the SUV, gripe about the cost of gas, stop off at the nearest motel, take a dip in the pool, munch on Domino's and feel vaguely out of sorts. They sleep in shelters or on the streets. They eat from one of various local food shelves or soup kitchens. They rely on the kindness of church groups and kindhearted strangers and a trickle of tax money.
We pass these people every day, but we rarely see their faces or hear their stories.
Why don't we think about them?
Of course I'm heartened to see the way Duluth pulled together for this trying adventure. As the week progressed, quite a few folks remained without power, and I'm guessing many discovered or rediscovered what good neighbors they have.
What I'm proposing is extending our neighborliness. I believe thinking back a week or so should be a reminder to think about the people who live like that day in and day out. They are our neighbors, too.
There are many ways to get involved helping out the homeless and the hungry in Duluth, but they won't necessarily come looking for you. Please consider doing something: If you're in a position to do it -- and most of us are -- pick a favorite charitable organization and donate a bag of groceries or a few hours of your day. Remember the neighbors we always forget -- the ones who live every day the way we did the night we had it rough.
Kyle Eller is news editor at the Budgeteer News. Reach him at kyle.eller@duluth.com or 723-1207.

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