Courtesy, Melted Ice Cream, and Conspiracy Theories: Out on the Street in a Power Outage

In front of Northampton Market, employee Rilshad Azez shoos away potential customers as they pull into the lot.

Northampton Market employee Rilshad Azez stands in a dark market. Dave Eisenstadter photo

“No power,” he says.

The mailman he welcomes, but he asks a question: “You didn’t bring the power?”

“Sorry, not today,” is the answer.

As Azez enjoys a cigarette, he watches cars at the intersection in front of the store go by. The traffic light is out, but the cars are moving through in an orderly fashion. It’s been that way for an hour, Azez says.

“They’re using their common sense,” he says. “I’m seeing teamwork.”

No power at this traffic light in Northampton at the intersection of Conz and South streets. Dave Eisenstadter photo

Cars each approach the intersection with caution, and proceed according to who got there first. It makes a person wonder whether we need traffic lights at all.

For his part, Azez says it is the first day in a while that people haven’t been blaring their horns. When people see a green light and someone is on their cell phone, people tend to let them have it with the horn, he says.

Northampton Market doesn’t have a generator, so he can’t use the cash register. He says he hopes the power outage doesn’t last long.

Idea: A monthly outage holiday

It doesn’t, but that’s not necessarily such a great thing for Julie Grome, an employee at Sam’s Pizzeria and Cafe in downtown Northampton.

Julie Gomes, left, with Priscilla Touhey. Dave Eisenstadter photo

“I want the day off for the entire county,” she says, but it seems like she would also settle for just getting the day off herself. With Sam’s still dark, she says she might go for a bike ride and enjoy the day.

This is Grome’s plan: once a month, the power companies shut down power to the county and every one gets the day off, but it’s a surprise so no one knows it’s coming.

“It could make a dent in Hampshire County’s power usage,” she says.

Priscilla Touhey, a self employed business owner of Petals & Clay who is working on landscaping outside of a downtown business, listens to the idea. She likes it but has an addendum: let the business local business owners have a say.

“It would be bad if this happened on a Saturday,” she says.

Grome’s crosses Main Street back towards Sam’s, and Touhey says this isn’t the first time people have come up to her to chat.

Priscilla Touhey works on landscaping during the power outage Wednesday. Dave Eisenstadter photo

“For me this is the perfect day for this to happen,” she says as she puts mini conifer trees in soil beds. She’s working outside and people are coming by to chat with her about the latest news on the power outage. One person told her there were 17,000 people out in South Hadley, and others want to know what she knows, she says.

“In a way it brings people together because everyone asks what’s going on,” she says.

‘Think about it’

A few minutes later, on the other side of Main Street, a man cries out that 95 percent of the United States is without electricity.

“Think about it,” he says loudly, “Northampton, Easthampton, South Hadley ….”

Alarmed, a reporter checks his phone, but if 95 percent of the U.S. is without electricity, the New York Times doesn’t know about it. With phone service still working, it’s easy to refute the man’s claim, but eyebrows were raised for a moment.

A man riding through on a bike who asks to remain anonymous says the methadone clinic he visits daily to receive medication had the power down and had to manually dole out medication without electronic help.

“All the nurse’s stations are computer-controlled,” the man says. “It seemed like it went smoothly.”

In some ways, having the power go out makes one a bit more independent-minded, he says. “It changes the way you look at your day. People are not able to work and there are people in the street talking. I like that.”

‘We’ll definitely have cake, and maybe some melted ice cream’

At the Freckled Fox in Florence, Hedy Rose sips the cafe’s last cup of hot coffee in the light of the window.

“You assume these things so much of the time,” Rose says about losing power. “You just don’t think of it.”

Marilee Melnick with her children Eliana, 4, and William, 1. Meg Bantle photo

In the back of the cafe, Marilee Melnick plays in the dark with her two children, Eliana, 4, and William, who turns 1 today.

Melnick has a birthday party planned for William later, and plans to still have it with or without power.

“We have camping gear so we’ll just make a good story out of it,” Melnick says. “We’ll definitely have cake, and maybe some melted ice cream.”

At Florence Pie Bar, Bill Dwight is still serving hot coffee and pie to costumers, despite the quiet and the dark.

“All things must pass,” Dwight says.

The Florence Pie Bar, sans lights, but with pie! Meg Bantle photo

When asked if the power outage was going to effect their busy Thanksgiving baking schedule, owner Mora Glemon says that she isn’t worried at all.

“We’ve got the apples and we’re cutting and slicing as we go,” Glemon said. She also noted that a rolling pin doesn’t need electricity to work.

Across the street at Florence Towing and Auto Repair, things were not running like usual.

“It pretty much brings us to a screeching halt,” said owner Bob Gougeon. “No power, no gas, no lifts to lift cars, just a lot of phone calls.”

Gas pumps all over town were covered in a plastic yellow sheet.

‘Get over it fast’

In Easthampton’s Harvest Valley Condos, a group of seniors gathers in conversation about the power outage while they checked their mailboxes.

Diane Fleming, an Easthampton resident who lives in Harvest Valley, says the Hampshire County power outage is a minor inconvenience compared to hurricane-devastated areas still without power.

“I can’t help but think about Puerto Rico, Texas, and everything else,” Fleming says. “Anybody that’s complaining just tell them to get over it fast.”

Elizabeth Hogan, a resident of Holyoke, says in the parking lot of Eastworks that she learned about the power outage while driving to Easthampton.

“I thought it was just the [single traffic] light .. but then the second light was out. And then I thought, ‘What could this mean?’”

Hogan says she had dropped off her car for an oil change and decided to see if there was any businesses nearby serving coffee despite the outage.

“I’m actually here trying to get some coffee, but I don’t know if they’re going to have any,” she says.

Prepared? Not until it’s too late

Gary Tateosian, founder of Synergy, says he called in workers and told them not to come in. “Everything comes to a stop without power,” he says in front of his Northampton store.

Synergy founder Gary Tateosian. Dave Eisenstadter photo

He’s shocked that traffic lights don’t have solar back ups, and recalled time he spent following a hurricane in Florida where power was out for multiple days.

Everything is based on electricity, he says. Even oil and propane furnaces don’t necessarily work without power. Is he prepared at his own home? No, he says.

“You always think of ‘maybe I should’ when it’s too late,” he says.

For some people, however, the outage doesn’t change anything. A parking attendant, who only provides her first name, Emmie, is issuing parking tickets as normal.

“We’re still doing our thing,” she says.

Dave Eisenstadter can be reached at Meg Bantle can be reached at Chris Goudreau can be reached at


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