I pride myself on always having a plan, even when that plan is lousy. For instance, if I can’t remember someone’s name when I’m supposed to introduce them to my wife I say, “You two haven’t met yet.” She knows to jump in and introduce herself. When the Wi-Fi goes down, I know to unplug the router, wait a minute, then plug it back in while cursing under my breath until the little lights glow again. When an unexpected guest stays the night, we have an inflatable mattress and extra toothbrushes.
When that guest decides to stay for five days while draining you of all resources, however, the plan falls apart. That’s what happened last week when Tropical Storm Isaias paid a visit.
My dad was a Navy man who trained his kids to anticipate all eventualities, so I’ve always had a disaster plan. We have bins of dry food and jugs of water in the basement along with extra batteries, flashlights, candles, and an emergency radio. The crowning jewel of my catastrophe planning was the Yeti, a portable power source with three USB ports and two AC outlets the size of a car battery.
I’d looked into buying a backup generator after a nasty snowstorm knocked out power a few years ago, but they cost more than the house they’d be backing up. I researched gasoline-fueled generators until I finally had to admit I’d never be able to maintain it; I can’t even remember to put gas in my car and I use that every day. The Yeti, on the other hand, was both in my price range and featured a calming blue light, the two things I look for most when buying things.
The problem was the Yeti, like the mythical Yeti after which it is named, was both mysterious and rarely seen. The length of the owner’s manual was just short of War and Peace, so I ignored it and spent an afternoon charging everything I could get my hands on. After that, I stored it away and it receded from my consciousness like a sasquatch in a snowstorm.
When we lost power last week, I jumped at the chance to activate this bedrock of my emergency plan. I plugged a window fan into it to make sure it worked (my wife worries about spoiled food in the fridge when we lose power, but all I worry about is a good night’s sleep). That’s when I noticed the LED display and the alarming rate at which those mysterious numbers were decreasing. I opened up the owner’s manual and skipped right to the third act. It turns out I was supposed to keep the Yeti plugged in to the wall at all times, even when fully charged. I was already down to 60 percent and the fan alone would fully deplete the battery in a mere two hours.
I pulled out a D cell battery-powered fan I bought for such contingencies only to realize the batteries I’d bought in bulk had lost their charge faster than a college freshman with his first credit card. Panicking, I rushed the Yeti out to the car and rummaged through my emergency box (roadside flares, fix-a-flat can, gloves) for my ancient AC power converter and quickly plugged it in. The calming blue light was nowhere to be found. I raced to plug my phone in to the car’s USB port only to realize it was no longer working (why had I gotten rid of my landline again?). Luckily, the emergency jump starter I’d stored for my car battery had two ports on it.
I waited an eternity for the trickling charge to revive my Yeti while the power outage alarm for the battery backup on my sump pump screamed in the background. The alarm seemed to highlight that my backup plan needed a backup. I couldn’t figure out how to turn it off because … well, it’s a long owner’s manual.