Last month's Public Safety Power Shutoffs in Humboldt County taught all of us here at PG&E a number of valuable lessons. First and foremost was that our communication flow with local government and law enforcement agencies, as well as media, was nearly as Byzantine and mysterious as the power grid we refuse to show you. The constantly changing information about the timing of the blackouts and the areas they would affect was evidently frustrating for the less spontaneous among you and, OK, maybe potentially dangerous. And not everyone was able to work out our map, which labeled Siskiyou County as "Humboldt (Northern)" and Northern and Southern Humboldt as the Kingdom of Rohan and Rivendell, respectively. But did you catch fire? Mostly no, so consider that. Still, we can and will do better.
After a quick huddle behind a wall of blue-collar, hard-hatted human PR shields, our legal team and the nameless, hooded figures who preside over our board meetings overhauled our public alert protocol to be more user friendly and on-trend. And so, future Public Safety Power Shutoffs Safety McSafeteys will be announced at Blackout Reveal Parties. Have the gender reveal parties that inspired us caused a few injuries and sparked at least one devastating wildfire? Sure. But who among us, right? Here are a few options we'll be beta testing in the Humboldt-ish region as far as we can tell from this map but it's a bit of a guess, since Mitch is the only one who speaks Elvish and he's out today.
As members of the community look on expectantly, we lift the lid off an oversized gift box, releasing dozens of helium-filled balloons, each one bearing the outage schedule and affected areas in 6-point font that's impossible to read from beyond a few feet. You'll need to be quick — catch one before they all float away!
Everyone will gather around a colorful piñata and take turns being blindfolded and spun around before attempting to break it open with a decorated bat. When it finally spills its contents, candy and small toys come spilling out. Look, Bazooka gum! When's the last time you had Bazooka gum? Wait, is the information written on one of the tiny comic wrappers? It is if Mitch remembered to slip it in there!
A trick shooter dangling upside down from a horse will ride past a target that, when struck, erupts into a dangerous looking burst of sparks and a cloud of rainbow-colored smoke produced by burning the outage timetable we printed on special paper. So beautiful. Took us all day to set it up.
PG&E communications staff wheel out an enormous cake that's either vanilla or chocolate inside — get it? Light or darkness! — and invite a random audience member to cut it ... but suddenly deadly rattlesnakes emerge, scattering the press conference attendees. Does that mean a blackout? Does it?
A key to our map of areas in the scope of the outage will be written on the back of the United States Constitution, which you will have to steal from the National Archives with the help of actor Nicholas Cage through a rollicking series of riddles and narrow escapes as you're pursued by international villains in tactical gear. Good luck!
Local firefighters will set aside their duties readying charging stations and warning folks about keeping generators outdoors so they can aim fire hoses to arc over the county courthouse. What color will the water be? Blackout-blue? Power's-on-pink? Surprise! That guy's not a firefighter, he's a stripper! This party is crazy!
Champion alligator wrangler Gus Thibodeaux places a melon in the jaws of not one but five alligators as the rapt audience waits to see what color squirts out when the fruit is crushed in the beasts' terrible maws. Except alligator wrangling is really best accomplished one at a time and they get away from Gus, snapping at people as they run off and disappear into the storm drains. A power outage could be on the way but you definitely have a gator problem.
A local woman who lives in the woods and prepares folk remedies will be dragged to the town square, where she'll be dunked in a great basin of water. If she doesn't drown, she is determined to be a witch with the gift of foresight and hey, she sounds like a good person to ask about the blackouts.
Office of Emergency Services staff will participate in an Easter egg hunt, scrambling around in search of a single golden egg wherein lies a velvet box containing a mood ring and a decoder color chart by which they can figure out when and where the outage(s!) will take place. The fun part: It changes to a different color for everyone who tries it on!
The elusive Humboldt marten will emerge from its home in the trunk of an old redwood and glimpse his shadow, which will either frighten him back inside, indicating a blackout, or spook him into lunging at the crowd of onlookers, teeth bared, indicating an eventual blackout. That's if we can get a marten. It's like a ferret, right?
Guests will travel a spiraling yellow brick road until they meet a dazzling fairy who drifts down waving a sparkling wand. "Look inside your heart," she sings. "You've had the answers all along."
Jennifer Fumiko Cahill is the arts and features editor at the Journal and prefers she/her. Reach her at 442-1400, extension 320, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @JFumikoCahill.
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