published Friday, November 25th, 2011

City Beat: Twinkle, twinkle little standby light

Today's topic is electricity. That might seem odd, but many of us will be out and about today looking for good deals on electronics. That means our already full houses will have even more items that need electricity.

Yesterday, as I often do, I got up before everyone else, and since it was still dark out, I plugged in the Christmas tree and enjoyed the twinkling lights.

I could have left the tree unplugged and still reveled in the glow of blue, red and white lights in nearly every room of the house. The house is constantly aglow thanks to the myriad standby indicators on the multiple power strips and electronic gadgets that are constantly plugged in.

A couple of years ago, the fire marshal shut down my son's fraternity house because it was deemed unsafe. It needed lots of work, but a good bit of it involved updating the wiring. My son, being a near-college graduate, thought this was the silliest thing EVER. The house had been around for decades and had never had a problem, he argued.

"I supposed we'll need hurricane insurance next," he said. "We've never had one of those either."

I countered with the idea that the house had never been required to dispense so much electricity before and that updating the wiring was a very good idea.

In his room, which he shared with one other person, were a big-screen TV, two computers, two smartphones, a printer, a stereo, iPod chargers, lamps and I think a couple of neon bar lights. There was also, and I'm still amazed by this, a full-size refrigerator that had been in our basement at one point. The fridge alone should have tripped the breakers.

The original tenants probably had a desk lamp and a small radio. Oh, and probably a sign advertising some type of alcohol, which now that I think about it, likely served as the reading light for "studying."

Do you remember the scene in "A Christmas Story" where Darren McGavin looks for an outlet to plug in the famous leg lamp? That's what my son's room outlets looked like. Power strips were plugged into power strips, and extension cords snaked around the floor and hung from the ceiling.

It is not improbable to think that the average household today has multiple computers, two stereos, at least one game system and one phone and one mp3 player per person. All of these things require power.

We all found out in a hurry how much we rely on TVA for not only our real-life needs such as heat, lights and cooking, but our entertainment needs as well back in April following the tornadoes.

Having no power was cute for about a half a day. How many times did you walk into a room and unconsciously reach for the light switch or try to turn the TV on for a weather update? Fortunately, I had a charger for the smartphones in my truck. The charger was wrapped around the cable used to power the satellite radio and another for keeping my coffee mug hot. I'm not kidding. My coffee mug can be plugged into the cigarette lighter. You should get one.

Now, I did blow up the AC converter trying to actually make coffee in the truck. Don't try that.

Contact Barry Courter at bcourter@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6354

about Barry Courter...

Barry Courter is staff reporter and columnist for the Times Free Press. He started his journalism career at the Chattanooga News-Free Press in 1987. He covers primarily entertainment and events for ChattanoogaNow, as well as feature stories for the Life section. Born in Lafayette, Ind., Barry has lived in Chattanooga since 1968. He graduated from Notre Dame High School and the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga with a degree in broadcast journalism. He previously was ...

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