ben franklin 0619If I thought I could not get through a day without plastic, I overlooked an even bigger necessity of modern Life in America: electricity. Yes, this stuff we like to think Ben Franklin invented, or at least discovered, is ubiquitous to my existence, as it probably is yours, assuming you’re reading this blog, the composition and reception of which is made possible only through devices using electricity.

My five-minute internet research project on Ben Franklin and electricity is turning up a large number of pages written either for kindergarteners or people with two-second attention spans. It turns out, he was one of the primary people responsible for moving electricity from “novelty” to “function,” and he may have been the one to coin the term “battery” after discovering that electricity comes with positive and negative charges.

At any rate, it sounds like I can blame ol’ Ben for my multiple woes yesterday.

They all, or most of them, seemed to involve this notion of “batteries.” Generally, batteries are a handy thing, thank you very much, Ben Franklin: they allow you to take electricity on the road.

When I was a kid, back in the days when a phone was tethered to the wall, one was generally content with most of one’s electricity being tethered to the wall, too. You watched your TV in your living room; if you wanted to know what time it was, you ran inside and checked a clock or consulted your winding watch; if you wanted to listen to music while you were outside, you put your stereo speaker in the open window and faced it outside.

The radio that first brought me Top 40 compliments of KOMA out of Oklahoma (available only after dark, however it is that radio waves work) plugged into the wall, but portable radios were starting to become the rage, so I needed a battery here and there for that. As I got a little older yet, handheld electronic games came into being, so there were a few other batteries. But you still bought your batteries in a two-pack; perhaps a four-pack if you were really daring. The notion of buying batteries by the dozen (or sets of 16) was fairly unthinkable.

As was the concept of rechargeable batteries, which we now not only take for granted but get annoyed when they require more recharging than you’d expect, or at least want. Which is where my day took me for most of yesterday. Most of this was not a crisis, or even worth remarking on, except that bloggers need themes, and this is mine.

At some point late in the day, while texting with Linda to see how her newly-diabetic cat is getting along (answer: much better than at the vet’s, but still running a bit high), I realized my phone, no longer tethered to the house except when the battery runs low, had only 18 percent of functional battery. So I plugged it in, but of course there’s a complaint: I find myself having to plug in a lot more than when I bought the phone. I haven’t had it die on me when I need it, but that likelihood looms larger when I assume the battery will last several days and it now only lasts two.

I caught that in time, as I did with my car. In that blithe spirit of Noel Coward, I often set out and only then remember to see how many miles I might have left in my charge. Fortunately, I rarely go far, and the car starts speaking to me (literally) when I drop below a threshold around 18 miles left, but it wasn’t until the windshield was fogging up (due to our endless inclement weather — but no snow to report at our elevation) and I considered using the defrost, which eats up battery, did I think to look at my available battery. I only have 20 miles left on my charge.

Fortunately, today is Sunday breakfast, and for the remainder of this year I can get free electricity at the city’s charging station, so after we pick up Carol, we’ll just park at the charger and walk two blocks to breakfast.

Then there are the battery drains I can’t explain, one of them only mildly curious, the other a major drain on my mental batteries.

For the last two days, when I go to use it in the morning, my laptop battery has been completely emptied. Usually I still have plenty of battery when I grab the computer in the morning, but yesterday I had no juice, and again this morning.

Since this has cropped up with no warning, I think I must be leaving something on the computer that’s draining the battery, rather than it just crapping out, although it could be that the battery is coming to the end of its life and if I want to go unplugged I’ll have to buy another. I should close the 400 tabs I have opened in two different browsers (but not Chrome, warns the Washington Post: it’s a surveillance tracker that dropped 11,000 cookies on their tech writer’s computer in one week) and see if that makes a difference before I go spending money.

That’s a lesson I learned from the drain that completely drained me yesterday: my “new” truck.

Since the first week I got this very used truck, I have had problems with the battery. The first time it went dead on me, I accepted responsibility: I haven’t had a truck with a functional dome light since the 1980s, so I left the driver side door, which doesn’t close easily, slightly ajar. I assumed that left the dome light on and drained the battery.

But after jumps and charging, I made very certain the dome light was going out when I closed the door, and then I just turned the dome light completely off, but the battery kept draining. Then I finally decided, two weeks ago, that it must just be the age of the battery. Most batteries note the month and year of purchase, but this battery didn’t offer that. I took it to a parts store, where their battery tester showed it was fairly dead.

I bought a new battery and drove the truck back to the parts store, where they tested the alternator and assured me all was well. I let the truck sit for a week and then used it, without problem. But yesterday Oz and I went to get in the truck, and the brand-new battery is as dead as it’s going to get. Two weeks after purchase.

So today when I should be doing more packing I will be seeking Jim Barry’s help in trying to determine what I am doing wrong. I feel that it must be me, because Mr. Barry’s son, who sold me the truck, didn’t appear to have any problem whatsoever with the battery, even leaving the radio on between trips. And it sat with my mechanic for a week and he had no problem.

I have no idea what I’m doing, or not doing, but I am not feeling electrified by my truck purchase. So far, it’s just left me with extension cords running out both ends of the house — one for the electric car out front, and another for the dead truck out back. It’s a look, but not a good one, even if it would make Ben Franklin proud to know that the electricity he invented has become such a part of modern life.


One thought on “Drained

  1. Can’t solve all your electrical issues, but I offer “portable power” for your phone and laptop. It ensures you always have power (as long as you keep them charged!).


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