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Thom Barker: Yes, I come from away… but I’m learning your strange ways

Thom Barker
Thom Barker - Contributed

Just about the first thing most of us mainlanders notice about Newfoundlanders is you’re a curious breed.

I don’t mean curious in the sense of odd, although a case could be made (insert winky face emoji).

I’m talking about inquisitiveness. Frequently when I talk to people in my capacity as a journalist, I am left wondering just who is interviewing whom?

It’s all part of your world-famous charm, of course, and I, like so many others who have been welcomed to this beautiful place so warmly have loved Newfoundland and Labrador and Newfoundlanders and Labradorians ever since my first visit in 1989.

It seems Newfoundlanders may also have something to teach me about patience, understanding and perspective.

A couple of weeks ago, I did a story about planned power outages. We had had two in St. Anthony over a period of two weeks, scheduled for what, to my mind, was just about the worst imaginable time, 3 p.m. in the afternoon.

I expected outrage. I mean, an unscheduled outage at that time of day is sometimes unavoidable. Stuff happens. But I’ve lived in a lot of different jurisdictions and everywhere else I’ve ever been the public power utility generally schedules maintenance outages for the wee hours of the morning, when the least number of people will be affected.

I checked in with another province, PEI, which has a population even smaller than Newfoundland and Labrador. Maritime Hydro generally schedules their planned outages for between 12 and 6 a.m.

But here on the Northern Peninsula, even the people who might have been most outraged, such as the owner of Foodland, had an unexpectedly measured response.

The comedian Louis CK — are we still allowed to quote disgraced public — has this great routine in which he talks about air travel.

“In America, we complain about the silliest things,” he says. “ ‘I had to sit on the runway for 40 minutes.’ That’s a story in America. People will listen to that story in America. ‘How long did you have to sit on the runway, 40 minutes?’ Really? What happened after that? Did you fly through the air incredibly? Did you soar into the clouds like a bird? Did you partake in the miracle of human flight and bitch about it the whole time you were up there?”

It is human nature, perhaps, to take familiar things for granted, and find things to complain about when the things we take for granted don’t live up to our inflated expectations.

Desmond McDonald, the mayor of St. Anthony, was circumspect on the issue. He noted that our hydro is generally extremely reliable, something for which we should be grateful.

He also pointed out that hydro workers’ regular hours are weekdays, demonstrating the kind of understanding I will hereafter attempt to emulate. After all, these people are our neighbours and are there for us 24-7-365 when an unexpected power outage occurs.

I can imagine the Louis CK response to my outrage.

How long was your power out, two hours? Really? What happened after that? Did your lights come on incredibly? Did you sit in your living room at a comfortable temperature even though it was freezing outside? Did you partake in the miracle of the internet and bitch about it the whole time you were on there?”

Yes, Louis, that’s exactly what happened.

I have often said that I won the lottery of birth. Being born in the latter part of the 20th century in Canada has afforded me a life that only a small percentage of us humans are lucky enough to enjoy.

Sometimes I need a little reminder, which this story and the local patient and understanding reaction to it has been.

There is one thing that still bothers me about it, though.

The official NL Hydro response cited worker safety as one of the reasons for the inconvenient timing, which is refuted by the fact the vast majority of other jurisdictions have no problem doing maintenance in the middle of the night.

The statement also suggested that consultation with the utility’s major customers indicated the middle of the afternoon was a minimally disruptive time. That’s just demonstrably not true.

It is far more likely the timing was for the convenience of the company and its employees.

Which is fine.

Given how accepting Hydro’s customers appear to be, why not just say that?

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