Now that our favorite electronic gadgets have become portable — laptops, cell phones, iPods — here comes the latest hassle of the digital age: no place to plug the stuff in.
"When I was in Newark, I couldn't find an outlet anywhere," said Brien Konopka, 20, a vacationing Canadian college student who stopped at the New Jersey airport before arriving in Tampa.
"I was lucky," said Brian Ruffles, 23, who found an outlet for his laptop as he waited for his flight at Tampa International Airport. An assistant swim coach for an Iowa college, Ruffles travels often and is accustomed to exhaustive outlet searches.
Call it the portable power problem. You know about it if you've ever been stuck for hours in an airport or coffee shop with only one available outlet — usually located between somebody else's feet.
As thousands leave for holiday vacations this week, transportation companies and other businesses are trying to bring power to the people.
"Whenever you're going to be sitting down, whenever you're on your laptop or having a Starbucks coffee, people wanted to charge right where they were," said Brenda Geoghagan, a spokeswoman for Tampa International Airport.
The airport spent about $10,000 to add 64 outlets on its third-floor "transfer level," which features several shops and the shuttles that take passengers to the gates. The outlets, installed last year, are next to new chairs and tables where people can type or talk while awaiting their flights.
"It's great here," said Konopka, the college student who couldn't find an outlet in the Newark airport. He was sitting Monday with his mother and two brothers at the Tampa airport's new seating, and both he and another brother were using their laptops.
Although some airports have experimented with kiosks where customers pay as much as $4.50 per hour to charge a laptop, the trend seems to be in the other direction. Samsung has paid to put in free charging stations at airports around the country, including Orlando and Miami.
Geoghagan also said the Tampa airport is converting old smoking lounges into "business centers," where people can sit at a desk and charge their electronics, for work or play. The project includes 138 new outlets and 99 laptop seating areas.
Outlets are a "very necessary amenity," said Karina Romero, a spokeswoman for Amtrak, which provides an outlet at every train seat.
Some passengers plug in a DVD player to watch movies. Others chat on the phone — there is no restriction on cell phone use. There is no wireless network on the train itself, but sometimes people can find connections as they travel.
Despite awareness of the need, outlets can still be pretty tough to find when you need one. In some waiting areas and lobbies, you'll find people snaking power cords across walkways in a last-ditch attempt to keep their laptop or portable DVD player charged.
So, just how much power are all these outlet-grabbers using, you ask?
Not very much.
Generally speaking, it's not expensive to charge these devices — roughly one-third of a cent per hour for a laptop that uses 25 watts, and less than one-tenth of a cent per hour for a cell phone that uses 2 watts, said Progress Energy spokeswoman Suzanne Grant.
Not everyone is jumping on the free power bandwagon.
HART, the Hillsborough County bus service, actually covered up several of its outlets at downtown Tampa's main transit hub earlier this year because people were lingering for hours to recharge such items as electric wheelchairs. The Marion Transit Center is a place to wait and catch a bus, officials said, not somewhere to loiter to charge a cell phone.
But Elaine Birkinshaw, manager of St. Petersburg's Main Library, has decided to go with the flow — of power.
"We were having very creative customers who were plugging their laptops in kind of interesting places and kind of stringing their cords across aisles and walkways," she said.
She attacked this newfangled problem with old-fashioned ingenuity. She surveyed the building, built in 1964, to find the outlets people would be most likely to use. She moved around some tables. Then she put up some signs.
So now, the library has created new charging stations — without spending a dime.