Rather than make readers scroll backwards through all 7 posts of The Hurricane Diaries, I’ve put them in a single post. The first one was written on Halloween, in the middle of the second day of the blackout, and the last one was on Nov. 6, when we got power restored.
Hope you enjoy them and that I don’t have to write anything like this again! (click “Continue Reading” or the headline of this post for more!)
Part 1: Blackout Masquerade
Welcome to the Hurricane Party! We’re getting on 48 hours since we lost power during Hurricane Sandy, so, to alleviate my boredom, I thought I’d start rambling and see if it makes for a good post.
Today’s Halloween, 2012. We lost power in my suburban New Jersey home at 9 pm on the 29th, after a neighbor’s tree was uprooted by the wind and fell against the overhead wires. It’s still there, resting comfortably against power lines, cable, phone lines, and whatever else gets strung along those poles.
Last night, one of the power lines snapped. It began arcing all around our next-door neighbor’s mailbox. Some cops arrived, didn’t do much but put up cones to warn cars away, announced by loudspeaker that we should all stay inside because of the live wire, and left.
At some point, the electric company must have turned off the current to that one. It stopped arcing, but the insulation of the wire had caught fire, and began slowly creeping up the line, like a fuse of a bundle of dynamite in an old western. I stood outside with another neighbor and tried to figure out how to put out the flame. He’d called the fire dept. earlier and they told him there was nothing they could do. We’re clearly heading toward Walking Dead territory here.
So my neighbor and I figured that if it was an electrical fire, we’d cause more harm by spraying it with a fire extinguisher or hitting it with sand. And the possibility that it was still live kept us from trying to do anything to smother it.
The fire climbed on, about 10 inches in length, burning its way up the cable. Lucky for us, when it reached the stretch of line that was enmeshed in a tree’s branches, it died out. My neighbor and I waited a full minute before celebrating our reverse pyrokinesis. In truth, it was just that the wire was no longer hanging perpendicular to the ground, so the flame couldn’t feed up into it. Still, it was a big bag of not good.
As is the fact that AT&T’s cell tower in our area went kablooey about 12 hours after power wen down. So we have no phone and no data, except for my wife’s iPad, which uses Verizon to grab data. We go on that to grab e-mail and look for updates on our situation, but try not to stay on too long, to preserve the battery. We’ve got chargers in the car and a Trent battery that’ll work on pads and phones, don’t worry. (Update: woke up at 3:00 a.m. on Nov. 1 and AT&T service seems to be working again, after about 40 hours down.)
Still . . . Walking Dead territory. Several of our neighbors have generators, but the lines at the few remaining gas stations are a mile long, so who knows how long those will hold out? Meanwhile, we’ve got the wood-burning stove going down in the library, and moved down here to sleep. The upstairs of the house reads 59 degrees, according to the thermostat.
But you guys don’t want to hear about all that doom and gloom! You wanna know about books, right?
Well, a few days before the hurricane hit, I finished reading 7 Pleasures, essays about ordinary happiness, by Willard Spiegelman. I’m supposed to have him on the podcast this January, so I gave it an early read and took a bunch of notes. I enjoyed it quite a bit; he reminds me of myself, in terms of finding joy in certain aspects of the day-to-day. I hope we have a good conversation for you guys.
Once the storm hit, I took up The Emigrants, by W.G. Sebald. I may be interviewing a pal of mine about Sebald next week, depending on how this situation works out, so I thought I’d give that one a read to pair it up with this year’s earlier reading of Sebald’s book Austerlitz. He’s a remarkable and weird writer. That first-person but not really first-person style of his, along with the fake documentary stuff like photos and documents, make for a very strange atmosphere.
This one’s like a proto-Austerlitz, with a little too self-conscious artifice, but some amazing and arresting segments about people who were uprooted by the 20th century. I’m sure I’ll get to his other two novels in the next few months.
The thing is, since I finished The Emigrants in one day, I had to decide on something else to read last night. This is no easy task. I didn’t want to start anything huge, because of the uncertainty about when we’ll have power, and where we’ll be staying if things get worse. For a minute, I flipped through my copy of The Recognitions, thinking maybe …
Nah. I’ll reread that someday, but not while I’m ekeing out the few daylight hours and having my brain numbed by the constant thrum of the generators.
I picked up Calvino’s If On A Winter’s Night A Traveler, which I last read around 20 years ago, but couldn’t get into it. I didn’t need that much meta just then.
My wife & I hung out with out neighbors for a little while, and then I came back, walked the dogs, and made a concerted effort to find something on the shelves that would be quick, and easily digestible. I wound up with 800 pages of Robertson Davies’ Deptford Trilogy.
I think I read the first volume, Fifth Business, also around 20 years ago, but don’t recall much of it. I’ve read about half of that one today; if this power outage keeps up, I may knock out the whole shebang by next week. I’ll keep you informed.
Part 2: Don’t Drink the Water
Almost 72 hours since the Tree of Damocles fell against the overhead wires, cutting off our power. There was a little progress today; a van from an electrical contractor drove in, coiled up the two lengths of wire that had split on Tuesday, hung them from their respective poles, and put red “caution” tape around them. I stopped the van on its way out, but the two employees within couldn’t tell me anything about when they expect the tree itself to be cut down, which I assume is a prerequisite to restoring our power.
It’s a bit fraught, looking out one’s window and seeing a tree hanging at a 45-degree angle to the ground, supported by the cables and wires that bring this fair city light. (Okay, it’s a “town” not a “city”, and “blah” not “fair”.) At some point, the wires have to give, right?
Still, today was much better than yesterday. After suffering bouts of nausea and blinding headaches on Wednesday, we concluded the tap water has gone bad (or that the CO detector had crapped out and that we were gonna die soon), so we moved over to the bottled stuff, as well as the water we bottled before the storm hit. No symptoms today, so yay.
Internet service has been up and down, but that’s better than yesterday’s total outage. Lines at the gas stations are hours long, as people are desperate to fuel their home generators, so we’re not making any more “let’s get out of the house” treks, except for the 2.5-mile round-trip to the public library, where they have charging stations set up.
I’ve gone down there the past two days for an hour or so at a time to charge the iPads, laptops, and an external battery that charges the phones up pretty quickly. I also, of course, sit around and read while I wait.
I knocked off Fifth Business this afternoon, took a break with Gary Panter’s Dal Tokyo collection, then took up The Manticore. At this point, I don’t know how I won’t finish Robertson Davies’ Deptford Trilogy by Monday. Especially if our internet coverage stays spotty.
I cannot begin to explain the allure of these novels, but they’re a blast. Davies’ narrators and his cast of characters are utterly enchanting.
And now, back to stoking the wood-burning stove. (I put a fresh 9-volt battery in the CO detector, btw.)
Part 3: Searching for Satellites
The day started off with bad news, but took a turn for the goofy.
This morning, after I got the kettle going for our coffee (have I told you about my Emergency Coffee Management System yet? If not, I’ll do so tomorrow), I checked out the outage map for our electric company on my iPad. Since the power first went down, all the “hot-spots” had a status of “Assessing damage,” along with a little take on what was causing the outage: wire problem, pole down, etc.
This morning, we finally had an estimated time for restoring power (yay!): Nov. 11 at 11:30 p.m. (boooo…)
I closed the browser window and got back to making our coffee. I brought it downstairs and gave my wife the bad news. I was mentally juggling the amount of firewood remaining, the gas in my Subaru, and other factors that would have to hold up for the next 9 days, including my fraying sanity.
Half an hour later, I thought to check out the status for other zones on the map. All of them had the same estimated time for repair, so I felt less hopeless and more reassured that Rockland Electric was merely trying to cover its ass and make sure that all repairs were “in less than 2 weeks”.
But I had other things on my mind.
Last night, I got news that my company found some satellite space for us in the town of Glen Rock, so those of us who had issues of our magazines to put out had to come in and get pages going. At that point, I went into crazy triage mode, trying to figure out which features were closest to finished, what writing I still had to do, how I was going to accommodate a Q&A that came in 500 words longer than anticipated, and a million other factors. On top of that, my associate editor’s pages were still on her iMac in our office, making them essentially inaccessible for today’s work session.
Most important, I was trying to figure out how I was going to get to the satellite office. See, there’s one main road in and out of our town: Skyline Drive, colloquially known as “the mountain.” Because of fallen trees and power lines, it was closed after the storm came in on Monday afternoon. When Amy & I wanted to drive out to civilization on Wednesday, we had to take the secondary road out, Ringwood Ave., and that was a bumper-to-bumper mess. I was considering whether it would use less gas to take that route or to go all the way up to New York state via Sloatsburg Rd., which would likely have no traffic, but would be a bunch longer.
Gas is still more valuable than gold right now, and I want to keep consumption to a minimum.
I decided I’d try to go via Skyline Dr., and if it was still closed, I’d decide on a dime which of the other routes to try. I cruised up the lower parts of the road, heading toward the last turn-off, Cannonball Rd., where the sawhorses would be situated if the road was closed. Skyline curves slightly on that approach, so I couldn’t see whether the mountain was blocked or not as I closed in. But there was a car a bit ahead of me, so I kept looking to see if it was braking or turning off for Cannonball. When I saw it cruise ahead without the slightest flash of its taillights, I let out a cheer and was more enthused than I’ve been by anything else this week. I zoomed over Skyline with 3 or 4 other cars, probably the lightest rush hour traffic the mountain has ever seen.
From there, it was a quick trip to the satellite office. I got lots done on the issue in the next few hours, ironing out page after page with my art director. They were hoping to get our mag out today, but there was no chance of that happening, as I still needed to write a shortish article that would need at least a few phone calls and some online research. I promised we’d have the last pages done by Monday at noon.
While we worked, we traded stories from the past few days. Most of the coworkers at the office hadn’t lost power during the storm, or had it restored within a day. They all had awful tales about the behavior at the gas stations near their homes or on the highways. I’m still glad we went without a generator.
And during the morning, Amy texted me to let me know that our neighbors’ Tree of Damocles was being cut down!
I guarded against the excessive hope that they’d also replace the split power line and get our neighborhood back on the grid. I figure this is a matter of baby steps. First, get the tree down. Then, replace the transformer that blew out. (Rumor has it one of our neighbors who still had power on Tuesday decided to “test” his whole-house generator. In so doing, he fed too much power into the line and knocked out his part of the street.) Then replace that split line and hook us up!
So I persevered on the issue, and was just finishing my editorial, “Operation Blackout,” when the power died in our satellite office.
No, seriously. It just shut off. The building — and, we assume, the neighborhood — lost power.
We were all working on laptops, so no files were lost, but we couldn’t move anything to the servers and thus our day was done. I gave my art director a few files on a thumb drive, and we all helped move the servers and other equipment back down to the IT director’s car.
We figured out a place to convene on Monday morning, and all headed our separate ways. On the trip home, I marveled at more tree-on-house violence, and remained thankful that we got off easy, all things considered.
And now, back to The Manticore (and that article I have to write over the weekend)!
Part 4: This is getting ridiculous . . .
Counting Monday, even though we lost power only at 9 p.m., this is Day 6 of The Big Mess. This morning, the electric co. revised its estimate for when we’ll have power back. It’s now end of Nov. 9, rather than Nov. 11. I’m hoping we gain two days each morning, which would get us all square by Monday.
We decided to pay a visit to my dad, who lives about 10 miles from us. He lost power from early Monday afternoon until Wednesday morning, but has been cruising along since. We figured we’d take care of a week’s worth of laundry, charge up our devices, visit his local supermarket (which never lost power and has stayed in stock with a lot of stuff) and generally take a little break from the house. I love my home and the new library, but I’m going kinda nuts hanging out in the same room or two day after day.
Since the wood-burning stove has been going non-stop since Monday night, I figured it would die out while we were gone, giving me the opportunity to clean out all the ashes and start over with a new fire. I never had a fireplace or a stove growing up, so I have no idea about how one manages these things.
Amy drove us to Dad’s around 11 a.m., since we’re conserving gas in the Subaru for when we have to make The Big Escape. On the way, we passed a Lukoil that had dozens of cars lined up to get gas. Today’s the first day of NJ’s even/odd gas rationing system, but it didn’t look like it made much of a difference. I can’t report on much of the scene, since I’m not wasting gas waiting on line for hours to gas up my car. Funny how that works.
Anyway, Dad was doing fine. He had a EPL match to watch on his giant TV, a huge computer for me to move down to his car, so he could deliver it to a client, and all sorts of things that I could only consider The Luxuries of Electricity, like working lights and a microwave. We plugged our chargers in, started the laundry and showered. Amy pointed out that it’s great to not walk out of a hot shower into a 58° house. I concurred.
I talked with Dad while Amy got in touch with her folks in Louisiana and then read in another room. Dad mentioned that the lights had flickered right before we arrived, but laughed it off. We hadn’t talked during the week, so it was good to catch up. He was amazed that we had no phone or data at all for that 40-hour stretch Tuesday/Wednesday. I told him, “If you’d had a heart attack or something, there’s literally no way you could have gotten a message to me during that time.” I suppose it could just have easily been Verizon’s tower as AT&T’s, but grrr.
Once the first load of wash was in the dryer, we hit the supermarket and picked up some ingredients for Amy’s beef stew, as well as a “red velvet muffin” because why the hell not? On the way back to Dad’s, we noticed that the Lukoil line had diminished, probably because of a police officer at the end telling newbies that they were too late to get on line. The weather turned colder today (around 48°) and I felt bad for the people standing on line carrying gas tanks. On balance, still happy not to have bought a generator.
In Dad’s dining room, I took out my Air and started working on the last article for the November/December ish of my magazine, so I can get that out the door once we set up our new office Monday morning. I have almost enough material in, but it would be a much better piece if I’d been able to hit up more people for quotes. I’m just glad I got some requests out on the Friday before the storm.
And that’s when the power went out at my dad’s house.
Seriously. This is now two days in a row that power has gone down in the place where I’m working on the magazine. Either it’s me, or it’s a sign that I’m not meant to finish this ish.
We helped Dad hook up his critical electric stuff to the line that his neighbor strung over earlier in the week. He lives in an upscale neighborhood, and his wealthy next-door neighbor apparently has an immense generator.
I was bummed to find out that the first load of wash hadn’t finished drying. The second, of course, was all wet. We hauled all that to the car, along with our electronics and some large water bottles that we refilled during our visit. On the way home, we noticed that the power was still on by that Lukoil and the supermarket, so we hoped that Dad’s outage was a passing, local blip.
Once we got home, Amy got started on the stew while I got to work on the laundry, figuring out what had dried and what needed to be hung up by the stove. Speaking of which, the stove managed not to die out completely, so I cleared a ton of ashes, soaked ’em in the backyard, and got the fire restarted pretty quickly.
Half an hour later, Dad texted to let me know that the power had come back on, and that we should come back over. I told him we’re saving gas, but that we’ll come by and kill his power again in the next few days.
(But seriously, we’ll move into his guest room with the dogs if this outage keeps up for a few more days.)
Part 5: Oaks in the Attic
The day started out with promise. I mean, not the literal day itself. The only promise in waking up at 3 a.m. was that I got to use the extra hour from setting the clocks back to resuscitating the fire in the wood-burning stove. It was down to toasty embers, but I was able to get it going again and bring some heat back to the library.
Anyway, the real promise was when I got up around 6:15 and hit the electric company’s outage map. Clicking on our zone, I saw that our power was projected to be restored TODAY! AT 8:30 A.M.!
Now, I didn’t think that time was likely to be met, since the split power line is still lying in two of my neighbors’ yards, and it would presumably need to be spliced or replaced, (unless there’s some sorta patching they could do to work around it), but I had hopes that we’d have our power back sometime today!
An hour or so later, the map updated to 12:30 p.m. today. Another two hours, and the map reverted back to Friday, Nov. 9 for the projected restore time. I got all crestfallen, and settled in for a full day without leaving the neighborhood. We walked the dogs, met some neighbors, kept the fire stoked, and otherwise hung out in our lovely library, where I finished The Manticore and began Worlds of Wonder.
While Amy napped at mid-day, I went upstairs into the cold (about 58° F) and finished up the article I need to get out tomorrow to close my Nov/Dec issue. Riddled with the combo of work-anxiety and outage-anxiety, I scarfed down all sorts of snacks while I was up there. Because I’m me, this meant cashews, trail mix, figs, and the like, as opposed to the three bags of Halloween candy that have been sitting in our kitchen for a week.
Also, I called United to ask what’ll happen if I don’t get on the flight to Seattle that I’m supposed to take tomorrow afternoon for a business trip. I already informed the biotech that I’m supposed to visit that I won’t be able to go if we don’t have power back, since I’m not capable of abandoning my wife & doggies in the cold and dark. (And with the shift in weather and the clock-change, it’s going to be colder and darker this week.)
The United rep told me that I’m eligible for a Superstorm Sandy exception to their flight change rules, and that I’ll be able to use the tickets to Seattle anytime within the 12 months that I bought them. I feel bad for the biotech, since they’re putting on a big day of sessions and a facility tour that they’d love for me to be a part of, but I think they’re understanding about the circumstances. (The event is on Wednesday, so if we get power back by Tuesday, I may be able to get out there in time, and maybe stay over an extra day and decompress there before heading home. I also have this vision of going to the office tomorrow, finishing up the mag, finding out we have power restored, zooming home, packing a bag, and heading out to Newark for the trip. It’d be in keeping with the rest of this craziness.)
But again, are these complaints? Hardly. During this morning’s walk with the dogs, we met Ann, our neighbor whose house was destroyed by Hurricane Irene last year. It took almost a year to rebuild the house (insurance, code, etc.), and they moved back in 6 weeks before Sandy struck. (They suffered no damage this time around.)
We hadn’t talked with her since Irene, so this was the first time we heard the story from her perspective. All we knew was that a huge tree by the side of her house fell in the wind and crashed through the attic, parallel to the house itself.
She told us that her family — her husband, her two kids (college age, as I recall), and her 94-year-old mom — had been in the living room upstairs during Irene. They heard a crack — the tree snapping then hitting their side of the house — and then everything went black. Why? Because the entire contents of their attic fell into the living room and the rest of the upstairs.
She told us she couldn’t move her head, because she was trapped under junk, and had to pry herself loose. It was dark, and she had no idea what shape anyone else was in. One of her daughters, upon hearing the initial crack of the tree, got up and was trying to get out when the roof fell in. Her mother started yelling, “so I knew she was okay.”
Ann suffered a broken nose from the impact, but everyone else got out without a significant injury. I told her that if our place got hit like that, I’d likely be smushed under the central air-conditioning unit, which would only be fitting because of the work I put into getting it replaced this summer.
“I told my husband that I’m worried because our central air is right over our bedroom in the new house,” she said. “He told me, ‘Come on: what are the chances it would happen twice?'”
She was pretty upbeat, considering the potential for flashback-trauma, and I told her about the house a mile or so up the street that had gotten pasted by a tree. “Not as bad as yours last year, of course.”
“We win!” she said.
So, yeah, we’re going another day without power and it’s getting colder. I’d like to watch the Giants-Steelers game, but I’ll get by without it. I mean, it’s not like my house caved in and brained me with a stack of old cassette tapes and a pile of Ranger Ricks and Dungeons & Dragons books.
Part 6: We only have 14 hours to save the Earth!
And on the seventh day, we gave the heck up.
I’m writing today’s installment of The Hurricane Diaries from my dad’s house, where we have power and heat. You may wonder why we didn’t head over here earlier, but every messed-up family is messed-up in its own way. Also, the house has way too many open doorways, and the dogs keep wandering from room to room, gravitating toward the open kitchen area.
So why did we leave the house? Well, partly it’s because the temperatures tonight are expected to go a bit below freezing. I’ve been running the wood-burning stove for seven days straight, the wood’s beginning to run low, and I’m afraid of how much it’ll take to keep us warm tonight. (The fuel’s not dangerously low, and I’m about to order a cord of wood for delivery, so we should be okay, but I still figure the stove could use a night off. We can clean it out tomorrow morning, since the ashes are starting to pile up, even with my mid-fire clearance procedure. (Which is improvised and, I’m sure, dangerous.))
But it’s not just the impending cold snap that drove us here. We fled because our town is cursed.
When I woke up around 4:00 a.m. to recharge the stove, I turned on my iPhone and hit Facebook. It loaded up the most recent updates, and I noticed that one of my high school pals, who lives perhaps a third of a mile away, posted “EARTHQUAKE? WTF?” for her status a few hours earlier. Another two townies in my feed also posted about it. I shook my head, got back to the stove, and wrestled it back to life. Once it was going, I got back on the Aerobed and tried to get back to sleep. It took a while, and when I woke up around 6:30, my FB feed was flooded with news about the earthquake. It was a small one, 2.0 on the Richter scale, but apparently enough to shake some people’s homes. I figured that if the dogs slept through it — including Rufus, who panics at the first sign of thunder and hides in the guest bedroom — then it must have been negligible.
Still: hurricane/superstorm, week-plus blackout, earthquake, impending nor’easter? Seemingly, there is no reason for these extraordinary intergalactical upsets, but it’s clear to me that we’re being targeted by Ming the Merciless. Amy’s more biblical in her thinking, and expects a plague of frogs or locusts, but my bet is that we’re looking at Hot Hail soon.
In other news, I had to get back to work today. We set up the office servers in the home of one of my coworkers, and I got out the remaining pages of my Nov/Dec issue without incident this morning. On the way there, I noticed a gas station with virtually no line and pulled in to fill up. I’ve only used a third of my tank since last Sunday, but figured I’d be safe. The attendant walked up and apologetically told me that I had to come back tomorrow, because I have an even-numbered license plate. I admitted that I forgot about the rationing scheme here in NJ, but would stop in tomorrow.
After finishing the mag, I called United to cancel today’s flight to Seattle. They confirmed that the exchange fee would be waived when I decided to use the ticket anytime in the next year. We’re still not projected to get power back in my zone until Friday, and that’s assuming the nor’easter doesn’t cause further delays or more outages.
Then I stopped by our actual office, which got power back yesterday. (The servers are really finicky, so once they were set up off site, it was best to leave them until we were done with the past-deadline issues.) I picked up the packages that had arrived for me last Monday (I stayed home rather than deal with the storm) and today: a pair of my Allen-Edmonds back from reconditioning, 16gb of memory for a new Mac Mini, and Cicero’s On Duties and Julius Caesar’s The Gallic War: Seven Commentaries on The Gallic War with an Eighth Commentary by Aulus Hirtius. I also picked up some empty cardboard boxes to use for kindling in the stove.
From there, it was on to a fireplace store, to pick up some fatwood and fire-/heat-resistant gloves, then Batteries Plus to stock up on D-cells, the LL Bean in Paramus Park to exchange the hand-crank flashlight I bought Saturday for one that has all 3 LEDs functioning, and finally Fairway to do some grocery shopping for Amy (and myself) before going home and making my overdue afternoon coffee.
That flashlight has been my rosary during this blackout. When I’ve been walking around in the dark this week, I find myself turning the little plastic crank absently, charging away, the whirring forming a sharp counterpoint to the constant thrum of our next-door neighbors’ natural gas-fed generator. I was a little bummed when I got it out of the package Saturday afternoon and discovered that one of the LEDs was a dud, but I got a lot of use out of that phaser-looking flashlight in the past week.
And now I’m sitting in my dad’s dining room, looking across the foyer to Ru & Otis grumplily lying on their beds in the sitting room, where Amy’s reading. Dad’s got the TV on upstairs kinda loud. (I had no idea that Two and a Half Men uses a laugh-track for 95% of the show.) It’s kinda disconcerting to be in a house that has heat and light without the background noise of a generator. I’m sure I’ll get used to it again.
Part 7: World of Wonders
Welcome to the final installment of The Hurricane Diaries! You read that right! Our power has been restored just in time for tomorrow’s nor’easter to throw some trees and loose branches into the power lines! But I’ll take it!
We woke up around 6:30 this morning at my dad’s. We didn’t sleep too well; the bed was a bit uncomfortable and the dogs weren’t happy about the new, smallish space. Ru kept getting up and clacking around the guest bedroom. We showered, took the dogs out, and then drove home.
The house was forty-eight degrees when we walked in. And that was why we stayed at Dad’s last night. It was about 25 degrees last night, and there’s no way we could’ve kept the stove going enough to keep us warm without going through all the wood in the accessible part of the shed.
While I got coffee going up in the kitchen, my hands held right above the kettle for warmth, Amy cleaned out the ashes from the stove, so I could get the fire going again. I was afraid that another few nights like that would lead to burst heating pipes, since we can’t circulate the water in them without electricity.
Once I got the fire started (it was a bit difficult this time, but maybe it was just my impatience and exhaustion), I left Amy in charge and drove down to the polling station to vote. I promised my presidential vote to whichever candidate would show up and get my electricity back, but they seemed more focused on Ohio. I didn’t mind.
There was no line, so I got home quickly, got my things together, and headed out to the office. On the way, I decided to gas up the car, although I still had half a tank. I pulled toward the Valero station on 17 S., but there was a line about 15 cars long to gas up. Then I noticed that the line was for cars with their gas-tanks on the left side; the right-side lane was all clear, so I veered into the gas station at maybe an 85° angle to the line of cars, pulled up to the island, and got filled up in no time. I think the attendant was a little indignant that I didn’t have to wait. Poor Cherki.
Much of the work-day consisted of trading stories about the storm and its aftermath. Some of my coworkers never lost power, while a few others are still without. The owner of our company only got his power back on Friday, but he had a generator to keep light/heat going. Apparently, some people in the office were speculating that I would be so bored by a week without power that I’d go back to drinking. I hadn’t, but I probably would have started in on the whiskey if it got much colder.
Around 10:00 a.m., Amy texted to let me know that a repair truck was outside by the downed line, but hadn’t begun work. One of our neighbors was talking to the workers, and they told her that we’d be back up online today. I scoffed, but hoped. Also, I put in a call to the firewood delivery guy I heard about the day before at the fireplace store, to get a cord of seasoned wood out here tomorrow.
An hour later, Amy texted me a photo of our dining room pendant light shining. I cheered loudly. A passing coworker asked, “Got your power back?”
A little later, she posted a photo on Instagram of the truck and its boom lift as they repaired the line: Sending a HUGE thank you to the crew from McConnelsville, OH for coming out to this freezing town to restore power. #GratitudeMonth
I was excited and relieved, but part of me stayed skeptical. It’s not like I didn’t believe my wife, but I felt like it wouldn’t be real until I saw the lights on for myself. A little later, she posted a picture of the upstairs thermostat with the temperature creeping back to livable. I started to let myself get a little giddier.
As the day wore on, I grew impatient to get home. I took a short lunch and rolled out around 4:30. I drove up our street, looking at house after house, smiling more broadly as I saw each dining room light or front-porch lamp. I was expecting Amy to light up our place like a Thomas Kinkade painting, but she didn’t go overboard. She was downstairs, putting our flannel sheets in the washer to get the smoke smell out of them. We smooched in celebration.
So it looks like it’s over. The nor’easter doesn’t sound like it’ll be too terrible up here, and we’ll have enough wood after tomorrow to get the stove going for a long time, if necessary. We’re making plans to get a tri-fuel generator (gasoline, propane, or natural gas) that can patch into the house’s power, so we can be covered next time this happens. It’ll cost a couple grand, but I think it’s a better idea than spending $400 on a generator that can run a couple of appliances but needs gasoline all the darned time. (And we’ll turn off the main before turning on the generator, so as not to blow a fuse out on the street.)
In the past week, Amy & I talked about how this’ll be one of those events we remember for years, but how likely is that? In some respects, it’s already fading. My anxiety about losing the fire, or killing us with carbon monoxide, or starting an inferno with the ashes, etc., etc., wore me down pretty severely. When I told Dad about the firewood delivery contact, he said, “Why don’t you just go out back of my house and use the chainsaw? There are dead logs all over the place!”
“I’m suffering from sleep deprivation and cold, Pop. I’d rather pay $200 to a guy than lose my foot in a chainsaw accident, thanks,” I told him. Until I got the news today, I was pretty grim.
So what remains? What memories will I hold? The smell of smoke, of course. The tree of Damocles. Radio silence, courtesy of AT&T. The fire climbing up the dead power line. The early nights. The rosary of the hand-crank flashlight. The Walking Dead emptiness of the neighborhood. Amy tumbling and hurting her knees when the first morning when Otis lunged at another dog during our walk. My blackout beard. The kindness of neighbors. Sitting in the public library, recharging maybe a half-dozen devices and reading. Reading Sebald, reading Davies, missing Seattle. Writing all these posts on an iPad with a keyboard stand.
Now that we have power, I could’ve written this on my laptop or my Mini, but decided to stick with the iPad for one last post.