Monday, January 10, 2005

O Pioneers!

For those who have wondered what has happened to me, and for the vast majority who haven't, I have been far, far away from the blogosphere, recovering from a massive ice storm that struck my humble Hoosier home.

Last Wednesday morning the power went out at work, and we lurked around with flashlights thinking it would come back at any time; late in the day we were all dismissed, fully expecting to be back the next morning.

But we aren't, as myself and over 100,000 close friends and fellow travelers also lost power. At first I thought it would be fun to hunker down for a bit, and it was, an hour or so at a time. I never thought it would stretch into five days. Lots of reading by candlelight, cooking on my outdoor grill, splashing a little cold water around to freshen up, sleeping in front of the fireplace. There was literally no electricity around for fifteen square miles, so the nights are like a refugee camp, pitch dark and eerily quiet with just candles flickering here and there as far as the eye can see.

Neighbors without heat sources nor the hearty souls of outdoorsmen head out to hotels across the state line in Ohio and points farther south, while ice began to creak and groan in the trees above. Soon limbs and whole trees are coming down all around. A neighbor's garage roof is caved in, and a fifty-foot tree crashes into a shed in my backyard. I stand talking to another neighbor and watch a thigh-thick limb come down and stove in his chainlink fence. I think I might cruise around and check out the damage, but suddenly a tree right across the street began to break apart like an iceberg and crash into the street. All night we hear the limbs crack and the ground shudder.

We huddle around out little battery-operated radio and listen to stations come in and out as their generators waxed and waned. Red Cross putting in tons of shelters, hundreds of electric workers from West Virginia, Kentucky, Oklahoma, other places volunteer the come and help restore power. The storm raged over a four or five county area. We know literally nobody with electricity, some without water.

When we realize we might be out for a few days we decide to fall in line with the rest of the refugees and resupply at a local store. Many places are picked over, but even those that aren't are like a scene out of Stalinist Russia, with people lining up for bread, batteries, kerosene cans. My father stands in line for two hours with 50 other people waiting for kerosene heaters to come off a truck even though there are no cans for sale and the heaters never arrive. A guy comes up and stands in line for a few minutes before asking "what are we lining up for?"

After a few days our mail came through, and I get a couple of DVDs from NetFlix. It makes me think of when missionaries bring trinkets to remote tribes. I want to thread some clothesline through the DVD's center hole and wear it around my neck.

A neighbor whose freezer is thawing brings over some steaks and a pound of hamburger for me to grill. His wife brings a bag of walnuts and a big Hershey bar. These are our new commodities.

The phones still work, and we talk to people from all over. We find out we're on the national news from people who might as well be calling from the moon. I phone a neighbor who answers the phone rather breathlessly. Either they are moving furniture or the neighborhood will become more populous come September. This is what happened in the days before HBO.

As power came back to some areas our hotel-fleeing neighbors begin to check in. The pools had too much chlorine, the kids were bored just watching cable. The Colts won. The conversations seemed odd. It's funny how fast those things fall away.

My daughter reads the hell out of the new Harry Potter book and I read everything at hand. At night Scrabble, Euchre, Tripoley.

We see a fleet of utility trucks with Kentucky plates on the highway. Supposedly people are cheering for them wherever they go, like one has heard people cheered for our troops when they liberated Iraq.

Three inches of snow falls, putting a pretty blanket on the scarred trees, smashed cars, swinging gutters. Just what everybody needs.

The next day the sun comes out, and out of the kitchen window I see the curious sight of a man's head floating above the trees. A few moments later I realize he is in a bucket truck. I tell my wife, but she says not to get too excited. A few moments later the power comes back on. Hot water, a light in the bathroom, all taken for granted but miraculously restored.

50,000 people to go. Today the office is shellshocked, everybody walking around like it's Sarajevo. "Have power yet?" has replaced "hello" in the hallways. Everybody's had an adventure.

Another storm system brewing for the weekend. And the winter's not half over.

This is how I spent my Christmas vacation. Give me a shout at

1 comment:

The Furnace said...

Welcome back to the land of the living with power - we got snow but that was about it. I'll have to e-mail with you this week and catch up.