Tuesday, March 21, 2017

End of Days: 99 Houses Off the Grid

Again I woke early. There had been no change. It was totally dark. The temperature within the house was nearing 40. I was praying for a sunny day once the dawn appeared, before the thermometer slid down to freezing to match the atmosphere about us. I expected when the sun came through the front windows it would rise some, maybe back to 43, like that was some tropical goal.

I did my usual cleaning routine. One must carry on even in bad situations. When I walked out on the back porch to tote down the birdseed I quickly stopped myself going further. One foot tentatively down on the top step told me it was too ice covered and risky to try to go down the stairs. I retreated inside, through the house and out the front door. Now I went around the car port and across the rear yard.

The snow was still frozen solid, but this morning I saw some tracks upon it. Cat paws ran from the bushes high in the yard, down to the under house storage bin, back up along the rear walk to the steps. Also coming out of the bushes lower down were the prints of a raccoon. I assume both beasts feasted on the cat food sometimes during the night without meeting and going into battle mode. 

It did not take long for the birds to flutter down once I placed the seed in the tray at the top of the yard. No sense bothering with the birdbath; it had been froze solid all week. That flock of Robin red-breasts that landed Tuesday morning probably wish they had stayed down in Dixie further. These arbiters of spring wandered about. They were fat in their winter feathers.

I came back in the house. I asked Lois if she would like some coffee.

"Yes," she said, "but a smaller cup. I couldn't finish that one yesterday." 

I got in the car to drive to Wawa, but went up our hill in the opposite direction, taking the scenic route. I wanted to see if the electric workers had returned anywhere. They were down on Honeywell setting up for another day. I circled around and out Glenrock then. At the top of Glenrock another crew of trucks had just pulled in almost blocking the street. I counted 10 vehicles, big and small, and workers milling everywhere. I have no idea what was down at that point.

I parked at the Wawa and headed in. Over by the side was a policemen, hand on the head of a guy in handcuffs, placing him into the back seat of his patrol car. I went in and got one 24 ounce cup for myself and a small cup for Lois. At the register I said, "Busy morning."

The kid, probably still in his teens, just stared at me.

"Cop has a guy in handcuffs in your parking lot," I said expecting the kid would say something about this, but he didn't. He just stared at me blankly and told me the price of the coffee. 

Back home we (my wife and I, not the Wawa kid) sipped away our coffee and finally I suggested we go get
breakfast at this new restaurant that had opened not too long ago. The time was something just past 6 o'clock. I wasn't sure when this restaurant opened, but I guessed it opened early for the breakfast trade. We drove over. It replaced a Pizza Hut that had occupied that spot for decades. The name of the restaurant was The Sage Diner. It had a crowded parking ever since it opened, whether for breakfast, lunch or dinner.

But not crowded this morning.

There were two cars in the lot and some lights on inside, but it wasn't open yet.  My wife said no one was there, but I suggested they were, probably prepping. So, we drove around some more. The car was warm. By 6:30 I was back to the restaurant lot watching one more car pull in and park near the door. A man in a uniform, a cop on his way to his shift or a security guard getting off his, got out and went in. Lois pointed out the neon sign in the window was lit with the word OPEN.

I parked and we went in and sat in a booth, just us and the cop in the room. (It was not yet swarming as in the photo.) A man, obviously the manager came over immediately with menus. We asked for coffee and he fetched it. He appeared to be operating alone. A bit later a waitress came in and went around making sure all tables were ready.

We both ordered omelettes, my wife a Spinach and I, a Bacon. I also got a large V-8. It sat like a 12 ounce glass of blood. The food was pretty good, and a lot. Big omelettes with much home fries and slices of toast.

A bit after we got home, Ron from down the street came by. He repeated his offer if we should get cold we should come down to his place. I figured if this continued into night I would, but prayed it would not come to that. He started my generator once more.

I tried an experiment. Rather than run extensions from my one cable to the refrigerator and lamps, I just plugged a space heater directly into the cable. This time it stayed on. Of course, it was directly in the power source, not that the little heater gave us a great amount of heat.

A story in the morning News Journal was an interview with a spokesman for DP&L, some high mucking-muck. He was saying how much they cared about the customers still without power. Yeah, right.

I called DP&L again.

I was so shocked at having a real person answer instead of the automated system, I almost couldn't speak. Every time before in my memory of calling DP&L I got a computer generated voice telling me to choose from a menu of numbers. One such selection is for updates on known outages. This was not a computer, this was a living, breathing woman. She said, "Emergency Line, what is the nature of your emergency?"

 Perhaps I should have said, "We be two old people freezing to death," but instead I told her I called for an update of when the power would be fixed. My last report, by automated computer-generated voice, was by 12:00 noon.

"The estimate is between 12:00 and 1:00 PM," she said.

Great, another extra hour! Okay, Mr. DP&L-executive-so concerned-about-your-customers, stop changing the time of power returning. How can we people trapped out here in the dark and cold plan what to do when you keep moving the target? If you don't know, tell us you don't bloody know, not torture us with ever changing hopes. 

Well, at least she had given a shorter time frame, another hour.



I had finished the Ty Cobb biography and started reading The Fellowship, a book about C. S. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien, Owen Barfield and Charles Williams, a group of English writers known as "The Inklings".

After a chapter I dozed off.

When I awakened my son was there on his lunch break from Total Wine, where he works. I told him about DP&Ls ever changing estimates and that the most recent put restoration between Noon and 1 PM. 

"It's 12:35 now," he said looking at his phone (wherever would the younger generations be without their smart phones)?


How wonderful, and no electric yet. Once more into the abyss. I called DP&L and once more a live person answered, a male this time. 

"The estimated time for your power to be restored," he told me, "is 6:00 this evening."

Oh good grief, yet another 6 hours!  I gave him my complaint, rambling on about the ever shifting times, as if he could do anything about it. I also asked why suddenly was I getting live people answering my calls. He hadn't the foggiest. 

After my useless call, I drove down to Honeywell and saw the trucks were still back there. I parked on Glenrock and walked to where all the action was. There was a lone worker in a hardhat moving a cherry-picker platform with a hand held control tethered to it. I was thinking of following him into this yard when one of the large trucks pulled round the corner with two men inside and stopped where the street curved.

I tapped on the driver's window and he rolled the glass down. My guess is this guy was the crew chief; can't swear to it. I told him how DP&L kept changing the times and what their latest estimate was.

"Whose telling you this," he asked, "the Call Center?"

"Yes."

"What'd'a they know? They can't see it."

"Hmm.  I know there was a crew earlier up by my street. They're gone."

"Yeah," he shook his head. "We gotta big mess here. Back there," he pointed between the corner house. The guy moving the cherry-picker was between them now. Beyond was a big field that ran all the way back to where I-95 crossed the development.  "We got 3-4 poles down,  lot of wires back that field. Problem is we can't get a truck in there. Make it easier if we could get a truck in there."

"You think you'll get it working today?" I asked.

He nodded. "Look, I guarantee you'll have lights tonight."

"Really?"

"I promise, you'll have lights tonight. We won't leave here today until you do."

I thanked him and left. I had more trust in these guys on the front that those call center clerks.

My wife was somewhat doubtful. She swore she couldn't take it anymore once again. I'm afraid she really didn't have a choice.

We went out to dinner again late that afternoon, leaving a little after five. Things were still dark. I peered down Honeywell to see if the workers were still there. They were.

We got back in our development just at 7:00 PM. Down Honeywell I could see they were still there. That didn't seem promising. We pulled in the drive. I had left the entryway light on, but nothing was showing. The security light in the car port hadn't lit. 

It was disappointing. As I turned the key in the lock, my wife exclaimed, "The light's on."

It was. It had just come on. I hurried in. She was excited. I felt for heat.  I went to the thermostat wondering why hadn't the heat come on? I feared the furnace might be broken. I looked at the thermostat. Why was the thing on hold? I hit the set schedule button and heard the heater kick on. Hot air flowed from the register. The temperature was down at 42. Soon it began to tick upward. It took until 9:00 to get up to fifty, but by the time I went to bed it was at 60. We were back, baby!

The 33 hours of living in dungeon chill and darkness were over.

When I was a teenager we had a power outage from a snowstorm that lasted five days. It struck on March 19, 1958, and lasted through the 23rd. We lived in a rural area and had no electricity, no heat, no way to cook and no water, because the well pump ran on electricity. We couldn't even flush the toilet. We couldn't escape either, the main road by our place was shut down by the drifts. Even the county snowplows and salt trucks couldn't get out. I survived that inconvenience and it was like an adventure in my mind.

I have been through a number of such things in my life since March 1958. They were annoying and inconvenient and little else, a part of life. But this one left me shaken. Part of it was the terror and depression it put my wife through; part is knowing I am an old man. I also have a devastating disease called amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. I have a respirator now, but it is to build up my muscles for pushing air in and out, not for breathing. I barely use it, yet I know eventually I might need a respirator to breath. What happens then in a power outage? The thing has a battery, but how long does that last?

I couldn't start my generator because of weakening muscles. Shoveling snow was an effort that fatigued me. Who will look after me when I can't look after myself? I am my wife's caretaker. I was busy looking after her concerns and needs during this three days. I doubt she will be able to care for me when the disease demands it.

There are things that will need to be done, minor repairs about the house, lawns to be mowed, bushes to be trimmed, cracks in the driveway that will need patching again, and I wonder if I will be up to any of it. Several people came and aided us during this, but I avoided asking for too much help. It is so hard to ask people to do what you feel you should be doing; things you always have. I'd much rather go help others, as I did for the young woman across the street trying to dig her car out, then expect someone else to come dig me out.  Some people say that, "I'm sorry" or "thank you" are the hardest words to say. I disagree. I think, "Help me" is.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Second Day in the 99 Homes Off the Grid

When I awoke the early morning of March 15,  I could barely move with all I'd worn to bed. Besides the three pair of pants, shirt, two sweat shirts and three jackets I had pulled over me a sheet, two regular blankets and a sherpa quilt. All this had kept me fairly cozy all night, Now I had to shuck the blankets and get out of bed.

It was dark.

And it was brittle-bitter cold. I used to like the cold and up until a winter ago I did not fear hiking the state parks in sub-freezing weather. I would layer up and be cozy enough even when my exposed beard would be ice-crusted.

Back when my boy was at Scout age, somewhere close to two-and-a-half decades ago now, they took his troop on a campout down in Camp Rodney during November. We cooked out over a fire and did the usual ghost stories and sing-song while the flames flickered. We slept outside among the trees in four man pup tents. Camp Rodney does have cabins, but I guess the leadership considered this a fall outing so tents would do. However, temperatures dropped to a record low and I honestly thought I would freeze to death that night. It did not help me that out of concern for my son I tossed my extra blanket over him leaving me with onlt my sleeping bag.

As a teen, in Scouts, I had traced the Mason-Dixon line in the very dephts of one winter, so cold even the creek rapids and waterfalls had frozen. It was a trip that remains in my memory with great fondness.  I took my son on that November outing to enjoy the camping experience as I did as a boy, but perhaps because of the deep freeze, camping never took with him and he soon dropped out of scouting.

I had never again been as cold as that November until this past week. Feeling the cold goes along with growing old, I suppose and having the ALS doesn't help either. Stepping out of that bed last Wednesday morn was a true shock to the system, despite being well dressed. My wife had never even came back to the bedroom. She spent the night huddled on an easy chair swathed in blankets and covered by cats. She had not slept well, but she has had that problem of not being able to sleep anyway. It was only around 4:30.

I did my usual morning cleaning, fed the cats, took out birdseed and the trash. I made another useless attempt of starting the generator. It is frustrating to reach a point in a man's life that he can't put enough oomph into a pull rope to turn a small engine over.  It was now a quarter after 5 o'clock. I started keeping an eye next door to see if anyone was outside at Jamie's place. He has a crane repair business and often in the early  morning he and/or his men are coming and going to begin their work. There was no one yet this morning.

Since we had ran the generator during the last evening and I had emptied most of my cas can into before it was started, I thought I better go get a refill supply. I wondered how early the nearby Wawa opened. I thought it might already be. I knew the McDonalds across the intersection from it was open 24/7. This early only the pickup window would be serving, but that was all right. I would also pick us up some hot coffee.

When I got to Wawa I saw it was open. Usually in the mornings the pumps and lot are swarming with
cars, but I guess being before six it hadn't reached a crowded state yet. There were sparse cars at the pumps. As I filled my gas can, and then my car tank, it crossed my mind going over to McDonalds was silly. Wawa sold coffee. I went inside and bought two 24 ounce cups full.  I also got a couple hot breakfast sandwiches.

We sat and drank our heat. I kept looking out the front window, but still no action next door. Once daylight had come without any movement outside, I walked over and knocked on his door. He answer still in pajamas and robe. He said when he got dressed he would come over. Not long after I heard someone out back. He had sent his son, who is of college age, and this fellow started my machine for me. Where would I be without concerned neighbors?

I called DP&L, but the story hadn't changed. It was still 11:59 that night as the estimated return of power. They hadn't even sent out anyone to the area yet. The house had dropped into the mid forties. The outside wind chill was in the teens. Once the sun was high and shining in our bay window the inside temperatures went up a few degrees, perhaps as high as 47.

We spent most of the day under covers, shivering anyway, and reading, or in my wife's case trying to sleep. Whatelse was there to do?  At one point I suggested we go to the movies, at least it would be warm a couple hours. "La La Land" was playing some matenees starting early, but my wife didn't want to do that, nor did she want to go down to the Senior Center. Around the middle of the day she said lets take a ride. We can get heat in the car.

I drove out all the way to West Chester when I realized I left my wallet at home. I was uncomfortible driving with no identification or license, so we drove home. I had considered stopping for lunch somewhere, but we couldn't now because we had no money or credit cards with us. Coming back we noticed some DP&L trucks down at the bottom of Honeywell, a street a couple blocks from us. When we got home I called DP&L again, but no change, just some hope.

It would be a long day. I again considered a hotel, but if the electric was going to be back by midnight or maybe, just maybe, a little sooner than out, why spend the money we really didn't have. We could tough it out until then.

The lady across the street knocked on our door. She had come to make sure we were okay or if we needed anything. This family, who are Black, had just moved in over the past year. I thanked her for thinking of us.  My friend, Ron, from two-doors down stopped by as well. He restarted my generator, which we had turned off when we took our ride. He gave me his cell number, suggested if it got tow cold that evening we should come to his place for awhile. he had gotten his own generator working earlier. It was one tied into the house system, but something had been broke on it and it wasn't working. Now it was fixed and he had heat. He checked the gas level in my generator and ended up pouring my extra gas in. I would have to go get a new backup supply.

There is a young White girl who rents the mother-in-law suite in the back of their home. She has been there a couple year even prior to them buying the place from the former and long time owners. She was now across the street, with one of Jamie's workmen, trying to dig her car out of the frozen snow. She has to park on the street, so the plows had kind of buried her wheels. He was trying to use a snow shovel and she was hacking away with one of those brush-scrappers you use on windshields.

I have a heavy duty scrapper, a heavy metal thing. I took that across saying it might work better. I then noticed a DP&L truck down at the end of our street. I handed her the scrapper and walked down, which was not easy because of the frozen snow on parts of the sidewalk. I turned the corner and there were a line of power company vehicles along the curb between my street and the next. I could not see any of the workmen; they were all up in this fence row between yards where the power lones are strung.

I came back up and tried to help the young
woman break the ice imprisoning her despite my condition. Neighbors had been helping me, I could lease try to help a neighbor myself. But then Jamie backed his pickup out, hitched her car to his tow know and he was able to tow her out. He told me then that he and a crew were driving on I-95 to the Navy Yard in Philladelphia earlier. There was a larger truck ahead of him and a frozen sheet of show flew off its roof and smashed out his own truck's windowsheild. Great.

With her car out, I drove again to Wawa and filled up my gas can.

We went out to dinner again, which meant I turned off the generator again. I left it off for the rest of the night.  Coming back from dinner I looked down Honeywell and the electric crews were gone and they were gone from the area below our house as well. We came home to a house remaining without power. I was a bit disappointed the trucks were all gone. I had believed they would work through the night to get the power flowing again. I was wrong. Now we waited with anticipation for the evening to pass. It was growing closer and closer to 11:59. At 10:15 I called DP&L once more to see if that time was till in place. It was

I dozed off on the sofa a bit after that. When I awoke it was 12:25 and the house was just as cold and dark as before. Come on, where is the promised power?  I called. Now they gave me a new estimated time for restoration. 12:00 noon of March 16, twelve hours away. My wife was crying and saying she couldn't take it, but she had to. I went back to bed and said a prayer, hardly my first.





Saturday, March 18, 2017

99 Houses Off of the Grid, 99 Homes in the Dark: Day One

It was a dark and stormy night...actually it was no such thing. It was very early morning, but it was dark because Daylight Savings Time had gone into effect just the pass Sunday morning and now dawn wouldn't rise until 7 o'clock or later.

The weather was miserable. When I put some food outside for a local wandering cat it seemed to be raining. It was not the ordinary wet stuff, though, it was freezing rain. I went about my normal morning cleaning routine thinking how cozy it was inside and I wouldn't be taking any walk this day.

When sunrise finally rolled out of bed and shown some light on things I saw everything was white. The street, the yards, my driveway was covered, yet still it was somewhat a relief. The snow hadn't reached the cataclysm media weatherpersons had been hyping for several days. It appeared on first glance to be a typical Delaware situation; a couple or so inches deep.

It was still raining.

I made some coffee and after cleaning, sat down at 9:00 to watch some TV and read the paper. At 9:45 I clicked off the telly and went into my office to the computer. I could see clearly now, the rain had stopped, the sky had brightened and the day was peaceful, so I believed. Even so, the less-than expected snow was a disrupter for me. In the last couple of months my constant schedule of doctor visits, medical tests and such appointments had dropped off to almost nil for my wife and I. We were living an almost normal schedule. Even the previous two weeks of Bible Studies had been cancelled leaving a long gap of limited human contact outside the home.  In fact, I was feeling a bit out of touch with the world to tell the truth. But this week I did have some events on the calendar that would break up the solitude, and I was looking forward to most of these. My wife had a yearly checkup at her Rheumatologist's on the 14th, a Tuesday, and I had my monthly ALS Support Group meeting that same evening. Wednesday we were to get back to the Bible Studies. Oh, how these made me happy. I really wanted to intermingle with some other human being again, but the snowstorm interfered.

All the forecast over several previous days said the storm was coming on Wednesday night into Thursday morning. This was good for then it would not interfere with those appointments I just mentioned. However, come Sunday there was a sudden shift and it was predicted to come overnight on Monday into Tuesday, and they treated it as if there was an apparent chance we all were doomed. North Delaware, where I dwell, was to be hit with heavy snow along the I-95 corridor. Area schools had already chickened out declaring their closures for Tuesday.

Thus Monday morning I called my wife's doctor and changed her appointment to a later date. Better not take a chance we would not be able to kept it and be charged a heavy fee as no-shows.

By Tuesday morning the evening ALS Meeting was cancelled until next month and even the Wednesday Night Bible Study was called off. It was disappointing, especially since we were not buried in a foot, but perhaps two inches of the stuff. It looked a typical Delaware snow. I fully expected the major hi-ways and byways had already been cleared.

So now I sat at the computer replying to people on Facebook. I was in the middle of a sentence in my status when my screen went blank.

Wha...?

Then I realized it wasn't just the computer; everything had gone blank. We had a power outage. Why now? The storm was gone, the rain had stopped and the sky had cleared into a fairly nice looking day. Well, I'd just have to wait it out, wouldn't I?  Hopefully it would be back on in time for Price is Right at 11:00; although, probably not that zipping fast. It was now 10:00 AM Tuesday. I immediately called DP&L, our power company. I may have been the first. They had no information on our outage yet.

I went back to the living room and began continuing my reading of Ty Cobb: A Terrible Beauty by Charles Leerhsen. I read a chapter. I stared out the window at the covered driveway. I decided to try shoveling it clear.

Normally, this was no big deal. I had shoveled that driveway many dozens of times over our life here and in much deeper snows than this one.

Times were different now; that is, I was different. I don't mean being nearly 76 years young, either. I have ALS (Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis). My muscles are deteriorating and I get fatigued rather quickly. (Perhaps I should be reading, Luckiest Man: The Life and Death of Lou Gehrig by Jonathan Eig.)

The constant and overused weather people also reported this was a heavy, wet snow.

Nonetheless, I went out to give it a try.

It was very cold outside and the snow was as wet and heavy as
claimed, covered over as it were with the results of the freezing rain. Still, I managed to make it three-quarters of the way down the drive before the fatigue really set in. While I worked, the snowplows went through several times and scrapped off our street. We have always had excellent snow removal in our community, at least during the 35 years I lived here. Unfortunately, the plows moved great piles of snow across the bottom of my drive and that was discouraging.

As I stood leaning upon my shovel contemplating this development, a pickup truck belonging to my Peruvian neighbor stopped across my entry. One of the Hispanic men who work for him tapped on the passenger window, then rolled it open.

"Here," he called, "I can clear that out for you."

With that he climbed out of the cab, took my shovel and flung away the remaining icebergs and snow blocking the access. He handed back my shovel and told me if I needed anything to stop next door. This was the first of many kindnesses to come my way over the next few days. (Note here, I generally don't care for the use of labels on people; however, given the somewhat distorted presentations in the news I am using such descriptors to show that people are people and neighbors are neighbors, and our real world is not as ugly as some choose to portray it.)

I came in and called DP&L to see if they had an estimate yet when power would return. They did not. It was still being evaluated and no determination had been made other than 70 homes were affected. I went back to my reading, it being daylight and I could see to do that.

My wife and I talked and read and she cleaned a bit more. There was very little else we could do. We had no lights, no TV, no radio, no computer, no internet, and eventually my landline phone emergency battery would die and we wouldn't have that either. I was using my cell phone for which I had gotten it, emergencies. It is not a smart phone. I can't go to Facebook on it. Besides making or receiving calls it can give me the time and it has a built in flashlight. That is the extent of its technology.

We also had no heat and the house was cooling. We were pulling on extra sweaters and getting out the blankets.

We did not have any means of cooking, no stove or oven or microwave. So even though we are in a very tight financial bind this month (and next), and this was not a regular eating-out night, we did go out to a restaurant for dinner.  Our immediate neighbors on the left were about to go to a hotel for the night. He told me he would shovel our front walk when they came home the next day. (By the way this is a Black family.) I thanked Joe and they left. My wife and I did not want to get a hotel and spend money we didn't have. We hoped the power would be restored that evening.

I have a portable generator. I bought it two or three years ago after a particularly long power outage one
summer after a thunderstorm. Ever since I have prayed I wouldn't have to use and up until now had only done so twice. I decided to haul it out. I hadn't counted on the ALS being a barrier here, too. I checked the oil and gas. I set the proper setting for start and I pulled the ripcord, and nothing happened.

I ripped that ripcord several times, many times as my arm grew tired, but I could not start the infernal machine. Was it me or the machine, I wondered.  I checked up and down the street, but I guessed my neighbors who might know about this equipment were not home. (By the way, the Ridgid Tool Girls were never dressed for this kind of weather.) I decided to call some people from church, but could not find their numbers. My contact lists were in the computer. I looked in that old time rag, the Phonebook, but they were not listed. I had a church directory for a bit ago, but the people I wanted were not in it. They were in the lasted directory, but alas, that was online in the computer. All my life these days is locked with the computer. I called Pastor Randy, my minister, one person whose number I did have. He answered right away, but it turned out he was in North Carolina. I gave him my cell number and he said he would text Bill, a fellow member of my church who had come here earlier in the year to fix my toilet.

I sat around and paced about and tried DP&L again, half fearful Bill would call while I did and I would miss him. They had an update. It was still 70 houses were affected and they were still doing evaluations of the situation, but they estimated power would be back...and they hit me hard...on March 15, which would be tomorrow...at 11:59 PM, more than 24 hours in the future. I told my wife it wouldn't be up until tomorrow, but not the time. I wasn't sure she could take it. She was already having panic attacks.

I still hadn't heard from Bill. I wanted to contact Paul, another gentleman from church I thought might help, but I didn't know his number either, so I called Jean, who I thought might have Paul and Pat's phone. She did have. I called and got Pat. She said she would speak with Paul.

I waited and I paced and I paced and I waited. My phone was quiet. I went outside to try starting my generator again. I failed again. Then I saw an SUV pulled up in front of Ron's house two doors down. Ron's family had moved into the community a couple years after we had and we became quick friends. I think they were the first Black family on our street back then. When I saw the vehicle I thought it was him so I walked down. I figured he knew about generators. I waved and the driver got out carrying a pizza box. Oh, it is just a pizza delivery, but ti wasn't. The guy was a friend of Ron's from the fire company. I told him I was going to Ron's about starting my generator. The fellow said he'd come up and take a look at it after dropping off the pizza. He knocked on the door.

Ron came to the door. The fellow told him he heard they had no power so he got them the pizza. I told Ron my dilemma and both Ron and the guy came with me toward me home. Just then my phone rang. It was Paul, who said he would come over, but I told him I now had help. He said call him if they couldn't start it.

As we walked up the street we saw a pickup parked in front of my house. It had a snowplow on the front. I saw my wife come down the lane. The truck belonged to Jean's son, who had been out plowing.

My phone rang again. As I answered I heard the generator start. The call was from Bill. Half a village was calling or coming to start my generator.

The generator was going. The problem was in my strength, not the machine. I ran a line into the house and plugged in the refrigerator and a lamp. We tried the TV, but with the power out to the main system  box it could not connect to the cable.

I tried hooking in a space heater, but this only ran a bit then quick. The space heaters don't like
extension cords and turn off for your protection. I discovered later I could have plugged the heater directly in the big fat generator cable, but then I couldn't have plugged in anything else.

It was almost midnight. I called DP&L again. They were sticking to the March 15 at 11:59 PM story. We turned off the generator and went to bed. My wife was a nervous wreck. She stayed in the living room. I went to my bed wearing three pairs of pants, a shirt two sweatshirts, three jackets, two hats and two hoods. I piled on the covers.

The house was getting very cold.

TO BE CONTINUED.






Sunday, March 5, 2017

Bleed 'n' Bear It, But Around Claws Do Not Bare it

Anyone brave enough, or bored enough, to have read my scribblings here and there over the years, knows I have always been a hiker and a walker. In my youth I even did some camping out in nature, but not so much as an adult. The last time I camped out in a tent, where I nearly froze to the forest floor, was around 1990.  Now I will admit that I am probably not the most qualified to write what I am about to write on, kind of on safely hiking through the woods or at least approaching animals, considering my own lack of safety preparations. First of all I pretty much always go hiking along and I can be a bit of a risk taker, especially when taking a photo. Up until the end of last year I never carried a cell phone.  I do now. I tried in the summer of 2015 to carry water along, something I also never did, but I still have trouble remembering to do so. I have never sprayed on any insect repellant nor to I carry any weapon such as a knife. Of course, due to me current ALS situation, I do use a walking stick of sufficient thickness to knock the stuffings out of most attackers. 

My dress hinges on the temperature rather than the roughness of anything in the immediate woodland environment  as the picture at the beginning attests.  My total warm weather attire consists of a short-sleeve T-shirt, shorts, top-of-the-shoe sized socks, sneakers and my hat. Such an outfit doesn't much protect against bruises, scratches and Stinging Thistle, let alone any angry beasts. It does help keep one from cooking under the summer sun, although not so much from burning There is a TV show on cable called, "Naked and Afraid", in which a man
and a woman try to survive several days in the wild without any clothing whatsoever. I've said the naked part wouldn't bother me, but no way I would go out there without shoes.  Raw nature can be brutal on the feet and there is no way you want to hike the backcountry with sore tootsies. My cold weather attire becomes a bit more complex, a bunch of layers to keep me toasty.

Anyway, wandering about in field and forest you sometimes
encounter a beast of varied sizes. Besides snakes and toads and birds, most are furry with four legs. There are squirrels, but I encounter those everyday in my backyard raiding the bird feeder. These have included occasional chipmunks, many rabbits, a rare groundhog or two, raccoons, deer (alone or in herds), foxes and one coyote. 

These are all common hereabouts and generally not much of a threat; although, I give them the rightaway and their space any time. For the most part they dash away, dash away all when they see you, except the deer who have a habit of freezing in place and
pretending to be invisible. I've had deer step out and become a statue only a few feet from me. I then become a statue myself. We have a tendency to think, ain't Bambi cute, but with the right provocation, Bambi could rear up and hoof throttle you to a fair thee well. And you sure don't want to get Bambi's daddy angry with you, cause he got hoofs and he got horns.


I have never run into the alleged Delaware Cougar or a stray Bear. Nor do I want to. Now the Cougar is controversial as to whether it exists or not, but there are possible bears, probably after crossing the Twin Bridges out of Jersey. For some reason there have been quite a number of bear encounters in the Garden State.

What amazes me is whenever in Jersey or elsewhere bears or other large animals appear people go grabbing their camera or iPhone and try to find the beast for a selfie. Get too close to some of these and people might use your selfie as your obituary photo. You don't want to fool about with wild animals.

A few years ago we took a trip to Virginia and near the Natural
Bridge was a safari park. You drove your car through and got up close and personal with a slew of hulking bodies. Stay in your car, was the watch word. It also should have declared "keep the beasts outside your car", as well. There was a van just ahead of us, a family with children, and they didn't seem to realize the danger of inviting a Bison to share the ride (notice the open door policy). They let Buffalo Bob climb halfway into the backseat. My wife and I feared for their lives.


We were having our own problems with a persistent Ostrich who wouldn't pull his head out of our window. You see, you could feed these animals and he was after more food. My wife was scared to death of the bird, but she kept pulling the bucket toward me luring it further into the car forgetting Ostriches have long necks.

Now think about those bear visitations in South Jersey. I remember the authorities put out warnings to people of what to do if they stumbled upon Yogi, and it wasn't get your selfie stick ready. If you come face to face with the bruin, don't run. Put your arms up above your head and make your self look bigger than you are. Yeah, I'm certain Mr. Bear would be highly impressed.

The American Black Bear stands from 5 to 7 feet high when
on their hind legs and they average 400 pounds and up to 600. That was good advice about running 'cause you aren't going to outrun it. They can reach speeds of 35 miles per hour, which is 7 miles an hour faster than Usain Bolt has ever clocked, and they can do it for more than 100 meters. It's doubtful you're going to out foot the beast. They can climb trees, too, so that limits your escape choices.


Maybe a good slap would scare him off, but if it doesn't and he slaps back, well there goes half your face. He has strong paws and long sharp claws.

And if the paws don't tear you
up, the jaws probably will. Those teeth were made for ripping you apart.

Now think about it. 

You know we have several cats and have had many over the last 3 decades. You look at these cutie pie little cats and consider them no threat. 
Average cat probably weighs 10 to 12 pounds, less than a tenth of the average human. Why you could pick up a cat and fling it across the room...only before you fling you might get bloodied.

Cats have retractible nails. They are like miniature versions of the X-man Wolverine. Their claws feel like needles and can rip like razors, and a cat is lightening fast. I know. I've shed a lot of blood over the years. I've had cat cuts on much of my body from face to foot. Once trying to put a cat in a carrier for a vet visit I was practically disemboweled. It left several long cuts across my stomach, even though I had been wearing a shirt. 

Don't think in a bear attack you'd get off with some superficial
cuts and a little blood. So don't go up to one of these creatures with a camera and say cheese because it will probably mistake you for the cheese and an easy snack. 

The wrestling match Leonardo
Dicaprio has with Ol' Ephraim (as Trappers use to call Grizzlies) is pretty scary, but no less than the bear attack in "Backcountry", where the results are far more devastatingly realistic. The scene in "the Revelant" used a lot of computer generated action and a man in a bear suit; "Backcountry used real bears, so its attack is created by fast cuts, but is no less frightening. Hate to be a spoiler here, but the result of this match do not end well for the man. This guy wasn't going to crawl off  'cause there isn't a lot left of him. The director debated how far to go and choose not to sugarcoat what your reality would be if you took on a bear mano to mano. 

By the way, both movies are based on true stories, with some literary license taken. If "The Revelant" had shown the true account of Trapper Hugh Glass' life no one would have believed it. The screenwriters and director had to tone it down. (Hugh Glass pictured on right. Look up his life.)

In the case of "Backcountry" they built up a lot of the pre-encounter tension and they switch the gender of the couple. 


When the real-life Canadian couple, Jacqueline Perry and Mark Jordan, were attacked it was the woman dragged away. Jordan managed to fight the bear off with a knife, not the giant toad sticker Leonardo wielded, but a Swiss Army Knife that apparently has a bear stabbing blade included among the tools. He managed to get her into their canoe and paddle to help, but she died in the canoe.

Yeah, I see the stories from people that we can live peacefully
amidst lions and tigers and gorilla if we just show we mean no harm and they can trust us (must be Democrats). I don't advise attempting it. These are wild animals and unpredictable. They can turn at anytime, even ones that have been "domesticated" as pets. Just ask Siegfried and Roy.   (Right, Roy Horn after tiger attack.)




Saturday, February 18, 2017

Whence Comes a Heavier Month

T. S. Eliot in his poem, "The Wasteland", wrote "April is the cruelest month. I understand his reasoning, but in my own reality February is the cruelest month. Why should I say this for isn't it also the shortest?

In the olden days of Pilgrims and young girls' accusations of witches afoot, there was a man named Giles Corey. He was not necessarily a bad man nor a good man, but a stubborn landowner with a temper. When he was 65 he beat one of his indentured servants with a stick for stealing a container of apples. A little more than a week following, the servant, one Jacob Goodale, died and it was ruled a result of the beating. Giles was charged with using unreasonable force and nothing else since corporal punishment was legal. He paid a fine and that was that.

Fifteen years later Giles was accused of what was considered a more serious action, committing witchcraft, and he was sent to trail where he refused to confess. As we have said, he was a stubborn man and was about to prove how stubborn. They took him to the field next to the prison and staked him to the ground. He was then subjected to the punishment of Pressing in at attempt to force a confession from him. He refused and after two days of this he died, but he never confessed. Pressing is a cruel execution. Heavy weights or stones are placed upon the torso of the victim and more weight is added and added until the torturers get what they want. The subject usually suffocates to death because the accumulated weight prevents the lungs from working.

Giles died in September of the year at the age of 80, a tough old man with his life pressed away.

Living can be a form of pressing. The weight of years and events adding to what is upon you. February is proving to be a heavy stone in a series of piled up rocks. I believe I am a tough man. I have suffered the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune over the decades, but every time I have brushed myself off and stood up and gone on.  No bad thing had gotten me down for any length. I choose to be happy in life, which doesn't mean always laughing. We have had our struggles.

But the last few years have been rough, I must admit. There is a song that goes, "Nobody wants you when you're old and gray." That was certainly true of the job market. I was sent out to pasture after 70, which seemed fine because it was getting harder to do what I had been doing. With Social Security and my pension it seemed possible to survive modestly. A year later, I was suddenly caretaker of both my parents after my mother had a debilitating stroke.

They each passed away after several months of suffering. It took a year to completely settle an estate that had almost nothing in it. Everything was gone, but my duties were done. Then on the heels of not being caretaker to them I became a caretaker to my wife, who has Bipolar Disorder. It is a terrible, imprisoning, torturous thing to have and it somewhat isolated us both

We abided.

Then came a year of health issues, my wife getting a knee replacement (and she needs another). This was costly, of course, but not devastating, however worse was to befall us. Last May, just about June, I had a strange weakness in my legs during a walk. I also had it in my arms. The doctors (several) could not figure out the cause and I was subjected to many tests and office visits during the summer, which were interrupted by two hospitalizations for clostridium difficile infections (C. Diff.), the first almost killing me.  I was to have two more attacks of this miserable infection that didn't put me in the hospital.
Once over this it was back to the tests and specialists and my mysterious ailment.

The mystery was solved on December 1 when I was informed I have Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis or Lou Gehrig Disease, an untreatable, incurable, progressive, ultimately fatal condition.

But none of this knocked the breath out of me (although the ALS eventually and literally will).  I would just live as I had as long as it would let me. Yes, we were hurting financially because of all those doctors and hospital stays, but as I entered this year I believed I had taken care of all our medical expenses, even though they had eaten up our savings and ran up out credit cards.  Then came February and out of nowhere came new bills for doctor visits last year. Why are they so late in billing, these doctors? They were not huge, totaling about $110, but they came in a month when we had other extra expenses and the high heating bills and then another Endoscopy that assures other bills will come my way, plus a high cost medication to treat an ulcer I have. Suddenly I had $450 of unexpected expenses beyond my income.

The bleakness of February must have worn on me to feel the weight of this. Perhaps worse is the frustration of my body not working as it should. I have grown limited in strength and what I can do physically and also knowing my wife can't become my caretaker, when I am hers. Even more bothersome is I can't seem to think properly anymore; that is, I find it hard to be organized and to write.

I am in a sense empty. My life being is truly in the hands of God. This is not a bad place to be.


Friday, January 27, 2017

So White I'm Almost Invisible

My friend, Ronald Tipton, was generous enough to give me the Ancestry.com DNA test for a Christmas gift. He was very interested in what my results would be and so was I.  After all, for decades I have said I was mostly Welsh and now maybe I would find out I was really Eastern European.

It takes a while for the processing, 6 to 8 weeks, and they emailed they were moving slower. Probably a lot of people got the kits for Christmas and it swamped the lab.

Then the day finally arrived, January 23, 2017. The results were in.

I was not Eastern European. Well, I do have 1% Eastern European DNA.

Most things I am not.  I have no Asian, Pacific Islander, European Jew or African traces. I have less
than 1% of Greek, Italian or Native American ancestry

I guess my most exotic, if you can call it that, is 6% of me is Finland and Northwest Russian. They are pretty pale complected as far as I know.

Western Europe, you know, primarily  France, Belgium, Germany, Netherlands, Switzerland, Luxembourg and they ever popular Liechtenstein account for 18% of me.
22% is Irish and the remaining 52% in of Great Britain.    

Interesting I suppose, but not quite $100 interesting (well, $99 actually). I'm just a white guy...wanna go to the Gap?

But it didn't really tell me what I wanted to know. Great Britain covers a bit of different elements. I wanted to know how much I was Welsh and how much I was Scotish, as well as English. It didn't break it out that far.

And where does this info take me? They gave a list of 283 people, who might be 4th to 8th cousins. Key is "might". The only certain matches they gave me were my 2nd Great Grandparents.

I guess I expected more, so it was disappointing. I don't think it was worth the amount of money it cost to do.


Thursday, December 15, 2016

When a Favorite Starts to Go South

Certain changes in this land are like watching a friend commit suicide. Perhaps we all have our favorite restaurant, where like on Cheers, everyone knows your name...or at least your face and what you drink (in my case a coke). It isn't necessarily because they serve the best food. It is a combination of other things. You fell comfortable there, somewhat protected and cozy. It is the ambiance, the friendliness, the romantic dimness of the lights, the murmering around a bar and the feeling of welcome.

We've had several eateries like that over the years. Once upon the time we were very fond of Hennessy's, a bar restaurant in Aston, Pa. Joe the owner would greet you enthusiastically and with a smile. He knew our preference for a booth. The service tended toward the slow side, but was still attentive, warm and friendly. The food was pretty good, especially the filet mignon. It was only $19, but was more tasty than many I had in the upscale white tablecloth establishments.

We went there quite often, even though there was usually a line to get in and one might have to wait a
bit. We attended their 15 year anniversary celebration, wished them another 15 years of success, but then something changed. Since there prices were a little more than other bar restaurants in the area the downturn in the economy might have hurt them. Perhaps they didn't change the menu enough. The lines shrunk and then disappeared and you didn't have to wait. Joe had changed as well. I wondered if he had lost his interest in the place, he seemed listless and looked sad. We stopped going.

We came back after a period of time and knew it was dying. The wait staff was more interested in talking with themselves than serving. Our waitress came over to take our order and she sat down on the bench next to me. I felt very uncomfortable about that it was not proper restaurant etiquette. Again we stopped going and a few months later the for sale signs went up and the building became dark and deserted.

In the meantime we found a new favorite, Duffer's Pub on Route 1 and Brinton Lake. Duffer's has two other locations, The Tavern and The Mill. The Mill is located about two miles from us, but we really liked The Pub even though it is more of a drive. We like the atmosphere and the high back booths which gave a feeling of privacy. We traveled there quite often.

But suddenly this year something changed and we are not sure why. The change began when the manager's wife became more prominate and we wonder if her influence was behind what is happening. She is somewhat intrusive, stopping by to chat. Her husband used to stop and talk sometimes too, but his was more banner and short. She seems more shrill. She also appears harsher on the staff. In fact, we were use to the staff made mostly of waitresses, but we noticed the turnover had been getting more frequent and now almost all the waitresses we had known have gone. The wait staff now is mostly male and they are less attentive than the females had been, not all of them, but often they linger about joking among themselves rather than serving the clientele.

One of the big startling changes was in the menu, not the offerings, but the prices. All the items jumped up in price. The Caprise Salad had been one of the cheaper salad previously, under $10, suddenly jumped to $13. Why, all that it contains is a sliced tomato, some basil leaves, mozzarella cheese and balsonic vinegar? The Cobb Salad jumped from $10 to $13 and the Salmon platter from $13 to nearly $18. Every item went up. On top of that sandwiches use to come with a side of fries or a couple other choices. Now you must pay an extra dollar if you want those sides and $2 for vertain other sides. I was asked if I wanted my coke refilled, as I usually did. There was no charge for refills, but I was shocked to get the check and find the coke and the refill each cost me $2.50.

The quality of the food did not change accordingly, and in some cases seems to have slipped a notch. We haven't totally stopped going there, but we have greatly reduced our visits. This is with great regret for it had been our favorite place, but it seems on the verge of suicide to us.