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.


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 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.


1 comment:

  1. Lar,
    Remember when we were young and the power never went out except for that one period if the Blizzard of '58? Seems like power outages are part of life's adventure now. When I lived in Pennsylvania the power went out at least twice a month. Don't have that problem here in southern Delaware though. It has went out a few times in the ten years we have lived here. I can deal with that but it is still a great inconvenience. Hope this is the last time you have to endure a long power outage.