I have seen the world after the economic collapse. The world without light, without heat, without internet access, with no water and no food. It is the world of the Northeast, after the October snowstorm. The storm dumped heavy, wet snow from Virginia to Maine -- onto trees that still had their leaves, and the combined weight of the snow and leaves brought down branches and whole trees, making a tangled mess of electric lines splayed all over the ground.
We lost power on Saturday afternoon. I was sitting there, innocently pecking away on my computer, when the screen suddenly went blank. The lights went off. It wasn't dark yet, but we hustled around the house gathering candles and flashlights, and I found my special hats with LED lights mounted on the brim. Of course the reason the lights went out was because of the snowstorm, dumping about eight inches on the trees and the wires and the ground. It was cold out. And soon it started getting cold inside.
I went outside and brought in some wood from the woodpile. We started a fire in the fireplace, and by that time it was 6 p.m. I volunteered to go out and get some food (since we couldn't cook), and took B's four-wheel drive crossover up to the strip, where we have two malls and a row of gas stations, stores and eateries. Chili's was closed. McDonald's was closed. The diner was closed. I found a pizza place, elbowed my way into the crowd and bought a large pizza for the three of us.
We spent the evening huddled in front of the fire, then went upstairs and bundled under lots of extra covers. B and I used our LED-lighted hats to read, then we went to sleep.
We slept okay, but getting out of bed in the morning required a monumental effort. The bed was warm. The room was like a refrigerator. We had no hot water; indeed precious little water at all, since we have a well, with an electric pump that wouldn't be working. We had whatever water was in the water tank. No more.
On Sunday we headed out to Best Buy and Barnes & Noble and Panera Bread. We knew Panera's had wi fi, and electric sockets, and we thought we might be able to charge up B's laptop and our cellphones. However, several hundred other people had the same idea. We did get something to eat, but there was not an electrical socket to be had.
Monday brought no relief. I went to my health club, which had heat and electricity, but no hot water. I took a (very quick) cold shower. B's son went to a friend house to have dinner -- they'd lost electricity, too, but had gotten it back. B and I found a coffee emporium where we dined on a wrap and a piece of pumpkin cheese cake -- remember, it's not winter, it's still October!
Halloween was called off in our town, because too many tree limbs were down, too many wires crisscrossed the streets and too many houses were still dark. Halloween night we went over to a friend's house. They'd lost electricity as well, but they have a gas-powered generator which allows them to run their furnace, use their stove, and turn on a few lights. B brought over some defrosted chicken, and we all had a nice friendly dinner. The silver lining to our storm cloud.
The first day, with the fire, was kind of fun. The second day, trying to hook up our phones and computer at Panera's, was more stressful. By the third day, we were out of patience, out of good cheer ... and out of water. I did manage to get into Panera's (where I wrote my last blog post) and power up B's laptop, and we sat in bed that night, freezing our fingers and ears and noses off, but watching an episode of Doc Martin on the laptop. We thought the laptop might warm us up a little. It didn't.
So what do you do when you feel neglected, when you thought that it was over , when everyone's out to get you, when everything is lost, and you're counting up your demons? What I did was ... beam myself off to Myrtle Beach, SC!
My buddies and I had actually been planning this trip for a couple of weeks. So it wasn't just me abandoning my family for warmer, more pleasant clime. You see,we were all doing it!
B and I had heard rumors on Tuesday that the power would be coming back that night. By 11 p.m. we heard. We went out to dinner at a local hamburger joint, driving home around 9 p.m., hoping for the best. It didn't happen. It was still dark at 11 p.m. Still dark and cold when we went to bed at 11:30.
"I sure hope the electricity is back by the morning," I told B. "I don't want to feel guilty leaving you here in the cold and dark."
"Oh, yeah," she shot back, but with a laugh. "I bet you'll feel guilty. For about five minutes. then you'll be going, 'Woo hoo! I'm outta here!'"
I chuckled. "Well, you see, that's what I mean. If the electricity is back in the morning I won't have to feel guilty for those five minutes."
But she really didn't mind too much that I was going. She was back at work by then. Electricity, heat and water were all back on at her office. So I left early Wednesday morning with a (semi)clear conscience.
B called me Wednesday evening. She reported that she'd gotten home from work around 5:15 p.m. The electricity was still off. The house was dark and cold. But just as she was heading to the hall closet to find another coat (yes, we were actually putting on our coats when we came into the house), the lights blinked on. The furnace started rumbling. The well pump started pumping. All she had to do was wait an hour or so, and then she was going to take a nice, long hot shower.
And at my hotel that evening, I stood in the hottest shower I'd taken in years, for the longest time -- the first hot water I'd felt in 4 1/2 days.
I now appreciate my modern conveniences more than ever. Halloween night, I sat in bed, watching the candlelight flicker against the wall, and I understood how our ancestors concocted stories about ghosts and other shadowy creatures. They seemed so real in the dark, dancing against the wall. I was reminded that electric lights -- and all our other modern conveniences -- are really very recent developments. When my mother and father were born, less than half of the households in America were electrified. Many rural areas didn't get electricity until FDR's electrification project in the 1930s.
I'd seen all those electric trucks out on the street, straightening out the spaghetti of wires on the street. I'd observed the Verizon trucks fixing the cables, the fire trucks and tree-trimming trucks, and the volunteers working through the night. I don't know about you, but I'll never again say anything bad about my electric company, or Verizon, or the fire department, or even the oil companies that deliver heating oil to the tank by my garage. In my opinion, after the last four days, these people are true American heroes.