Monday, October 16, 2006

Got Power?

That’s my idea for a t-shirt. It’s got a light bulb on the front and “I survived the Friday the 13th Storm of 2006” on the back. It’s the most asked question I’ve heard in every corner of the city and suburbs for the last four days.

In case you hadn’t heard, it snowed here last Thursday. A lot. We’ve heard that it’s the worst storm in the recorded history of Buffalo for this time of the year. I say “heard” because everything here is still being communicated by word of mouth in public places. We have no TV or computer access. Except here at Starbucks. Ugh

The Not-So-Perfect Storm:
October 12, 3:00pm. A day earlier than predicted, some wet lake effect snow starts falling during the first day of what was to be a rainy weekend. I call a couple of my business associates to tell them that we already have our first snow of the year. We laugh. Ha, ha, ha.

October 12, 6:00pm. After visiting for a bit, Leah’s father calls us from his drive back to his house, normally 20 minutes, now running over 45. He tells Leah not to go out to her Body Shop show. Leah goes anyway, returning less than an hour later because her host lost power. I tell Leah that unless the snow curtails, we will lose a couple tree branches. This turns out to be a fairly large understatement.

October 12, 8:00pm. CRACK! That wasn’t thunder. Hmmm.

October 12, 8:10pm. CRACK! That wasn’t thunder either. Oh, Sweet Jesus, that was a tree branch falling.

October 12, 8:15 – 8:55pm. CRACK! A branch audibly breaks every five minutes or less during this time period.

October 12, 9:00pm. CRACK! I walk down the street and take pictures of fallen branches, not really the smartest thing I’ve ever done.

October 12, 9:30pm. CRACK! BOOM! Lights out. I call the power company. The nice lady on the other end of the phone says that so far, 75,000 people have lost power and they think it will be at least three days before they can restore ours. CRACK! Pack bags. CRACK! Start car. CRACK! Sprint out to car with child in my arms. CRACK! Repeat. CRACK! Repeat! CRACK! Kiss wife. CRACK! Leah drives away to Grandma’s house, which still has power. As a fitting see ya later, a branch falls on top of the van as they turn off the street. Mike & Lisa leave shortly after. I stay to make sure house is not badly damaged.

October 12, 11:00pm. CRACK! CRACK! CRACK! Phone and cable lines are ripped off the house.

October 12, 11:30pm. I take more pictures from front porch. CRACK! I watch the top 30 feet of my neighbor’s tree fall ten feet from where I am standing. I giggle loudly to keep from peeing in my pants and go inside quickly and get under blankets.

October 13 – Didn’t Jason Have A Chainsaw In One Of Those Movies?
After that, all sense of time was lost. I woke up the next morning and looked outside to what I can only describe as Mother Nature’s demilitarized zone. In all the hurricanes I’ve witnessed, I’ve never seen this kind of devastation. I dressed quickly and walked out my front door. Our street was barely navigable by foot. There was no hope for any kind of vehicle.

I walked around the block, and was rewarded by finding an open Starbucks, apparently one of the only buildings that didn’t lose power. The manager walked two miles from his house to open the store. I got a cup of coffee, called my wife, who told me that her mother’s house lost power at 4:30am the night before, and then walked back to the house.

By this time, my neighbors were out, and they were looking just as shell shocked as I was earlier. We stood around in the snow and talked, making sure everyone was OK. Then, when there was nothing left to say, we all just went to work. Ten of us worked for four hours that morning, using only hand tools and one small chain saw, and cleared every branch from the road.

There are so many stories from the past four days that I want to share, I don’t know which to include and which to discard for another time.

There came a point where we couldn’t do much more with the tools we had on hand. The road was cleared except for a few very large limbs. A couple large trucks had wound their way down the street. One of them held two guys who as they drove by, looked at us all with wide eyes. “Damn joy-riders,” someone muttered. We all mumbled in agreement. No sooner had we all finished cursing them, the truck stopped. The guys walked around to the back of the truck and took out two huge Stihl chainsaws, and in less than five minutes, made short work of the last remaining obstacles in the road. They were just two guys out looking to help anyone who needed it. It’s been the same way everywhere I go.

Shortly after we started clearing, one of my neighbor’s wives walked off down the street towing a red plastic sled. She returned half an hour later with the sled weighed down with three cases of beer for everyone who was working outside. That night, they served dinner for seventeen people.

Houston, This Is Tranquility Base Signing Off:
That afternoon, after loading the cat’s food bowl to overflowing, I locked the doors and maneuvered the car out onto the main city streets and down to Leah’s Mom’s house. Leah & Gina cooked every piece of meat that was in our collective refrigerators so it wouldn’t go bad. I ate like a king – steak, chicken, pork, bacon - Mmmmmm. Through the miracle of cell phones, we learned that our friend/sister-in-law Jill had a house that was still heated, thanks to a gas insert on her fireplace. We invaded her home shortly thereafter.

Another Day:
Saturday morning, I returned to the house to tackle clearing the branches in the back yard. My proudest moment through all of this so far has been that the play structure I built for the boys took two direct hits from branches, one over six inches thick, and it did not budge an inch. I worked for four hours, and finished about three quarters, leaving the last few branches because they were too close to some downed power lines.

Since then, we’ve basically tried to stay warm. After waiting in line for 5 hours, we finally managed to get a generator at Leah’s Mom’s house yesterday afternoon, only to have the power restored last night. Oh, wonderful electricity, how I love you so. Never, ever leave me again.