Sunday, November 4, 2012

this ain't no party, this ain't no disco, this ain't no foolin' around

On October 29, Monday, a b-tch named Sandy struck the mid-Atlantic states. If you live here, you don't need much explanation. If you've been through similar disasters, I'm sure you have stories that are worse than ours.

But from about 7:15 that night, until sometime after noon on Saturday, November 3, The Excellent Wife (TEW) and I were without power. TEW had heard the storm was coming, and, although I poo-pooed the hype as the usual drivel the weather people spew to improve their ratings, both she and I filled our gas tanks prior to Sandy's arrival. Apart from that, though, we did little to prepare. We have lost power in several storms, but never for more than a few hours.

Almost everything in our house depends on the electric utility. The heat, the lights, the refrigerator... even the gas stove: while the gas can be ignited by a match, the stove uses an electric starter to light the burners (and, because of this, I was reluctant to run the oven; I do not know if it uses house current to re-start the burner after it has gone down for temperature regulation). We were taking abbreviated showers for days until I realized that the water heater uses a pilot light rather than house current.

We get all our information, and most of our entertainment, from the internet. The sole broadcast radio we own does have a wind-up generator - but because when we bought it, we did not check to see if it was operational, we did not learn that it does not play through its speaker until it was too late to return it. It does play through a headphone, but only one of us can listen to it at a time. And the local station went to an all-Sandy local-news format for the time that regular staff and regular programming was unavailable, but they went back to their right-wing all-talk format at the first opportunity (there is little difference between right-wing talk and plain ignorance; I opted for plain ignorance without radio irritation). Stations serving a larger area did not provide much immediately useful information. The one or two newspapers that TEW obtained (she's an unapologetic news junkie) were perused in great detail, I assure you. She complained frequently about "the view from the foxhole", that we could not get a larger picture of the problem than our immediate surroundings.

A local McDonalds had wifi access, but it was so overused, and so slow, that we did not return (TEW did manage to raid the soda-machine icemaker a number of times). The local IHOP opened up on (I think) Tuesday night; they have wifi, but the management has been so rude on the several occasions we have been there that we opted not to return (a waitress, however, was polite and thoughtful despite what must have been incredibly trying circumstances). We finally discovered the Franklin Library branch that had wifi; there was some problem about people losing connection, but the staff was always most helpful in the crisis.

Roads, of course, were closed due to downed trees and wires (as the still are at this writing in some areas). While PSE&G had crews brought in from out of state (I have seen trucks from Illinois and South Carolina), I'm not impressed with the ability of either PSE&G or the local police forces to keep traffic moving; one heavily-traveled block on State Route 27 was not opened until late this morning, almost a week after the storm hit. This is not a rural road.

TEW did an excellent job of managing the larder, even though ice was simply not to be found in local stores; we lost comparatively little food due to the lack of power to the refrigerator (although we did have some memorable meals). We were able to get to a few stores (more as days went by) for our needs.

Some things we learned:
  • Although we are not candle people, we have received gifts of candles for years, which we squirreled away in a closet. We have learned that most of them are useless, but candles in glass jars, especially pint- to quart-sized, are most useful as light sources (I also like tapers, but TEW is a bit nervous about them). Multiple-wick candles are useful as a heat source, as well.
  • Know where your flashlight is. It might be useful to carry it with you, even when you are going out into the world/
  • The stupidest thing can be a lifesaver. We found a clip-on-your-hat-bill LED light, which I found useful for reading, eating, and numerous other situations; it's now in a place I can find quickly when the power goes again.
  • I love my archaic, anachronistic, outmoded land-line phone. While PSE&G has varied from questionable to utterly unreliable, my land-line gave me a dial tone every time I picked it up. Cell service was either not to be had, or spotty, the first day after the storm, although it did improve quickly. (On a related note, my in-laws have been impatient with a nephew who was in tears over the loss of power and phone. His world is different; he has ALWAYS depended on cell phones and internet for news and connection, and can't imagine a life without them. I do not judge his panic.)
  • With the power out, other, smaller difficulties get magnified. My watch battery died during the power outage, and that affront to my routine was almost worse than the unavailable electricity. One of the springs that raises the garage door broke, as has happened on at least four other occasions - but because the home stores were unavailable (either because of road closings or the power outage), I had to rig a temporary solution, and the effort was emotionally exhausting; I myself was nearly in tears over it.
  • We used interesting tricks to maintain flexibility. Most notably, TEW decided that this was "Life During Wartime" (the name of a Talking Heads song, whence the title of this post). Most of the times when we had to make an accommodation or put up with an inconvenience, we could say, "That's life during wartime", and make do or get on with it. (She was extremely happy to be able to blow dry her hair when she visited her parents, who had electricity, on the Friday evening, though.)
We have power back. We are making plans to replenish our candle supply, and we have begun a list of power-outage plans and supplies. We are still speaking to each other.

For riding? It was a 100-mile weekend... but the news above is more important.

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