Thursday, November 15, 2012

The Storm: food and lodging

There was a kind of giddy thrill to the outage and at first I was kind of a tourist. I didn't really feel all that involved. The power was off at the house, but I had running water. I had hot water and I also had a comfy job Saturday night in town, where the power was on and the air conditioning was fine. The television was out and so was the internet, but so what?

I didn't really mind. I had my books, my long suffering novel and coffee. I could plug my laptop and my cell phone charger into the wall and keep in touch --at least, while I was in town. Outside of the city limits, cell service became sketchy. To text or call my girlfriend, I had to climb the hill behind my house, stand over the downed apple tree just to get the meanest of signals.

The first couple of nights weren't that bad. I broke out the camping lanterns and the candles. We went to bed when the sun went down and got up as usual. My four-legged alarm clock was good to remind me when it was time to be up in case the battery powered clock failed.

But it was hard to sleep. The house trapped heat and even by opening the windows, there was little resembling a breeze to be found. At night, I sweated on top of the sheets and woke up thirsty. Then the neighbors brought out the diesel generators. They cranked them up at dusk and ran them all night. The machines growled endlessly. It was like bedding down next to a truck stop --but without the hookers.

Meals were bitter times. As long as I could stand it, I ate fruit, Nutella and banana sandwiches, and choked down cans of cold ravioli. When I couldn't, I bought hamburgers and pizza and hated myself for being weak. I drank warm, peach/mango Kool-Aid.

One night, I drove to Sissonville; took my son and we ate an awkward dinner with my girlfriend and her parents. The meal was at a local church that had turned their gym into a shelter. Lined up outside, generators the size of Uhaul trailers noisily generated the power for the lights, the stoves, the freezers and the air conditioners.

Inside, it seemed like half the town had turned out.

The food came from restaurants and grocery stores and was served by volunteers as quickly they could get it out. I ate whatever they gave me, except the chicken nuggets, which must have been meant to be deep-fried. Baked, the meat came pink.

Regardless, I was glad to get it. The pasta and ham wasn't Nutella or peanut butter or ravioli. They had salad and vegetables. The drinks were cold and there was this fragile sense of community, something that had shown up as unexpectedly as a spiderweb hanging from a tree branch in the front yard, something that was beautiful, but wouldn't last.

It was good to be among others struggling.

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