Once Upon a Hurricane or How I Learned To Love My Generator

Storm clouds over swifts creek
Storm clouds over swifts creek (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I am slowly crossing off items on my “I Shouldn’t Be Alive” list. I have had a brush with a nurse shark in Hawaii, and run around like a headless chicken during Southern California earthquakes. I’ve fled falling ash from suburban fires and narrowly missed the eruption of Mt Etna. This does not even take into account my numerous acts of self sabotage during college. I still have several boxes that remain unchecked: being chased in New Guinea by cannibals, being stuck in an elevator with a Jehovah’s Witness or watching a Presidential election with my father. But as of last week, we could attest to surviving our first hurricane

Riding out Sandy seemed exciting. We were miles from the coast and nestled in between the shoulders of two wooded hillsides. While a storm meant certain disruption, Mother Nature was also grounding our two teenage sons – forcing our nuclear family back into a week of close-quarter, analog evenings of card games and trash talk.

As the Monday evening barometer dropped, the tri-state was silently cut from its moorings and we floated helplessly out to sea. Above Connecticut’s Merritt Parkway, most were cut off and clueless to the insanity raging outside our darkened windows. The wind began to rake across a century of trees – accelerating like a freight train passing across a narrow gauge track. Our electricity suddenly cut-out followed by the reassuring thrum of our generator. The lights flickered reminding us of our fragile tether to life’s basic amenities. Our cable, phone and internet communications provider, heretofore known as (Sub)Optimum, collapsed quicker than the French along the Maginot line. True to their regular advertising, we had once again become victims of (Sub) Optimum’s “triple play” — one hit leading to three outs.

Sandy howled and scratched at our patio door daring us to gaze upon her savage face. Peering through paned windows, I could see the eerie Aurora Borealis glow of transformers exploding in the distance. I acquiesced to Sandy’s taunts and opened the door to bellowing wind, swirling debris and deep, obsidian night. Like so many of the stupid people we see on television, I did not understand that the hurricane had launched a thousand sharpened arrows in the form of branches and sticks — any of which could have skewered this suburban pumpkin faster than you can say “he had it coming”. Our resident risk manager informed me to shut the door and retreat into the house. As I closed one door, the garage door mysteriously started to open on its own, a victim of a confusing electrical surge.

Dawn brought wreckage. The lawn was riddled with angled punji sticks, silently launched from the wild archers of the prior night. A massive oak was uprooted in my neighbor Charlie’s yard – its seven foot circumference trunk proving no match for the invisible hand that randomly harvested it like a troublesome dandelion. A hemlock lay on its side leaving a massive headstone of dirt and roots that reached eight feet into the air. Electrical wires dangled like twisted entrails – a cat’s cradle of broken conveniences – reminding me that my tiny generator and its 150 gallons of propane was the only thing standing between me and the movie The Village.

Over the next few days, an entire region would be reminded of property lines, introduced to tree wardens, forced to read the fine print of their homeowner’s policies and come to grips with terms like: “acts of God”, “proximate causes” and “business interruption”. A presidential election would pass the tri-state unceremoniously like a distant clipper ship. We finally accessed newspapers and televisions and learned of tragic deaths, overwhelmed neighborhoods and homes swept out to sea. Lower Manhattan was flooded and plunged into darkness. Transportation was ground to a halt and the NYSE closed for a historic two days.

I became irritable and discontent. I decided to focus my rage on my cable provider, (Sub)Optimum – ordering them to restore my cable, phone and internet – this very minute. I punctuated my temper tantrum with a firm “or else.”

“Or else what?” inquired the calm therapist who had been hired to mollify abusive customers until their arms tired. I was stumped and hung up.

School was cancelled. The kids ditched us like a bad neighborhood and headed for families with heat, cable and full refrigerators. Every few hours, the generator wheezed like a fat man climbing a flight of stairs and our lights would fade to brown. A yellow warning light began to blink on the generator indicating a low level of oil.

It was indeed a fortnight of strange days. Lines began to form at Steve’s local Gulf station as a rumor circulated that bandits from Wilton had hijacked a gasoline truck and rerouted it to Orem’s diner. I saw six people chasing a propane truck offering money. Someone told me that a woman in New Jersey woke up and found a six foot shark swimming in a salt water filled depression on her front lawn. A teenager was rumored to have thanked his parents for a ride to a friend’s house. My man, Mitt Romney, lost his bid for the White House. To cap a week of indignities, Old Man Winter did an early autumn drive by and hit us in the face with a pie of slush and snow.

The absence of electricity and mass media created a vacuum giving people way too much time to think. Many ruminated over the election and declared the results tantamount to the opening of Revelations’ Seventh Seal. Others quietly smiled in darkened houses and apartments feeling their first flicker of power in a week. I admit I was depressed over the election results. I descended into my usual abyss of self pity with my biggest concern that I would not be able to fit into the cardboard box that I expected to be living in by 2016. My butt was getting too big.

In my darkest moment, the lights suddenly flickered on. The computer router lights grinned green and the television pinged on. If it is true God only gives us what we can handle then it seemed he had determined that I had a low threshold for pain. The good news is we’re all still together. Yes, it’s gonna be a bumpy ride. We have to dig out of a mess of trees, wires, budget deficits, mounting debt, partisan politics and disturbing fractures along racial and social fault lines. Closer to home, I will still suffer the periodic indignities of Sub-Optimum and I will keep asking our local officials how much it costs to bury all our electrical wires (according to newly minted State Congressman Tom O’Dea, it’s about $1m a mile). Personally, I will miss my emergency telephone updates. I would gladly pay higher taxes just to have someone walk by my house each night reassuringly yelling “one o’clock and all is well.”

One thing is certain: our ability to gracefully navigate environmental, political, social and climate changes will define us as a generation. Frankly, I’m over my depression. I’m getting energized and am ready for a good fight. You can take away my electricity — but I’ll be damned if you’re going to take away my power.