Sunday, September 14, 2008, will go down in history as the day Ohio—a land-locked state in the flippin’ Midwest—experienced a hurricane. Okay, I exaggerate. Ohio experienced a tropical storm despite the fact that we are nowhere near the tropics. Go figure.
Of course, what the Gulf Coast experienced was far, far worse than what Ohio has endured. I’ve never experienced anything that terrifying or dangerous in my life, or anything as uncomfortable and dangerous as the aftermath, either. My prayers go out to all those affected so dramatically and so tragically by this storm.
Frankly, our experience in Ohio was enough for me. Ike blew through Ohio with 78 mph winds and knocked out power to almost 2 million people. There was some flooding, but not in our little corner of the state. We just got the wind, which was enough to kill three people and put many others in danger from the power outage and general chaos. Just think of the elderly and infirm who had oxygen tanks needing refills, the patients at home who needed electricity for the machines that help them live, diabetics and others whose medications needed refrigeration, and anyone who had the horrible bad luck to need emergency help when roads were blocked, phones didn’t work, and all emergency services were completely maxed out.
Seeing as I am not a health care professional, fire fighter, electrician, police officer, or other sort of trained and really useful person in situations like this, I did what the voices on the radio said to do: I stayed home and listened to the radio.
My weather radio was such a blessing. I bought it several years ago and thought I was paying too much at the time. Now I know how much it’s really worth, and it was a steal at $25. If you don’t have one, get one. Right now.
The radio provided information, which is quite comforting when you’re in a black-out. Even more importantly, it was very entertaining. I haven’t listened to local talk radio in, oh, forever, and found it fascinating to pass the time listening to people say, over and over again, how they’ve lived here all their lives and never seen anything like this. Well, I haven’t lived here all my life—just 4.5 of my 41 years—and I HAVE seen weather like this. It’s scary and intense and for some people very dangerous, but it could have been much worse. Basically, if you are alive, have safe shelter, are in reasonably good health, and have a box of graham crackers in your pantry, you shouldn’t be complaining. Well, maybe just a little. But really, perspective is essential at times like these. And the radio personalities I heard did a fairly good job of keeping things in perspective.
Those same radio personalities showed me how stupidity infects the masses at times like this. Traffic lights went out everywhere, trees and power lines blocked roads, and police and government officials told people to stay home unless absolutely necessary. Do the masses ever listen to police and government officials?
That was a rhetorical question.
Local radio reported children climbing damaged trees tangled in power lines and cars blasting through intersections rather than honoring the four-way-stop rule for dead traffic signals. Experts warned people “if in doubt, throw it out” with regard to food in their fridges, to be extra careful with chain saws, to beware of carbon monoxide poisoning from generators, to keep an eye on candles, and to stay away from fences if power lines were down on them. People don’t listen to experts any more than they listen to police and government officials. That’s one reason why hospitals have emergency rooms: for all the stupid people.
My own stupidity was unlikely to be lethal because I listened to the authorities and experts. I’m a good little girl who threw out all her food, who would never touch a chain saw under any circumstances, and who went nowhere for two whole days and was perfectly happy about it. But why, after more than 24 hours without power, did I walk into a room, flip on the light, and expect it to work? Honestly, there was always a split second of surprise (“Oh, why didn’t the light turn on?”), followed immediately by recognition of my own stupidity.
Because we in our little cul-de-sac had it so easy in this crisis, I can say that the saddest thing about it for me personally was my lack of connectivity. I really, really missed my computer. And my wireless network. And my cell phone, which, even after George took it to work on Monday and charged it, had no bars and was useless. Like me.
Obviously, I can live without these miracles of technology, but every time I walked past my closed laptop without its friendly green light winking at me, I felt very sad. My only comfort was the sure knowledge that it was in Duke Energy’s best interest to get me back online as quickly as possible.
Thanks to the hard work of many, many really useful people, the little green light is on again, so let me share my random advice about living powerless:
1) First and foremost, don’t be stupid. I mean it. Listen to authorities, don’t try to fix things you’re not qualified to fix, and stay out of the way unless you are a really useful person. The really useful people are busy enough without having to save your butt, too.
2) Definitely own a gas grill with a burner and a full propane tank. If you can also have a husband who is creative and clever and likes to pretend he’s a chef instead of a military consultant, you will eat very well without power. We did, and it wasn’t because of me. George is the really useful one.
3) Be powerless in mild weather. Highs in the 60s and lows in the 40s make living powerless ever so much easier.
4) Be powerless at the full moon. Night is way less scary at that time of the month, so to speak.
5) Definitely have clean, running water while powerless. We could wash, drink, and flush. I can do without other stuff if those essentials are covered. My hair was a little scary, but at least I didn’t stink. So don’t ever let the water go out on you, and you’ll be fine. If the water does go out, despite your best efforts, I can’t help you. Only the really useful people can, unless you are smarter than I am and stockpile bottled water in your basement.
6) Always make sure your underwear drawer is full. This may seem silly, but I was insanely happy when I realized my underwear drawer was full. You can never have too many pairs of fresh undies in a crisis situation.
7) This bit of advice may be shocking, but hear me out, please. Cut down all the trees around your home. We live in a newer, cookie-cutter style neighborhood, where all the look-alike houses have a single, small, mandatory tree plunked into the center of the front yard. Our mandatory tree did us the favor of dying last year. Unlike all the people who live in beautiful, woodsy neighborhoods with lots of character and charm and shade, we weren’t worried about being arboreally damaged. Being arboreally damaged is either expensive or painful or both. The trees will win. Get rid of them. Character and charm are overrated anyway.
If you just can’t bear to part with your leafy friends, at least have trained and licensed tree experts prune them annually for you. Do whatever these experts say and pay them whatever they ask. One guy called the radio station and told everyone how he paid experts to take care of his trees each year. His trees, therefore, were very healthy and didn’t lose any large branches or fall over in the storm. If you can’t be me, without any trees, then be him, without any arboreal damage.
8) Have lots of candles and matches on hand. Just recently, I’d been thinking about purging some of my candles in a futile attempt to rid my house of clutter. Boy, am I glad I did not do anything so stupid. I wrote the draft of this essay by the golden glow of candlelight at my kitchen table while listening to classical jazz on my weather radio and sipping a very nice Cline Zinfandel. Yeah, we suffered in our house.
9) If you don’t have an emergency kit, get one. I had all essentials for this particular emergency covered: batteries, candles, matches, flashlights, first aid kit, radio, a pantry of food, and five bottles of wine—especially the wine.
So there you have it: Susan’s advice for being powerless. That’s about as useful as I can be in a crisis, but I really hope you never need even that much help. Keep safe.
To all the idiots shooting off fireworks late at night when everyone’s windows were open and all the tired mommies were trying to enjoy a little peace and quiet after days of powerless parenting…I hate you. My golden retriever hates you, too.