Thursday, January 29, 2009

Boom Boom. Out go the lights.

This is what I always imagined it would look like at the
end of the world – strangely beautiful from a respectable
distance, but really no place you want to be.

If any tree in northwest Arkansas survives this ice
storm, I think it will be my big Spruce out there by the
street. Rather than snapping and collapsing to the
ground with terrifying sounds resembling those of
an avalanche, it just dropped it’s many arms and is
standing there, slumped, like some dejected, frozen
child who didn’t get the toy he expected for Christmas.

It was Christmas, or just after, in 1993 when I removed the lights and decorations from the tree and carried it out there to plant it by the sidewalk. Just a five-foot tall baby then, and I never really expected it to get this huge. I hope it makes it.

Three days after the frozen rains started here, I understand there are still something like 50,000 people without power. The hotels are full (some have folks sleeping in their lobbies) and, according to what I have heard from people staying in them, some have doubled their room rates. What a lovely humanitarian thing to do when so many people are displaced from their homes, freezing. There’s a conspicuous absence of public shelters, as if the few short years since have erased everyone’s memories of Hurricane Katrina. Not that I would compare our little disaster with that one, but the concept is the same.

We decided to ride this one out at home. Our power flickered a few times before going out for most of the day following the storm, but then came on for a few hours before going out again, then back again staying on all night, and so far this morning. Survival instincts kicked in while it was out, and we turned our living room into a big tent by putting up curtains and photography backdrops over the openings to the dining room, foyer and hall. This left us with just the living room to heat with the fireplace when it was supposed to drop to 6 degrees that first powerless night. The only problem with that was…. we had no firewood.

Rather than burn the furniture, (*mark this spot) we heated with the gas log lighter. I found a piece of sheet metal in the garage and bent it into an “S” shape so that the flame was hidden, under the metal. The little fire heated the sheet metal and the top of the “S” forced the heat out into the room, rather than letting it all go up the flue. Pretty clever, if you ask me.

Then we dug out the old tailgate propane cooker, left over from our son’s college football days, and made bologna melts for lunch. Odd as it seems, we were rather looking forward to “camping out” in the house.

Then the power came back on. Our disappointment didn’t last long, because it was soon off again. Then, into the night, it came on again for good – or so we thought – and we slept warmly in our own bed, in much better shape than thousands of other folks out there.

Three paragraphs up, you’ll see (*mark this spot). That’s how far I had gotten with this column before the electricity went off again, at about noon Thursday. It’s 5:23pm now and I have had just time enough since the lights came on to power up my computer and get this much more written. I wonder how columnists did this stuff back in the cowboy days when they couldn’t use their computers.

We found two restaurants open today and had Mexican food for lunch. Most of the people in that place were talking about their power still being off, and wondering aloud when they might have it back.

The sun was out, heating it up slightly above freezing today, and a lot of folks think this thing has passed. Not so. The thawing itself will release more tree limbs that will fall into more power lines, and more people will find themselves in the dark. By about Sunday, when the frozen pipes in the dark houses finally thaw out, water leaks will occur all over the place, flooding houses, ruining floors, and sending lots of already frustrated people back to hotels. Most will have insurance to cover those repairs and additional living expense, but many of those staying out now, because the power is out, mistakenly think their homeowners policies will reimburse them for the expense. That won’t happen unless a tree fell across the electrical service line on their property. There’s no coverage for such things during area-wide power outages. And guys like me have to be the ones to tell them.

That won’t be fun, and I’m not looking forward to doing it.

But the worst part of this whole thing for me is this: I came up with this scheme to win the Powerball by playing the same red ball numbers every time, until it hits. A whole bunch of white ball numbers, all with the same red ball. Of course, the odds are greatly against me on this, but I figured sooner or later “4” would hit.

Wednesday night, after all the weather problems, and the first time in forever I didn’t buy my tickets, guess what?

This year isn’t starting off so great.

© 2009, Rick Baber


Anonymous said...

Been to freaking busy lately to get over here. You've been busy.

I checked in with mom (my real one; not our often adopted one Becky when we were wise not to attempt to find our way back to our real homes at 2 AM) who is living off Hiway 62. She has been without power for a couple of days. Her gas fireplace never runs out of wood though and she says it'll be OK for another day or two until the bologna runs out. Even though we both know it is really "bahloanee."

But you snagged it, when that ice melts off the big tree limbs, being that it essentially is all that's holding the tree together, that whole thing will explode like it was hit by lightening. BOOM, down go the power lines again.

My sympathy - it must be pretty dang hard to blog by candle light. But then, Lincoln would be so proud of you *and* Obama.


Anonymous said...

Thats good Rick. I think it looks like the end of the world too. We just got our power back on early this morning and it was cold in here!!

Anonymous said...

Get a sleeping bag. Light a candle. Read a book.

Anonymous said...

I live in the north and I guess the southern states just aren't as prepared for winder circumstances as we are. From the news it certainly looks like devastation down there.

Anonymous said...

Cold! YES COLD in our little circus tent for a number of days. Made my nose turn red!

Anonymous said...

we had it bad here but it looks like your ice storm was worse than ours. i never saw this in the paper. when do your articles come out?

Rick Baber said...

Hellifino BR.
I send 'em in and, most of the time, they print them. I live so far away that I don't take the paper, because it has to be mailed to me, so I just check the online edition. Sometimes they put my column online and sometimes they don't. If it doesn't show up online, I don't know whether or not they printed it unless somebody tells me. Looking online though, I saw two other columns about the ice storm, so I doubt if this one made it.....