I did not begin to hallucinate during last summer’s week without electricity until Day 5. The temperature in our house was 96 degrees on the third floor. I was splayed on the front porch in a stupor, drifting from periods of drooling to rage. I was wearing a sweat-soaked old Hawaiian shirt and a pair of ratty khakis. I had not shaved.
A neighbor said there had been a home invasion nearby. I do not have any shooting irons but there is an old machete somewhere around the house that my father brought back from when he was doing the work of the Lord for the United Fruit Co. in Puerto Barrios, Guatemala, in the 1930s. I figured the sight of me and that machete would provide an adequate first line of defense.
Normally September and early October is the traditional season for apocalyptical storms. But now it seems that we can anticipate stormy weather anytime. The National Weather Service says 3,000— that’s three thousand— heat records were broken in a few days this July.
Naturally, vast numbers of my countrymen still believe global warming is a hoax cooked up by the pointy-headed members of the National Academy of Sciences, the media elite, socialists and a guy who can’t produce a Hawaiian birth certificate. But I can only deal with one catastrophe at a time, please.
The catastrophe at hand was our fridge. There was stuff in there that could have been carbon dated. Scary things in aluminum foil. Mysterious plastic containers. Old popsicles with third-degree freezer burn. I had been planning to clean it out.
And then the Lord sent a Great Storm that came upon us in the dark of night.
I was asleep. My wife was watching television. She woke me and at the exact moment I was telling her that “it’s just a thunderstorm” a large section of a towering poplar tree crashed down in our backyard, landing inches from the back steps and pretty much destroying our garden. This is when we lost power.
On the second day of the disaster, as the mercury again topped 100 degrees, we pitched all perishables. I could do nothing about restoring power or getting back Internet service but I could finally clean the fridge.
One advantage of having a downed power line in our backyard— as opposed to being just one of the 748,000 who lost power during the derecho— is that it entitled us to speak with an actual live person when we called Baltimore Gas & Electric. Actual live person No. 1 took a report.
The next day I spoke with actual live person No. 2. He told me he had no record of any report. He took another report.
The next day actual live person No. 3 scolded me for not answering my telephone. My landline was not working. It needs electricity. That’s why I had given actual live person No. 1 my cellphone number.
But that was moot at this point because there were now two actual live persons who disavowed any knowledge of actual live person No. 1. This was Day 3 and it was really hot. I stopped calling BG&E because I have a little blood pressure problem.
My wife and I had been sleeping in our kitchen, which has lots of screened windows and a nice breeze, and in the early morning it was actually pleasant. But the brain-numbing sound of the neighbor’s portable generators made sleep impossible. We gave up and checked into the Radisson, though I spent my days at the house waiting for the relief column.
I was sitting on the porch in the aforementioned stupor when I looked up and saw a convoy of blue trucks emblazoned with the words Hydro Quebec. I grew up next to La Belle Province so I know what a Hydro Quebec truck looks like. I figured I was having some sort of heat-related hallucination, like a mirage. But, no.
I went out to talk to the crews. (I was not carrying the machete.) Charming fellows, but they said no one had told them what to do or where to go. They parked in the shade awaiting instructions.
I thought repairing my downed power line was a good start. They demurred. Apparently they were not allowed to take requests from heat-crazed homeowners. My wife had better luck. The next day she dragooned seven Texans to fix the downed line.
The storm brought out the best in folks, and the worst. One neighbor with electricity threw open his house to us— he couldn’t do enough. Two neighbors came with chain saws. Electric chain saws. Well, it’s the thought that counts. One neighbor with power saved our perishables (although he ate a frozen pizza we’d been meaning to throw out. We did not tell him that.). We had lots of advice (some worthless) and help from the well-meaning ranging from displays of woodsman skills that looked like they might lead to the ER to it-could-be-worse profundities. Like Art Linkletter used to say, people are funny.
In the end, we were without power for 139 hours and 17 minutes. After it was restored I called Comcast to see about the cable. A recording informed that “all representatives are busy serving other customers.” That sounded promising. After 27 minutes on hold I spoke with a very, very nice lady who said this was the first she’d heard about the terrible storm. She was an actual live person— in India. She said she’d take a report on it.