Sandy & The Memories of an Old Lady

Sandy’s off the coast. She has half a dozen names ranging from frankenstorm to nor’eastercane. Whatever she is, if you’re in her path, better safe than sorry is still a thing.

She’s big, too, Sandy. Wilma was big. Not strong (when she passed over us, anyway), but big. Luckily, she was also fast. She was also weird. The seventh anniversary of Wilma was a few days ago, middle of the week. Not sure how many people noticed or remembered. And most of the country only remembers Katrina from that season. Understandable. We had to deal with Katrina, too, but we saw her as a toddler.

Wilma moved in during the morning. Around breakfast time, she showed up, yelled and raged for a few hours, and left a cold front in her wake. We went outside to clear palm fronds and downed limbs to find we needed sweatshirts and jeans.

She also showed up right before Halloween. Pretty much cancelled the holiday as far as big parties and celebrations what with lack of power, fuel, and resulting curfews. People dressed up anyway. Well, some did. I did.

Lot of people didn’t pass out candy that year either. Already timid parents, scared of pedophiles and razor blades, kept their kids home or went to churches and malls – most of which were closed. Our neighborhood, though, is one of the few that still has kids who act like kids, running around unsupervised, acting like hoodlums or pirates, so some of our neighborhood kids still went out. The costumes were a lot more half-assed that year, but like us, a lot of people needed to get out of the house, needed to do something “normal,” needed to talk about something besides generators and FPL.

We used the generator to power a few orange lights, put out some decorations, passed out some candy. Probably the only year I bought candy early. It was one of my hurricane supplies.

Supplies came in handy that year, partly because Sandy was so big. Other storms, compact storms, blew through and affected – hell, sometimes devastated – an area, but it was a small area. A few townships, a city, one county. Sandy was so big, she knocked out power from Miami to West Palm and beyond. Gas stations, grocery stores, ATMs, all need power. They, that multiheaded collection of people purporting to know better, always tell you to stock up, to prepare. They, and you, assume it’s because you don’t know exactly where it will make shore and it could be your section of the county or state. No one ever expects it to be because the nearest gas station with fuel is an well over an hour’s drive (or two or three) away or that the closest grocery store not dealing with the utter meltdown of their frozen foods section is roughly 80 miles away.

We did well. Because I hoard food like a squirrel and because it was such a fast storm the freezer never got time to warm up before it was running off the generator. And because Katrina had used us as a pre-test before strengthening and heading northwest so we’d bought a generator.

For the record, seventeen days without power is not fun, even with a generator. Maybe in a camper. Maybe in a cabin. Not in a house with cords running everywhere. Unplugging this to plug in that. Constantly figuring out the wattage for things. (Toasters and coffee makers? Surprisingly power hungry.) On the other hand, I learned how to cook almost anything on a gas grill. And I fed a lot of friends and neighbors.

A few tips:

  • Do your laundry & run/empty the dishwasher if you have one. It might take longer than usual for crews to get your power back on. Running out of underwear, shirts, or towels is no fun. Having to smell dirty dish funk and rotting food? Also, no fun.
  • Get a back-up charging system for your electronic devices. If you have a car, get a car charger. If not, invest in some emergency batteries, hand-crank chargers or something that doesn’t need to be plugged into a wall. If Sandy affects you like Wilma did us, it might be a week or more before you have access to a working outlet again.
  • Get some paper books and board games to entertain you and the kids/friends/neighbors. Even if you stocked up on booze, after a few days, drunken Scrabble is more fun than just drunken staring at the wall.
  • For fuck’s sake, don’t drive in the storm, don’t touch downed lines, don’t go walking or driving in mystery puddles or flood-prone areas. Not even if you’re suicidal. Someone else will have to rescue you or retrieve your body. Just don’t.
  • If you own or buy or borrow or rent generator, don’t run it inside. Not even if you think someone will steal it. Not even if it’s snowing. Not even if it’s “just” in the garage or the porch. DON’T RUN GENERATORS INDOORS. If you go to crank your generator and there’s a roof and a wall, move it first. (Likewise, don’t run the car in the garage while charging your Kindles and phones. Killing the family with carbon monoxide is not a way to start the holiday season.
  • Pull together as a community afterward. Offer some grilled burgers to the neighbor when you’re trying to get all the freezer food cooked before it goes bad. Maybe he or she will help you get that downed tree out of your yard.
  • Those of you in apartments and condos? I do hope you have a non-electric can opener and several loaves of bread, and some non-perishable things to put on it. If your nearby cafes and markets lose power, it might be while. On the other hand, when travel is safe, areas with hospitals get power back first. Thus, those restaurants and markets will be able to open first. School grids usually come up shortly after. (It’s weird the stuff you learn when you have no power for 17 days.)
  • Storms show up long before the eye. And if the eye passes over you, don’t go outside during it to look around and start cleaning up.