The Intermittent

Why Are You Still Here?

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

WIL-MA! OR, YESTERDAY'S STORM, TODAY!

Part of the reason for the longer than normal absence of my oh-so necessary voice from the blogosphere: Hurricane Wilma. You may not remember Wilma, that tropical bitch. From what I could tell, it didn't get much play in the national media. We more got the silent treatment, or perhaps our less photogenic misery wasn't as impressive post-Katrina. But misery it was, although, to be fair, of a more short term and less threatening nature.

The storm came through on a Sunday evening. We were mostly ready for it; most of us, I think, were glad it was finely here. One of the hardest things with hurricanes is the waiting. The uncertainty; you might die, or....maybe not! Find out in three days. Make that four; the system is taking it out on Mexico a little longer than expected. We started boarding up. Stopped. Realized we needed more wood. Sunday morning I finally finished. I've gotten better at the construction bit over the past couple of years. Even with revising my plywood design (bracing! Steel Brackets! 2x6 Framing!), the install was not such a bitch as last year, which featured pulled muscles, copious swearing, and a fair to moderate risk of lockjaw. This year, I even had time to watch the Packers game, which was, frankly, more irritating than the plywood.

Woke up Monday morning to banging. Howling. A door had come open from the pressure and was slamming against the house. I shut it; it flew right back open. Not so good, not least because I wanted to go back to sleep, and there was a fair to moderate risk comics were going to get sucked away. I found a length of twine and tied the door off. It stayed shut. I went back to bed, and laid there listening the wind, the distant cracking of, presumably, trees. Watched out the window as some shingles and a gutter blew off the adjacent building. Eventually I fell back asleep. Not much I could do anyway, and, I figured, if something bad was happening from a structural standpoint and I didn't have time to wake back up, being awake wasn't going to do me much good anyways.

Woke up a couple of hours later. The power was out. This was expected. Downed trees equals downed lines, etc. Surely it can't take long to get them back up; it usually doesn't. Looked at the back yard. Two trees had gone down, and literally every leaf in the remaining trees had blown off; the fence had blown down as well. Outside in front the usual crowd had gathered; the nice thing about hurricanes is the neighbors work well together. By the time I showed up, five or so people were already out clearing debris; two hours later, we had a pile maybe eight feet wide by five feet high. Mrs. Intermittent had meanwhile dragged out the battery operated TV and....bad news.

Wilma had hit four or so counties, all badly. Power was out regionally, not merely locally. It was going to take, not days, but weeks to get power back on.

Well. That changes things. Were we prepared to rough it in the dark for weeks? Let's see.

We were going to need to do something about food. We had a cooler but were going to need ice, which meant that we going to be at the mercy of some level of government of another. Depending on which one, we might come out okay. Or really, really poorly.

Were we prepared for looters, rioting, and random other Katrina-style threats to life and limb? Not so much. We lost the key to the lock on our gun, and while I was prepared to give the pistol-whipping of a lifetime to an intruder, that was probably not going cut it as a viable self-defense plan. We were sword-sitting my brother-in-law's katanna (long story), so we did have that, and the idea of using a sword did exert a powerful pull on the thirteen year old part of my brain.

Dude! Critical hit, I totally cut his arm off! Fucking sweeeeeet.

Or maybe not. Possible alternate plan: use of irritating girlish shriek to annoy intruders away.

We had enough water, we were good on candles. We had no gas, but I wasn't worried about that. Silly me.

That night I sat up reading by candlelight, which is a substantially bigger pain in the ass than any number of Little House on the Prairies and/or Lincoln biographies would suggest. Honestly, if I grew up in 1870's Wisconsin I would be illiterate. Or blind. Or both.

Also likely very cold for a substantial portion of the year, but that's really neither here nor there.

Tuesday was ice day. We'd gotten word of a secret ice distribution site, luckily near my home. Walked over, stood in line for maybe two hours. The streets were covered in leaves and shingles and random bits of metal. Got two bags of ice. Later, got the fence mostly back up, or at least up enough that the Intermittent Puppy wasn't going to bolt for the Everglades, and freedom. Scrounged together our cash and went over the store. Weird scene, the store. No lights, people sort of shuffling among the aisles. It's a cliche, but it felt true: it was like being on set for Land of the Dead 2. People weren't talking much, not in the aisles, at least. Not much eye contact. Competition for the remaining provisions? Maybe. I found some tortillas, some potatoes, some onions, and a green pepper. With the canned foods at home, I figured I could at least make on the grill tortillas and maybe some stew.

Read the big Bone book that night. Heard on the news that the less-secret ice sites were getting a little rowdy: eight hours in line, no ice, and worse, no ETA on the ice. Not the best of starts for the recovery efforts.

Wednesday, second verse, same as the first. More ice at the still, amazingly, secret site, another trip the store. Still no work. To avert the total breakdown of society, Mrs. Intermittent and I dragged the kettle out the grill and made coffee, and there was much rejoicing. A neighbor was close to tears. It's the little things that keeps us going, I guess. Tried grilling some brats, but they came out burnt on the outside and frozen on the inside, a culinary critical failure. The stew came out good, though. I went to sleep feeling vaguely proud of myself. By God, I'm providing for my family through my wits and gumption! A satisfying feeling for those of us whose lives are normally the typically prosaic white collar existence. Our dirty class secret is that we're all secretly scared of the working class, scared that they're more in touch with the masculine ideal than those of us who sit inside pecking at keyboards all day, that there is something to that "real man" crack. But not now, not me: I was hunter-gatherer man, ready to defend my house with folded Japanese steel. Or, failing that, girlish screams.

Thursday, sitting in a five hour gas line, I didn't feel so proud of myself. Backing up. We woke up on Thursday hearing that it could be two more weeks before ANYONE got power back on. No power equals no gas pumps. Two weeks equals dry, dead cars, maybe. So: better to get gas now while there was gas to get got. I found an open station running off generator at around two in the afternoon. Got in line. And stayed in line. And stayed in line. And stayed in line some more. At seven, I was the next car in line when....they shut down. Not ran out of gas, but shut down. Now. I firmly believe in the right of the individual business to run itself by its own rules, but still: a little compassion would be great for those of us who'd stayed in your line all damned day. I was irked, mightily. And the forty or so cars behind me in line? Oh, well beyond irked. Words were exchanged, in several languages. Ugly times, even after the cops showed.

I'm honestly shocked nobody got shot waiting for gas. Seriously. What're the odds a bunch of armed, frustrated Floridians, forced to wait in long lines all day would fail to kill at least a couple of people? Pretty damned low.

Tension wasn't running high just at the gas station. Everyone was starting to run a little ragged. The situation had stopped being novel. The neighbor down the way was screaming at her kids, for no real reason but for the fact that they, at least, were something that she maybe could control. We offered to take them off her hands for a couple of hours. Enough time for her to get her head back. We cooked them brats--done properly this time, thank you very much--and let them play with the dog, who, thankfully, was not her normal spastic self.

On Friday the power truck came. My wife went out and watched them for awhile; a crew from North Carolina. She asked if they needed anything; one asked for her phone number. She laughed him off.

Two more days without power, though, and I think she might have thought about it if it was going to get the juice going again.

The crew worked all day. And then left us in the dark. Talk about crushed. We'd spent all day checking the lights. Now? Now? Okay. How about....Now? Turns out it took them longer than normal because the power grid here is old. Actually, I believe the word the crew used was "antique." As in, if this system wasn't such an antique this would have taken us two hours instead of two days. Not a fun evening here at Casa de la Intermittent.

Saturday we had our power back. And everything else sort of fell into place after that, at least for us. It took longer for other folks. But hey: my blog, my story. Later, some thoughts on the books I read during the aftermath, including Bone, the King, Pahluhniak's Choke, and a couple of others.
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