"I'm hosting board gaming Friday night," my friend John said.
Sounded like a good idea to me. It had been a crazy week, but I still managed to get a fair amount of work done. I was only one day behind on my writing quota. I figured I could catch up over the weekend. So instead of tidying the house or putting in another page or two on the manuscript, at 6:30 Friday I headed over to John's house, half an hour away. Three other friends had showed up, and the five of us played games. (In case you're curious, we played a couple of rounds of The Resistance and then a couple of Hex Hex.) At 9ish, two of our party had to leave to get home in time for the babysitter. The rest of us sat around talking until we heard the rising wind and remembered the weatherman saying something about a chance of thunderstorms.
"You're welcome to wait them out here," John offered.
But no, Dave and I both liked the idea of trying to get home before the storms got too bad. We both waved goodbye to John and pointed our cars for home.
The trip home was just plain terrifying. At times, the lightning flickered almost continuously. I kept hearing reports of winds up to 70 or 80 miles per hour, although thank goodness I never encountered anything quite that bad. And the drive took at least twice as long as usual, because I was creeping along at a safe pace. Fifteen or twenty miles an hour at times. I breathed a sigh of relief when I turned into my own street.
Luckily I spotted the huge tree blocking the whole road before I hit it. Only ten feet short of my driveway! I made a tricky U-turn, went the long way round, and eased into my driveway from the other direction.The house was dark, of course, but the power probably hadn't been out that long. The UPSes (universal power supplies) that I use for all my electronic equipment were still beeping. I turned them off, because that way they might still have a little juice to charge my cell phone the next day. I curled up in bed and read a book by the light of an LED headlamp until things quieted down and the danger of a tree crashing through my roof seemed largely past. And then I went to sleep, hoping I'd wake up to find power.
No such luck. I woke up in time to get a photo of the what was left of the big tree that had blocked the road, after my neighbors had finished sawing most of the limbs off it so they could move it out of the road. No damage to the house. A few big limbs down in my yard, but they didn't seem to do damage on the way down. The wind knocked over some of my lilies.
But there was no power. No land line--these days they go out with the power. And no cell phone signal, and not much juice in my cell phone. And it was only 10 a.m. and the house was already getting stuffy.
I packed up a few essentials and went over to check on Mom. She lived in an assisted living four miles from me, and they have a generator that they can run when the power grid fails. I wanted to make sure the generator was working and she was okay. After I found out she was, I stayed to keep cool and charge my phone. Still couldn't get a cell phone signal for more than a minute at a time, if that. Talked to my brother and found out they'd ridden out the storm in their basement.
I went out later to check on friends. While I was on my way, I hit one of those rare windows of cell phone signal, and a text message from my friend Suzanne came through--Barb needed rescue.
"I'm already in her driveway," I texted back.
Barb's toilet doesn't work in a power outage. And her car was trapped in the garage. And she was going a little stir-crazy. I took her to a McDonalds for food, then we went over to check on my brother and his family. They didn't have power either, and their neighbors lost not one but two enormous trees to what we suspect was a mini-twister. But the kids were all happily riding their bikes, and we had a nice visit, with cool water and melting ice cream on the porch.
Then we dropped by my house, loaded the entire contents of my freezer into a cooler, and went to Mom's to stash the food in her freezer. And cool off. And charge our cell phones. And watch a little TV to see what was going on. I wasn't sure which was more chilling--hearing about people who'd been killed driving in the storm--just as I'd been driving--or about the people who'd been killed at home in their own beds.
Barb and I made a pact that if one of us got power back first, the other could move into her guest room. Heading back to Barb's house, we saw lights in one of her neighbor's houses.
"It's a light!" she said,
"Don't get excited," I said. "They could have a generator."
But then we saw more and more lights. Barb had power.
I went home and packed a quick suitcase.
So if anyone's worried because they haven't seen me online, I'm fine. In fact, I slept last night in air-conditioned comfort. Today, we went out for lunch, although the first two places we tried were closed for lack of power.
I'm a little out of touch, but I've heard enough on the car radio to know that this was a storm of epic proportions. And they''ve identified it as a "derecho"--a land hurricane. They're saying it was one of the two or three most devastating non-hurricane storms ever to hit the area. And telling us it could be a week before everyone has power back. The airwaves are full of information on cooling centers, hotels with spare rooms, gas stations that have power to pump gas. And weather reports that promise no relief from the record heat wave.
As natural disasters go, this is an oddly calm one. If you're inside someplace cool, it looks like a normal bright sunny summer day outside. Walk out into it, of course, and it's like trying to stick your head into an oven on broil. But it looks peaceful. When the chain saws fall quiet, the neighborhoods are curiously peaceful. So many stoplights are out that going anywhere's much slower than usual, because most of us are following the law that says if a light is out you treat the intersection like a four way stop. Although we're all a little hair-trigger with the heat, and you should hear the horns blare when some idiot blasts through a dark light without stopping.
Everyone's hungry for information. Barb's Internet is working, at least for now, so I can check the Dominion Electric page to see that they're down to 250,00 customers still dark. I can go to the Washington Post's website to see the latest debates about what the utilities should be doing or should have done. I can even check on Facebook to see what some of my friends are doing. But there's only one bit of information we all want--at least all of us in the dark: when will our power be back.
When we went out just now to score Chinese carryout for dinner, we saw lights on in houses a few streets over from mine. And the stoplights on the main road into my neighborhood are working again. I don't want to read too much into this. A lot of people's power is out, and somebody has to be last in line.
So I have a plan. I think Barb's chuckling at me, but I always like to know what my plan is. I lugged my computer back to Barb's house. The desktop, because that's what my book's in. CPU, monitor, keyboard, mouse. I'm going to set it up tonight. If my power's still out tomorrow morning, I can get some work done. Or if the power's back, I'll disassemble it again and drag it home, and dust the space where it usually sits before setting it up again. I'm hoping the power's back, because I work best in my own familiar home office. But either way, I'm going to get back to work. Back to something that resembles normal.
There's about half a million of us tonight, sitting in the dark, dreaming of normal.