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The Storm, Part 3: Hanging on

Tuesday dawned bright and cold, and we tried to establish some sort of routine for a work week with extra family and without power or water.
 I’d grabbed one of my assortment of pitchers from thatpotteryguy, filled it with water and taken it up to the bathroom.  May I say that it really stinks having to go through one’s morning ablutions with icy cold water?  I really, really like hot water.  *Running* hot water is even better.  Additionally, because I didn’t really have the wherewithal to wash my hands well enough, I was wearing my glasses instead of my contacts.  That became a source of greater and greater irritation as the week progressed.  One way or the other we got ourselves organized and got the three of us out the door, leaving my father in law with the stove for heat and the library for entertainment.  At least it was nice and bright during the day once the drapes were opened.
 
Now, I knew that day care had power.  I knew that because on Monday dad had called them to find out if Charlotte had been dropped off.  So you can imagine my rage and dismay when I came around the corner and found them dark with a note on the door.  Apparently they lost power Monday afternoon.  I wanted to cry.  I was tired, stressed out, and completely not up to going home to a house with no power, no water, and a three year old; to make small talk with my father in law.  So I took Charlotte in to the office with me to see how long we could make it before she had to go home.
 
She made it all day.
 
She played in my cube for a while, and then Liz (one of the other secretaries) *begged* to take her for a bit.  So they went off to “play mailman” and distribute the department’s mail – the next time I went looking for her, she was happily coloring in Liz’s cube.  Much happier than she’d been with me.  But to be honest, for the previous few days mommy had been the angry lady who yells.  Our file librarian printed out coloring book pages for her, and basically the entire department was catering to her because she was so cute.
 
She has got them SO snowed.
 
Eventually she fell asleep on the floor of my cube.
 
 



That's her, under the green blanket.  Yes, my cubicle is a raging disaster.  Add a three year old, and it's even worse.

By the end of that day, she knew all the routes between my cube and the bathroom and my cube and the cafeteria.  She loved running up the long hallways.  She still asks to go to my office.
 
When I logged in that morning, I found a general notice to the company saying that in light of the dire situation we should feel free to bring our families in for meals and showers.  Heck, the whole place looked like a day care, and I gather in some buildings they set the kids up with movies in the conference rooms.  It was nice.  In light of that offer, I shifted gears and had Bob pick up his dad after work and meet me at my office so that we could all get a hot meal in the cafeteria – and a very nice meal it was.  I have to admit that I didn’t really want to leave – it was light at work, and could get the news, and at home it was dark and cold.  But Charlotte was clearly done, so we headed home.  I read a bit after she went to bed, and then headed up myself.
 
Wednesday Bob stayed home with Charlotte and his dad until I could determine if day care had power.  They did.  But it gave him the opportunity to get some more of the branches close to the house cut up and drop some of the broken trees.  He also was able to empty the fridge and the freezer upstairs into the trash to go to the curb.  Of course, he only emptied *most* of the fridge.  For some reason known only to him, he missed the mayonnaise, an open package of hot dogs, all the condiments and an assortment of produce.  It was a lovely aroma when I found it several days later.  As per the previous day, they all came in to my office for dinner.  I had also smartened up.  That morning I took a box full of dirty dishes and two empty gallon jugs in to the office with me.  During my lunch break, I washed the dishes in the kitchenette, and filled the jugs to take home for flushing.  No, as a matter of fact, I *don’t* have any shame.  I believe that it was on Wednesday that I found the article online that said that Burlington was likely to have no power for ten to fourteen days.  Clearly we needed to settle in for the long haul.  On the bright side, we got a cell signal back at the house!  I presume that meant that AT&T had gotten a generator out to the cell tower we ping off, but from a practical standpoint it meant that we had 911 if we needed it.
 
Meanwhile, the stress was building for everyone.  At work that day I’d discovered that my co-worker Peggy had no heat, and while she had a fireplace, no wood.  *Her* wood guy had never shown up on Friday, so they were trying to keep warm with wood from the grocery store.  That evening I had Bob fill the back of my car with wood for her.  One of my bosses had already gotten her power back, but the other one lives in West Hartford – she just packed up the kids and her husband and they went to their vacation house in New Hampshire and worked remotely.  The lady in the cube next to me was arguably the worst off – she lives in an apartment in Farmington, and it was probably forty degrees in her apartment for most of the week.  Her parents didn’t have power either, and she couldn’t go to a shelter because she wouldn’t leave her cats.  She and I commiserated all week – the two of us and one of the lawyers who also lives in Farmington were out the longest in the department.  Basically, the two of us went slowly to pieces as the week went on, but luckily we hit our snapping points on different days – hers was Thursday and mine was Friday, as I recall.
 
I’m not sure how to explain the stress, especially given that in the grand scheme of things we were very well off.  Having life so completely disrupted is a strain.  A friend of mine pointed out that while yes, most of the world doesn’t live as well as I was living with no power, *they* spend their days dealing with that – they’re not also trying to work a nine hour first-world business day.  In the pre-modern world I would have had food stores that were not dependent upon refrigeration, sanitary arrangements that weren’t dependent on electricity, and a water supply available.  I would have done the work around the house during daylight hours when I could see what I was doing.  I wouldn’t have been trying to function in the dark – because I would have been asleep.  It was the combination of trying to live a modern life without all the resources necessary to it that was making me nuts.  Not to mention having someone else whom I don’t know well living in my house.  That was just enough additional friction to push me right to the bleeding edge.  By Wednesday I just wanted *Bloomfield* to have power so that I could get back to the core family members.  You know – the ones I can yell at.  J
 
It was also around Wednesday that I started to notice the dynamic in the office.  It was visibly divided into the “haves” and the “have-nots,” and it was beginning to cause some friction.  I don’t blame the people who were finally getting their power back for being happy about it, but they really needed to keep it to themselves – it was salt in the wound.  Then when you add in the one who presaged every comment with “well, you know that *I* never lost power…” it became icky quickly.  Wednesday was when you could start to tell the people with power from the people out of power just by looking at them.
 
It was also a HUGE downer that a big chunk of Bristol came back online on Wednesday.  Driving home from dinner at the cafeteria we drove through a little slice of normalcy – streetlights, lights in the houses, you could see the TVs on… and then we crossed the town line into Burlington and the lights   went   out.  It was like driving into a primordial forest.  Depressing, and a bit soul-crushing.
 
Thursday was more of the same, only with showers.  Bring in and wash dishes, fill jugs, try to concentrate.  Try not to snap.  It was mostly notable for the fact that Holly brought water for Peggy and I, and that Peggy nearly cried when we were transferring the wood to her car.  I find it ironic that as I moved my car over to transfer wood and water between the three of us that “I Get By With a Little Help From My Friends” was playing on the radio.  Dinner at work again.  I was eating three meals a day at the company cafeteria, and feeling a bit guilty about being the only one in the family who was getting a hot breakfast.  On the bright side, Charlotte is now allowed peanut butter at daycare – which is good because without a fridge our lunch-packing options were limited.  Also, the critters found the cooler on Thursday if I remember correctly.  Getting a hot shower was nice.  May I say that the showers they put in for the gym that isn’t built yet are downright luxurious?  Really, really nice, for showers at work.  But getting Charlotte bathed was a trick.  She does NOT like the idea of a shower.  I managed to get her wet, turned off the water and got shampoo through her hair, and even got the soap off – she was not amused.  Then I stood her in the area between the shower curtain and the privacy curtain with her towel to try off while I washed *my* hair.  As I was doing that – and unable to see her – it occurred to me: if she bolts, I’m going to have to get naked with my co-workers.  I didn’t think that through very well.  Luckily she stayed put, and we were both able to get clean.
 
Friday .  Three meals at the cafeteria, dishes in the kitchenette sink, four water jugs to fill, people to not kill.  Friday was the day when it was hard to breathe around the knot in my diaphragm.  Friday was the day that I just wanted to cry.  Friday was just another day in the cold and dark, until we got home.  The phone rang (I keep an old fashioned plug-directly-into-the-wall-phone for just these occasions.)  For one moment, we all just sort of looked at it – why is that thing making noise?  Bob answered, and it was our friend Jeff, asking if we were going to Crown Tourney on Saturday.  Um, no – we still don’t have power.  Jeff’s response was “Oh heck – I thought you guys were back online.  I’ll throw the generator in the car and be there in about an hour.”
 
It is SO good to have friends.
 
Bob moved our cars to the street, and when he got to the house Jeff pulled as far up the driveway as the utility lines would allow and pulled out the generator.  It was a little one – 4200 watts, or to put it in terms that I was interested in, not enough to power the well pump.  It would run the boiler, which was good, but not essential, but most importantly it would run some lights.  A coworker had commented to me the day before that thing about a generator was the psychology of it – that it’s amazing how one incandescent bulb makes it feel like home.  He’s right.  Jeff went through the setup with us – basically we flipped off the main to take the house off the grid, plugged it in and let it backfeed into the house.  Pretty simple.  We went down and took a look at the boiler, and Bob had a moment of panic when it had zero water pressure in it.  After a moment, I remembered the guys from Northeastern Chimney telling me that the old Weil-McLean boilers leak like a *sieve* if they’re turned off for a while.  Ours had been off for six days at that point, had cooled down to full cold and had leaked down to zero pressure.  Bob opened the pressure tank, pressurized it, and it roared to life.  That was a very cool moment.  Jeff visited for a bit and then headed home.  I experimented with lamps and extension cords to get a lamp in the living room (the living room was on the phase that the generator was not feeding.  That’s okay – I have extension cords.)  We ran the boiler and some lights for a little while, then shut the generator down and went to bed much happier than we had gotten up that morning.
 
Somewhere in here I noted to myself that my house really didn’t smell very good.  Smoke from the woodstove.  Spoiled food smell from the fridge.  Toilets that could only be flushed when they got too bad to stand any more.  It was fairly yucky in there, and there wasn’t a damn thing I could do about it.
 
Speaking of toilets, now that I think about it that was the other smart thing I did in this whole mess – much as I hated to make my father in law climb the stairs, I designated the upstairs bathroom for use.  The reason?  That toilet is located pretty much straight up from where the waste pipe exits the house – it’s a straight gravity feed.  The other two toilets in the house both have about 25 feet of horizontal run before they exit, and the last thing I wanted was to back up the waste pipes because we were using minimal water to flush.  I had enough problems.
 Friday ended on a decided up note.  The only question was: how much longer before the crews got to us?
 

To be continued…

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Comments

( 5 comments — Leave a comment )
kass_rants
Nov. 30th, 2011 08:18 pm (UTC)
What an ordeal! We were without power until Thursday evening. But (A) we don't have to go into a workplace and try to be modern humans and (B) we didn't have to hold it together for a baby or in-law. But not flushing the toilets and the smell of the fridge -- I totally get that! I think that was the worst part.

It's so good to hear this now that it's been a full month.
kls_eloise
Nov. 30th, 2011 08:45 pm (UTC)
Oh, dear lord the toilets... It makes it very, very clear why the tannery wasn't allowed inside the city.

By the end of the week my friend at work and I were both candidates for that t-shirt that reads "All stressed out and no one to hit." I probably could have dealt gracefully with any two of no power/work/in-law. All three were straining my composure more than a little. Not to mention you just don't sleep well under that much stress.

Writing this out has reminded me of a number of things - like needing to go buy a new smoke alarm for the basement.
kass_rants
Nov. 30th, 2011 09:25 pm (UTC)
I avoided stress by avoiding everything. When your work involves a computer, an internet connection, and a big industrial printer, your business shuts down when the power goes off. And when you can't do anything, there's a kind of relief in that.

I didn't sleep well because of the generators. On all sides of us. All night long. And because there wasn't the usual household noises, it seemed louded outside than usual.

But it's over now. =)
kls_eloise
Dec. 1st, 2011 12:22 am (UTC)
OMG the generators! I swear we're the only ones in the neighborhood who don't own one. Even though we borrowed one for a few days, I completely fail to understand running it all the time. You're not using it overnight - shut the damn thing off. Your house has insulation, and won't really get THAT cold in eight hours. For that matter, why do you need to run it in full daylight once you're back up to temperature?

Okay - if you're powering medical devices, yes. But beyond that? Also, have none of these people heard of mufflers?

It's astonishing what the house sounds like when all the mechanicals are off!
kamau_d_lyon
Nov. 30th, 2011 10:54 pm (UTC)
I keep following along with your tale here and can relate to much of it. Not on this storm but on others one I've been through some of these phases. As far as I'm concerned you did very well in dealing with it. I'll comment more when you complete the story.
( 5 comments — Leave a comment )