For the first time in my entire career, I was home for a storm. I didn’t expect to be, and even the day the hurricane hit I kept waiting to find out I had to go to work. But it never happened. So I was confronted with actually preparing.
I went to the grocery store on Friday afternoon, figuring that everyone else would be there after work that evening. But of course, I wasn’t part of the first wave. It’s fascinating, by the way, what people plan to eat when they’re hunkering down for a storm. Did you know that Chef Boyardee is a staple of storm sustenance? I had no idea. I go for toilet paper (because I genuinely actually need toilet paper), it’s almost gone. I go for water, of course it’s almost gone. I go for batteries, fugheddabaoudit. And then I round a corner and see a vast empty shelf and think, Weird… what’s usually here? and get close enough to read the label on the shelf and it’s Chef Boyardee Beefaroni. And Ravioli. Cleaned out.
I had a roommate in college who used to eat Chef Boyardee out of the can, cold. I thought it was gross then and I still do. No siree, no Chef Boyardee for me. You can take it all. Leave me the brownie mix. THAT is emergency preparedness.
One of my co-workers says she saw a guy in Walmart with a cart full of Spam. Storm Spam.
What happens to people in storms? Jeez.
Since it was also my day off and I cook for the week on my day off, I headed for the meat section. I passed a guy with a whole cart full of Simply Asian instant meals. Whole cart. And I couldn’t figure it out. I mean, first of all, it looks really odd when you see a guy with 27 packages of Simply Asian instant meals in his cart. But also… don’t you have to heat them up? Which requires electricity, usually.
Maybe he has a gas stove.
Still, I’m worried about the amount of Simply Asian he eats. He’s going to die of a heart attack from the sodium. I feel compelled to check on him or something.
I mean there was nothing else in the cart.
When I got home from the grocery store I strategized about what I could get accomplished while I still had power and then figured out how to divide it up so I could get most of it done Friday and some done Saturday before the power died. (Because I was sure it was going to blow.) And of course, I needed some goodies to take to work when I did have to go in on Sunday, if not before. The only thing that keeps you going when you’re working during a major temporarily life-altering storm is food that’s really bad for you.
Alright, so, cooking: check. Baking: check. Cleaning: check. When Saturday rolled around I got a couple of loads of laundry done and vacuumed the carpet while the rain steadily got heavier and the wind came and went and came back. The Weather Channel kept me constantly updated on what was happening with the storm (I don’t worry about storms usually, but A: this was a hurricane, and 2: that freaking channel is so addictive! Reporters standing sideways while their clothes slap them in the face? How do you not watch that? Getting hit with detritus blowing about? Hilarious!)
I finished a book and started a new one (Ann Patchett’s State of Wonder – I’m 1/3 of the way through and so far it’s really good). I listened to music (but kept The Weather Channel on, with the volume down). Every once in a while I went out on the balcony to check out the conditions. I talked to friends and family on the phone as everyone checked in with everyone else in various parts of the country to see how things were going. Sister 2 texted to brag that she and BIL 2 and Youngest Nephew had driven through the early parts of the storm to get to Charleston for their vacation and it was lovely there. I kept the phone charged because since there were no batteries in the stores by the time I remembered I needed batteries for the flashlight, I was going to have to use the cell phone as the flashlight, at least to get me to the candles.
Late, as the storm was really picking up, Jack sent me a text and told me he was coming over to ride it out. Upon arrival, he immediately tracked mud on my carpet and was almost all the way to the kitchen by the time I got him to stop walking… and then he walked back to the door with the muddy shoes on instead of stopping and taking them off where he was.
“What are you— aaugh! Stop! Just take them off!” I said, half laughing at his cluelessness. He’s not usually like that.
“Awww, hell,” he groaned, pulling his shoes off and putting them in the hall outside the door as I went to the kitchen to get the cleaning stuff. “I’m sorry. I’m sorry.”
“Don’t worry about it, that’s what this stuff is for,” I said, holding up the carpet cleaner that I was using for the first time in a non-cat vomit related incident.
“Ugh. I’m worse than having a dog,” he groaned as he sank into my loveseat.
On my hands and knees with the Resolve and the paper towels, I smiled. We both want a dog, actually, but I had never thought about how they track mud into the house, even as I heard my neighbor taking her apparently desperate basset hound out in the middle of a particularly fierce band of rain. Jack is nothing if not practical.
Still waiting for the power to blow, we weathered the occasional flicker as we watched storm coverage and “Kill Bill: Vol. 1″ on cable (which is a ridiculous film, by the way). When the winds picked up even more, we went out on the balcony – which you’re totally not supposed to do – and watched the trees blow. So far, this is the closest we’ve come to sharing our mutual fantasy of playing in the summer rain.
When we came back in, the power started to flicker a little more seriously. It went out.
For 30 seconds.
Then back on.
For like 90.
For about 60.
On oh for crying out loud I’m turning everything off this is annoying.
We both went to bed. My bed happens to be directly under several trees or parts thereof, on the corner of the top floor of my building. Lying there, in the super-darkness (the power finally went out altogether around 2:30am), I wondered, like the Roaming Gnome in those Travelocity commercials right after he gets shocked by a power outlet.
Am I going to die?
(You have to do that in a refined British accent. I’ll give you a few seconds to try again.)
So I was lying there thinking, Well… that tree could come right through this roof and kill me where I sleep.
Or… a branch could blow right through the window and pin me here.
Or… the tree could come through, make a hole in the roof, NOT kill me, just make a hole through which it will rain and ruin all my stuff and I’ll have to move. And I’ll be on The Weather Channel.
That thought pissed me off, because as I thought about it, it became clear that that was by far the most likely Tree vs. Building scenario.
I couldn’t get comfortable. I wondered if my phone alarm would really go off when I had set it to go off. I don’t know why I wondered that, but I did. Twice, Jack and I had to use the phone as a flashlight to access the bathroom (him first, after realizing as soon as he walked in without it that he couldn’t see the toilet and that would probably be messy). I had to get up to check on my laptop and make sure it was powered down so the battery I had thought to charge wouldn’t die before I was up for the day.
Then I remembered my cooking spree Friday and realized I had a refrigerator full of perishables.
Well, that was dumb.
I had a cooler, and my plan had been to use that to house the most perishable of the lot, but by now the ice in the freezer was just water.
As the winds picked up to around 50mph, whipping around the side of the building and sending the trees into wild dances, I realized that my strategy of parking my car on the far side of the street in the one spot that wasn’t under power lines or tree branches would only prove successful if the power lines directly over the near side of the street didn’t come down. The car could be clear as can be, but if I couldn’t get to it, I was going to have a problem.
I think I got three hours of sleep before work called. Which was right after the phone’s alarm went off.
Fortunately, the power outage was the worst of the problems. In the daylight, Jack looked through the blinds and declared that the outside world still existed and none of the tree branches we’d spotted with concern the night before had come down. There was a lot of flotsam and jetsam heaped about… leaves and smaller branches and various undetermined things, but no power lines and no big tree limbs.
And no excuse not to go to work.
But I had realized on Friday that the good thing about always working through major temporarily life-altering storms was that I was always somewhere with power and there were always other people around. And usually pizza. I realized I’d probably lose my mind as some sort of survivalist woman on her own trying to conquer piles of debris without power and for want of refrigeration and a functional hair dryer.
And coffee maker. Jeebus, I couldn’t make coffee. Three hours of sleep and a whole stretch of work ahead of me and no. Coffee.
Oh, this day is going to suck out loud.
Jack’s cell phone had died in the night, and so I sent him out into the storm-ravaged world incapable of communication with anyone else to see if he had power at home. I showered in the dark, thankful for my gas water heater. My prep time was cut significantly by lack of iron, hair dryer and coffee maker.
The Starbucks near me was closed. Closed.
Oh the humanity! Damn you, Irene! Damn you to hell!
Ten minutes from work after a drive full of limb-dodging, wearing a baseball cap to cover for the lack of hair drying capability and schlepping brownies, banana nut bread, a yogurt and a chicken dish I had rescued from the warming fridge in the 10 seconds I allowed myself to have the door open, I found a McDonald’s and settled for their coffee. Work was craptastic for the first six hours but got better for the last three or four. And when I got home, the saints preserve us, I had power and still nothing had crashed through the roof.
I was not going to be on The Weather Channel, after all.
But I’m still worried about Secret Asian Food Man.