I’m sitting here procrastinating about grading, which I really should be doing in case the power goes out and cuts me off from the internet. Plus, if I’d get it done, I could more fully enjoy the two days off from work that I’m going to have since the East Coast including my school is shutting down.
But, hearing the light drizzle outside and wondering what the world will look like tomorrow morning has me reminiscing about the last hurricane that I weathered. Well, not the last one…during the last one, I hung out in my sister’s apartment, which had the bathtubs filled with water, watched Lord of the Rings while barely a thunderstorm came through, and went to bed.
I’m remembering Hurricane Isabel in 2003. I had just graduated from college, and I was taking a break from school for one year. I’d secured a not-so-glamorous newspaper delivery job since my parents were sub-contractors at the time for The Baltimore Sun. Working for a newspaper might be worse than even working for the post office. The newspaper goes out in rain, sleet, snow, hurricanes, AND on federal holidays.
It’s tough to call in when you’re living in your bosses’ home, so I geared up to get out and deliver the papers. Isabel, just like the impending Sandy, was due to start wreaking havoc at some point in the middle of the night. The papers went to press early, and I went to the warehouse early so I could grab them and get moving ASAP. I actually put on a swimsuit under my clothes because I was hoping it would dry faster since I was sure I was going to get very, very wet.
It started raining early on in the night, but I tried to keep moving as fast as possible. Then, the wind started to kick up, and that’s when it started to get crazy. I had to go down a long country road for one single solitary paper. Normally, I’d drive down the road, make a U turn in the customer’s driveway and come back out the way I’d come in. That stop was a no man’s land between routes. By the time I got to that road, I’d already slowed my pace due to heavy rain and tree branches littering the roads. I could see that the utility poles on the embankment were leaning towards the road. I peered up at them, and the lines all still seemed to be attached. I decided to proceed, but I wanted to get that stupid paper in the box and get out of dodge as soon as possible. I wasn’t even expecting the loud CRACK that I heard next. I couldn’t see anything, but I hit the gas.
It was dark on the road, so I had no idea what had happened until I pulled into the customer’s driveway. Their outside spotlights were on, and they illuminated a nearly worst case scenario. My windshield was in tact, but there was a crunched spot with spider webbing extending 3/4 of the way across the windshield. It took some time to piece together that while the utility poles were indeed standing with the lines attached, what I had not been able to see in the darkness above the reach of my headlights was the feeder line that crossed the road to connect with the housing. The slant of the utility pole had brought that line down to a level where the blowing line could hit my car as I passed. The line hitting me had been the loud crack, and I was fortunate that nothing on the car got tangled with the line as I hit the gas and unknowingly passed below it.
Once I figured out what had caused the damage, I had a problem. I didn’t even know where the road went. I’d always done a U-turn, but there was no way that I was going back the way I’d come. Shaken, I called my dad who knew the county like the back of his hand. He told me how to take a few other roads back to town and tried to determine how bad my windshield was. I don’t think I gave him a very accurate report. At the time, I didn’t know that the frame of the car was bent too since I wasn’t comfortable getting out of the car at that point. If he’d known all that, he probably would have sent me home. Instead, he told me to try to push through the town where there was better lighting, less tall trees, and less above ground electrical lines because the newer developments buried the wires.
I went through town, but it was slow going. The papers were light that night, so the ones that I normally threw out of the driver’s side window, over the car, and into driveways were getting caught in the wind. I’d have to jump out into the rain, retrieve them, and put them in the driveways. I was getting mildly panicked about the unstable windshield as the wind continued to pick up, and I tried to shut the car door gingerly so I wouldn’t shatter it. At some point, my dad, who was out in the storm as well, realized that things were getting increasingly dangerous. Giant trees and power lines were down everywhere, and he knew that once I left town, the second half of my route was all country roads again. So, he called, told me to finish the town, go home, and get some sleep. In the morning, we could go back out in a different car to deliver on the roads that were still passable.
So, I headed for home, only to discover that I couldn’t get there. I tried three different ways, and they were all blocked by downed trees or power lines. By that point in time, the adrenaline was wearing off, and fatigue and a little bit of panic were setting in. I didn’t like that my parents were going to be out on the road indefinitely, and I was terrified of getting tangled in more power lines. I spent more time peering up at the power lines than I did watching the road.
When I ruled out the ways to get home, I headed across town to my grandma’s house. It was still dark when I got there, so I pulled up out front, thankful that she was in a new development with no trees or power lines, and I kicked my seat back to wait for daylight to come because I didn’t want her to try to fumble down three flights of stairs in the dark. I was miserable, damp, and thinking that a swim suit was an idiotic choice of attire. What if I had been seriously injured in the night? The paramedics would have thought I was a crazy person.
I called my grandma as the sun came up, and she came down to give me a hug. She said I was silly for not calling earlier since she had flashlights and had been up all night praying and worrying about my uncle who lived on Maryland’s eastern shore.
My sister just texted a few hours ago to say, “Who’s glad we don’t deliver papers anymore?!” I certainly am! But, I have the people who still do in mind tonight.
So, here are some lessons for the storm:
1) Don’t go out if you can avoid it. And, if you can’t avoid it, at least try to wait for daylight.
2) If your newspaper is missing in the morning, don’t call about it. The news in it is hopelessly outdated anyway; I bet the presses are set, and maybe, since it’s Sunday and the World Series, they’ll hold them until the final football and baseball game scores. But, maybe not. They probably also want to get the carriers on the road before the delivery task becomes an impossible mission.
3) Stay safe and watch the skies extra careful for power lines.
4) Be extra patient and grateful tomorrow if you see any of the firefighters, utility workers, policemen, doctors and nurses who go out anyway. And, if you weren’t prepared and go out to get food or supplies and the store is out of them, be kind. The person you are speaking too probably wishes they were home preventing a basement from flooding or staying safe and dry and warm.