Thursday, December 25, 2008
A Christmas to Remember
Part Two- A Foot of Snow
The ice was covered with a foot of snow on the second day of the power outage. We thought our first winter in Silverton was brutally long, dark and inclement. I could only wish for a repeat. At this point we have gotten more snow ion one storm than we did all of last year. On the third day, I loaded up charcoal bricquets and got the Weber barbecue going. We cooked up some onions and garlic in a slotted pan and grilled some meat. After we ate, we put pots filled with snow on the grille. We needed water to, among other things, pour into the toilet tank to flush it. Because we live in a rural area, everyone gets their water from wells. You need electricity to get the water from the well into the house and down the drain. There is no oil heat in this area. We lost all our heat, our water and everything electric-- lights, refrigerator, stove, phone etc. We don't even have a fireplace. We have a pellet stove that... yep, you guessed it-- needs electricity to power the fan to disperse the heat.
We slept in our clothes-- two or three layers on top, sweatpants and socks. Still, my hands were very cold, my nose icy and I could see my breath. In the morning, the temperature in the house hovered in the low 40's. Our garage doors were electrically shut and my car was on the other side of them. So was the music room on the far end of the garage, up the stairs and at the moment as accessible as the Golden Chalice. I feared cracking, crazing and general divine destruction. The car was useless anyway. Where would I go? The roads were not plowed and unusable for anything less than a 4X4 with chains.
I still had the use of my "hotline"-- a red push button phone on my desk that was plugged directly into the wall and has never rung at 3:00 am. I called PGE (Portland General Electric) incessantly. The recorded message said they were unable to give us an estimate for repair crews to get to us and for service to be restored. Once, when I called, I hit one too many digits and was prompted to hold for the next available person. A real person! Alas, even a human could not, or would not, divulge an estimated time for service restoration. "We understand your frustration and just ask that you be patient."
Frustration? You cannot imagine my frustration. I am standing here freezing, like Ratso Rizzo, in a condemned building in New York wanting only to get to Florida.
Patience? I looked out from our windows to the hill, looking for a PGE truck. There was none. There was no traffic to be seen. My patience had turned to passive frustration to an overwhelming sense of helplessness, abated only by the incredible kindness and consideration of our neighbors. Dick and Nancy met us in their Subaru and drove us into town to have a hot meal and pick up some staples. Bill and Maria, who live just up the hill from us lent us their generator for a few hours on the third day and for the afternoon of the fourth. We used it to power our pellet stove. The temperature in the house rose to close to 51º.
I got the truth on the morning of the fourth day. I spoke to Kevin at PGE, who told me that we were at the end of the line. There were nearly 60,000 homes between Salem and Portland that were without power. Restoration was being done on a per-capita basis. Areas with 10,000 or so homes affected would be tended to before an area with 100 homes. To be succinct, we were fucked. He was admittedly reluctant to tell me that it may be two days or so before we would have power restored. The helplessness grew. I was starting to identify with victims of Katrina, stopping just short of having borrowed recall of someone alone and vulnerable to rape or worse as they camped out on the 50 yard line of the Superdome.
Around 3 'o clock in the afternoon of the fourth day, we were looking out the window together. We stared out at the road and conjured Cormac McCarthy. So, the apocalypse was weather. Global warming had taken an about-face and the ice age was being reprised. We would be found dead in our home, open-eyed frozen. Then something happened. We saw a PGE truck, seeming to race up our hill and past our house. "No!" I wanted to scream. "Come back!" It clanged up, rolling on chained tires, away.
Tom and Penelope had told us that the transformer by their house and the corner of our road had arced and sparked. It was what had shut down the area. Where was the truck going?
A moment later, it came back down the hill. We watched as it descended, hoping it wouldn't make the turn and head up Evans Valley Road. We didn't see it. It stopped! Less than five minutes later, we had power! We were in the living room and the Christmas tree lit up. Then we looked and the microwave was blinking. We looked at each other the way castaways must when the helicopter is lowering, the rescue boat is approaching or a car is coming to save them. We kept the buckets of melted snow water by the pellet stove overnight... just in case.
We found out afterward that it was Carson, one of our neighbors who was in town, driving with a friend, when he saw the PGE truck. The linesman was doing some repair work on a private home. Carson stopped and asked if he could bribe the guy to help restore power to about two dozen or so homes in the valley. The linesman knew nothing of the problem, but followed Carson out of town and into the valley. That was all it took. It gives me no satisfaction, though, to know that we had been overlooked and we got our power back by sheer chance. We had fallen through the cracks. We had been forgotten. I am only thankful FEMA wasn't on the job.
The whole ordeal made me think of the Christmas we spent three years ago. When I could turn my computer back on and hook up to the net, I went to that real estate site in Mexico...