Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Snow fun at all

Like many folks across the grand Eastern part of the country, we’ve been buried beneath a metric fuckton of snow. Because of the magnitude of the storm, life down here, particularly in Waynesburg, has descended into martial law. In normal winter conditions, people act like it’s never snowed before, so they drive like blind moles in the midst of grand mal seizures and stock up on perishables. They did that too this time around, but early Friday, before the storm hit, and only because the Super Bowl was pending.

Friday afternoon, the snow came. All of it. At once. Twenty-six inches of snow landed on us like a confused and plummeting sperm whale. Or, perhaps, like God’s white, angry vengeance. It left Pennsylvania paralyzed. Pittsburgh’s poor mayor, Little Lord Ravenstahl, was left stranded at his ski lodge and had to run the city from there. And about as well as he would have had he been in the city anyway.

Then power went out across the state. In our area alone, some eight-point-three billion people were left without heat, water, power, phone, transportation—everything short of gravity. Amy and I were stranded at my parents’ place from Friday to Sunday so we had all the heat and power and water we could stand. But sixty miles away were our four terrified dogs and three ambivalent cats that needed us (in the first case) and were curious about our absence (in the latter case). So finally, Sunday, we braved the highways and headed towards home.

Stopping off for supplies in Wal-Mart and Sam’s Club was a lot like how I imagine the world will be just days into the Mad Max cataclysm. All that neighborly charity we heard about on the news was absent in the capitalistic Meccas. I watched a guy fill his shopping cart with about a dozen snow shovels. Another bought all the D-cell batteries he could find. Neither of these things stood out as too unreasonable—until I heard on the radio about the man who was arrested for buying every gasoline-powered generator from a Home Depot and opening his own black market across the road, selling said machines at double the price he paid. I can only assume the generators were impounded as evidence, though, as none of them made it back to the stores. At one Lowes we stopped in, there were people sleeping on the shelves, waiting for new stock to arrive.

Before we left the familial homestead, we watched a lot of local news. One usually mild-mannered reporter stated that “it’s a good thing that groundhog went back into his hole, or there’d be people lining up to punch him in the mouth!” Which served as a reminder to all that burrowing rodents control the weather. Personally, I felt sorry for all the correspondents slowly freezing to death in the cold as they warned people to stay indoors. I was waiting for the inevitable meltdown—worse than the call for ground hog lynchings—like: “Wanna know what it’s doing out here, Ted? It’s fucking snowing! Do you know where my testicles are right now? Just beneath my ribs, you son of a bitch! Come get me!”

We fought our way down barely-touched roads. PennDot had been, allegedly, working all night to clear the “major arteries”, but because of “the people who stubbornly remained on the roads”, their work was impeded. Thus we passed many an over-turned and plowed-in vehicle on the road sides and medians. Upon finally reaching Waynesburg, we saw downed powerlines everywhere, phone poles snapped in half by the weight of the winter wonderfuck, branches in the road and trees—! Oh, the miserable trees, bowed over, snapped in twain and thrain! Four-ain, in some cases! I don’t know about you, but I don’t remember trees being such pussies when I was a kid. But there they were, surrendering to the white and cutting out all our great and wonderful wire-bound technology.

Along our route, as we inched along a buried state road, a little old man in a red Carola refused to move out of the center of the road and ran an oncoming Jeep aground. And then kept on going! Fortunately, the Waynesburgians are a hearty lot, most of whom who own trucks built primarily for terraforming planets, and were able to tow some of the lost souls from the slush.

Our house was, of course, without power. Or the rest of the amenities you take so much for granted. It was two degrees warmer inside than out; our dogs were traumatized, needing intensive therapy amounting to running around three times and forgetting why they were so mad. The cats didn’t move—not that they were frozen but because they were only vaguely interested as to why we were back. The road from our house, which has been described by friends as “The Borgo Pass Minus the Green Flame” ala Dracula, was impassable. Our phone was out so we had no way of telling anyone we were alive.

Watching our breath mist in the air, then freeze, crack and sift to the floor, we set about making the place habitable. First, we threw on every warm piece of clothing we had, just to the point where we both resembled Randy from A Christmas Story, dragged the mattress from the guest room and set up camp in front of our kitchen gas heater. The blue flame jetting from the wall was off set by the orange flicker of every candle in the house, lit and arranged around the sink. It took some trial and error to rid our four square feet of chill. One problem was known—whoever built our house failed to insulate the outside kitchen wall from the rest of the world, so there was a cold breeze coming in from under the sink. Blankets were hung. Couch cushions were utilized. So was swearing.

Fortunately, I’d bought the national debt’s worth in new books so we had plenty to read by the eye-killing dimness of the candles. Of course, our contacts had frosted over by this point, so it was off to sleep by quarter-to-eight on Sunday.

The rest of the week was no better. Phone calls to Allegheny Power yielded only a recording that said, “We’re working on it. Leave us alone.” Fighting our way like hearty pioneers into town, we took refuge at Stryker’s, the restaurant Amy more or less manages, and stocked up on heat and light. Once there, we called PennDot twice about our road. Amy was polite—“We have a lot of older people here on the hill and they can’t get to the warming center if the road remains in the condition it’s in.”

I wasn’t—“Look, if you don’t plow Bluff Ridge Road, someone is going to die!”

By the next day, plows had come. And buried everyone’s car again.

Allegheny Power’s website, designed more than likely by a one-armed six-year-old, stated that all electricity should be restored to the county by no later than Friday. Come Wednesday morning, that had been updated to “Thursday at 11:59 PM”…i.e. Friday.

Venturing to another Wal-Mart in the hopes of finding something battery-powered (a heater, a toothbrush, a guided missile, whatever…), I got to watch a man throw the tantrum of his life. Upon being told they were sold out of something (I’m still not sure what he was looking for; perhaps his dignity), he swiped the contents of an end cap to the floor. So I opted to browse in Ladies’ Lingerie (the department, wiseguys) until he went away. Since I’d been using our car battery to keep our cell phones charged (on the off chance they could be used for starting fires via some app we hadn’t yet encountered), I decided to top off our gas. I went to three different gas stations around town, each time encountering that neighborhood’s version of The Humongous and his gang of brigands. People cut each other off to get to a pump, they screamed, they cursed, punches were thrown. And these weren’t even stations in danger of running low!

So “community” had devolved into “every man for himself” within hours of the white stuff’s arrival. And silly me, I thought better of the human race. In fact, one of the news sound-bites I saw repeated at least three times on Saturday was a man-on-the-street-in-his-car who told the microphone in his face, “This is a natural disaster. Where the hell is Haiti helping us?”

As of today, we’re still without power or heat or water. We do have phone service, so we can call people who have these amenities and live vicariously through them. But we remain in the dark and marvel at how dependent we’ve become on technology. Even our generation, which witnessed the birth of the internet while we were in our late teens, have somehow gotten umbilically attached to the electric teat. But at least we’re inside. We have some semblance of heat and, therefore, civility.

Otherwise, we too might be gnawing on the bones of our own savagery like those out there. Just seeing what happens to people when it snows makes me shiver at the thought of what will happen when the zombies finally do come. We won’t last ten minutes.