Thursday, November 10, 2011

The week the power went out. And stayed out.

It started innocently enough. Just a couple weeks after we were enjoying temperatures in the 80's, along come the weather forecasters with last minute predictions of a good old nor'easter snowstorm. I think most of us just assumed 'great, rain that changes to snow for a little while and looks nice on the rusty trees, then changes back to rain'. A little inconvenient but not a big deal.

The first signs of trouble came in the form of giant snowflakes to kick off the storm, hours earlier than predicted. Snow right from the start, ruh, roh. The driving got dicey within the first hour. No, this would not be any ordinary early season snow event.

By dark, six inches or more lay like a lead blanket on the ground and in the still leaf-covered trees. Outmatched limbs succumb to the weight, taking with them power lines, transformers, and garage roofs. Lightning and brilliant green flashes of exploding transformers lit up the sky. Winter had entered the building, and she seemed really mad about something.

By around 9 pm, most of Hampshire County was in the dark. Who would have thought that darkness would last for nearly a week.

Of course, losing power is one of the few major anxieties I have as the owner of an ice cream shop, a business that relies pretty heavily on electricity to make and maintain its product. The days of enjoying thunderstorms ended when I plugged in my first dipping cabinet freezer. It's hard to describe that sinking feeling an ice cream shop owner gets when their shop goes silent. We know the unique rattle and hum of each freezer under our employ, and when one sounds different when you walk into the shop in the morning, you know your day isn't going to go as planned.

The good news is if you don't open the freezers, the ice cream inside will remain intact for around 4 to 6 hours. Longer than that, and bad things start happening. The most common question I get is, do you have a generator. Well, yes, but..

It's definitely better than nothing and under normal circumstances, just the knowledge that it's at the ready calms my nerves during most power outages. It won't power all my freezers, so they take turns, two at a time. This will work for a day or two at the most, but things go downhill rapidly from there. Needless to say, four days without power led to the premature passing of many tubs of ice cream.

That was the downside of last week's crazy weather. We dodged the destruction of the summer tornadoes, hurricane Irene,and the earthquake, so I guess it was just our turn.

There were some bright spots in all that cold darkness.

Discovering the upside of social media.

I must admit, Facebook posts from friends and particularly Pat Brough and his Eastampton Good News Page, when the network would let you in, was my main source of power restoration effort updates. Few had concrete answers, but at least it gave you something sometimes soothing for the nerves. The 2011 version of sitting by the battery-operated radio. I've often questioned the good-ness of social media, but I must admit, Zuckerberg and his posse stepped up to keep us informed and connected this time. Of course, it was kindof nice to not have it so accessible. Everything in moderation, as they say.

Random displays of the kindness of friends and strangers.

During the first few days, most of us were in the same boat. Cold, dark, coffee-less, and basically clueless. Neighbors checked on each other. Mayor Mike set up charging stations, food shelters, and provided updates. As power started to return, those who got it back offered their homes to others without. Casey at the Apollo Grill, opened up his candle-lit restaurant to all who got the word. With the help of his gas grill, he sustained many through those first couple days. Weary townsfolk played board games, chatted, and enjoyed great food and beverages for gratis in his cozy respite from their cold and dark homes. Fun and heart-warming. Thanks Case.

A taste of the (good?) old days.

It really is amazing how attached we've gotten to our gadgets. I can barely remember life before the internet. We take it for granted now, like indoor plumbing and supermarkets. I wanted to write something and had to grab a pen and an old journal made from a tree. It felt a bit strange, slow, and inefficient. But wholesome at the same time. I'm not saying I want to go back to tapping on an old typewriter, but I do think my eyes, and soul, enjoyed a few days away from my glowing screens.

When the storm was over, an almost eerie calm settled into our small town. It was beautiful.

Life just slowed down.

Power was finally restored late last week. The weather warmed up, the snow melted, and Autumn resumed..

The storm of 2011 is gone, along with all the snow and that giant Mulberry tree in my backyard, but we won't soon forget the week the lights went out. It's something I hope to never repeat for as long as I peddle ice cream, but all fiscal losses aside, it was a life experience I think we will all hold onto for a long time to come.


CrankyCats said...

Nicely done - and great photos.
-Jackie B-P

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this, Jim - that "weather event" brought out the best and the worst in humankind ... I wish I still lived in Easthampton - to see a community rally together like that was a beautiful thing.

Anonymous said...

Nice writeup.