Saturday, December 13, 2008

Situation Report

In Upstate New York, we've just been hit by an ice storm. One million utility customers are without power, meaning without heat too, in New York and New England.
We've been without power for a day. After obtaining some parts from hardware stores with stripped-bare shelves, I set up an inverter from a pickup truck to pump juice into a few rooms. We're using kerosene lamps for light.
It takes a long time to go anywhere because the fire department has closed every road with a tree down. This has gradually choked off mobility, and people are now sweeping the "Road Closed" signs aside, moving the trees, which are brittle and often modest, and snaking around the barricades. If this was a plan by the fireman, it's working brilliantly.
There's not a generator or kerosene heater to be had at any price, except those an enterprising fellow I know is bringing in, and I'm sure he intends to ask any price and then some. Kerosene heaters strip the oxygen out of the house, and smell, and generators are noisy. But without enough juice to circulate water we can't heat the house. We have a backup system that uses wood that I put in, so we'll be turning to that tomorrow when the temperature drops.
Apparently banks don't spring for generators. They're all dark. Lots of people lack cash.
I was in the process of paying my credit card over the internet when the power flickered and stopped. I called my credit card company to arrange a phone payment, and they immediately refunded $680 to my account. Why is this? Were they going to keep it if I didn't call? I couldn't endure the guy's lack of language overlap with me and finally gave up trying to understand. I'll be calling again next week to try for another jackpot.
It took a while to find a restaurant that is open. You can't tell for sure which neighborhoods have power because some buildings have generators, so you follow false leads.
Traffic is almost dead. I'm guessing a lot of people have gone to stay with relatives.
We all suspect a certain tree lying on the feed lines to our neighborhood is responsible for our blackout. There's been talk of dragging it. People willing to chance it seem more wary of being yelled at by the fire department than of being electrocuted. I suggested if that happens, we point at their improvised barricades, made from waiting room chairs and two-by-fours, and giggle. Firemen hate that.
In the end, I'll probably just end up drawing a cartoon of the desired result. In a town where the community newsletter always includes a half page of verse salvaged from a discontinued Hallmark card, people's feelings are disproportionately centered on small things. If we start tackling each other's job, we'll have saccharine webcomics and electrocuted cartoonists.
Through the ice and uncomfortable winter clothes, the chill air and irritated cat, my main concern has been managing to post our comic update from yesterday. I don't know if our readers know us well enough to know that it takes something akin to a million buildings without power to thwart us.
There's a lot of responsibility involved in committing to provide a laugh. People finding frustration instead is no good.
If you could be inside this busted landscape, where trees of ages lie broken like the Colossus of Rhodes has been having a rugby match against the sphinx, you might find yourself needing a laugh. If our stamina holds, we're eager to deliver it.