Last night Joey, Joey’s mom, Sue, and I packed our bags with towels and soap and hopped in the car for a trip to the Family Y. All day long we’d searched for ways to stay warm. After a shocking encounter with our hardwood floors to get Tula (The Wonder Poodle) out the door in the morning, I put her in the car and headed to Panera. Now Tula isn’t a little yippy dog. She’s almost 50 pounds of pure canine athleticism. This dog runs like a pony, and while she has deep suspicions about lawn ornaments, Christmas decorations, and anything that resembles a vacuum cleaner, she is this amazing, smart animal with keen interest in real estate. (Seriously, drive her into a new neighborhood and she runs around in the car making sure she sees everything.) But Tula hasn’t been feeling well, and on the way to Panera she threw up in the car. So my first stop was Home Depot, where I bought the smallest package of paper towels I could find (12 rolls) and some carpet cleaner, and cleaned up the splatter. Unlike most dogs I’ve had, Tula is disgusted by her own vomit. She cowered in the corner, as far as she could get from the mess, until I was done.
I hadn’t been on the road since Tuesday, when it was merely winter. Now, all the trees bowed at my passing. OK, they bowed whether I passed or not. The whole city slumped beneath the ice that came Wednesday when the season changed to crystal. I woke that morning to a glimmering world, and heard the trees cracking like sniper fire up and down the street. By 9 the rain had turned to snow and the wind picked up, making the trees crackle like someone wadding up heavy-gauge cellophane. At 11:26 a.m. the power went out. We haven’t had power since. At first, people were buoyant. It was a holiday. Families with kids and dogs walked down the middle of the street, dragging sleds to the closest hill. Folks with shovels helped dig out neighbors’ cars, and a pair of entrepreneurs shoveled driveways wherever people would pay them. But this morning, the neighborhood is all-but abandoned. When Tula and I walk outside, we can hear the generators on the ridge above us, where the homes were also without power in Hurricane Ike, meaning they were prepared for this event. But on our street, few tire treads mark the fresh snow in driveway after driveway.
Sue — my mother-in-law — has a thermometer in her apartment that gives the heat indoors and out. Last night her apartment was below 50. Our part of the house is colder yet. It was 28 outside. Joey dug out our huge stash of votive candles the night before, and last night I lit even more of them as we prepared to eat leftovers in Sue’s kitchen. Sue closed the kitchen door and the temperature actually crept above 50 in the heat of our candles. But while I could stand the house in long johns, a shirt, and fleece on our first night without power, by last night I had added a second fleece. Yesterday morning Joey put all of our food out on the deck. In the afternoon I opened the fridge and realized I could climb in there to warm up.
So last night was our second night without power and we all wanted a shower. Louisville Ys are letting people like us use their showers so we headed for the Y out on Millbrook. Walking up to the to the Y I was nervous they’d send us away. Maybe it was a mistake. This was to be my mother-in-law’s first Y shower. She was worried. Oddly, she was concerned about what people would think when they saw how many layers of long underwear she had on. (It <i>was </i>amazing.) But no one looked. Hardly anyone was there. There were private showers, so she didn’t have to undergo any unusual indignities. I hesitate to give her age, but suffice it to say she remembers the end of World War II quite vividly. There was a dry sauna right beside the showers, which I couldn’t resist. I put my moisturizer on in there, figuring it would soak in better or something. I don’t really like saunas, but it was wonderful being too damn hot, hot to the very core.
“That was a peak experience,” Sue said after her shower, as she pulled on her half-dozen layers of clothing. All three of us were giddy as we walked to the car, now impervious to the cold. At home Joey and I climbed into bed in our long underwear. The foam mattress was actually hard until warmed by our body heat. Thank god we had some body heat.
Now I’m at Starbucks. One of the baristas just jumped and shouted. She just heard her power is back on. A few minutes later she came back into the Starbucks to say a half dozen stores down the street just lost power. Another electric refugee sitting next to me with her two toddlers dressed in pink told me she saw six Georgia Power trucks heading north on U.S. 42. The power company says we now have more homes without power than occurred during Ike in September. Yesterday, Ike was winning, 600,000 powerless homes to 500,000. More snow is on its way.
I listen to the people calling to each other, all these voices accented to my Northern ear and wonder, who ever called these Southern accents? Right now, I feel like I’m back in Cleveland.