Just Another Four Days In Monsey, Sans Electricity
Posted Nov 09 2011
While most New Yorkers spent last week going about their days and enjoying modern amenities likes refrigeration and light bulbs, I was one of the lucky three million people who spent days in the dark, thanks to a freak snowstorm that took down leaf-laden tree limbs and with them, power lines, phone lines and the last vestiges of my sanity. I can tell you from first-hand experience that spending 106 hours without electricity in a house that at times was only a few degrees warmer than the typical refrigerator is enough to try anyone's patience.
I wasn't worried when our power went out at 1:20 a.m. Sunday morning, October 30. Power outages happen in Monsey, but they are generally rare and short lived. I was far more concerned about the ominous sounds of trees branches cracking off and falling to the ground. By Sunday morning the snow had stopped, but the carnage was widespread with scattered tree branches, downed wires, impassable roads and no electrical service anywhere. O&R, our local utility, spent the day assessing the damage while my time was spent layering on sweatshirts, gathering flashlights, burying four pounds of cold cuts in the snow and filling my refrigerator with pots of snow in an attempt to save my perishables. Supper, family game night and showers were illuminated by a clip-on LED barbeque lamp that traveled around the house. With three blankets each and multiple pairs of pajamas, we almost manage to stay warm in our 58 degree domicile.
The next few days go by in a frosty blur as the interior of my house hovers at around 50 degrees. We hear conflicting reports saying that power will be restored anywhere from Tuesday through Shabbos, a possibility too horrifying to contemplate. While my son's yeshiva has electricity, my daughter's school does not and she enjoys a vacation day before the school manages to hook up a generator. I spend my mornings filling my refrigerator with snow and my afternoons and evenings conducting business out of the library. Like so many others, we eat out every night. It is too cold to stay home.
Our neighborhood looks like a war zone and I take pictures for my daughters in Israel who will not recognize our block, made impassable by fallen trees and strewn with tree limbs and electrical wires of unknown origin. We see trees on roofs, smashed swing sets and cars with crushed windshields. As we drive home from the library each night, we see that while more and more blocks are illuminated, our neighborhood is immersed in total and complete blackness.
As afternoon temperatures hover in the 50's, I move my cold cuts from their snow bank to a snow-filled cooler in my sukkah and make plans to harvest more snow from the large mounds in the parking lots of local shopping centers should I run out. O&R distributes dry ice and I put it in my freezers hoping against hope that my food stays frozen.
It is easy to spot others without power. We are all overdressed, wearing down coats, scarves and boots, while those with electricity are dressed appropriately for the daytime temperatures that are more than pleasant for this time of year. There is no decent lighting to put on makeup and I am wearing so many layers I look like the Michelin Man, so I do my best to avoid mirrors altogether.
The library is filled with refugees looking for both warmth and electricity. One library worker serves as the maitre d', directing people with laptops to available outlets so that they can plug in. Working as a writer from the library isn't easy and I conduct my phone interviews from a stairwell so as not to risk the wrath of the librarians. By day four, I decide to use my skill set to write an article protesting O&R's anemic response to the power outage. I feel triumphant when it is published online until I return home that night to my frigid, dark house while every other block in town has had their power restored. Did O&R see the article and decide to extract revenge by keeping my street dark? I have no idea.
Partially uprooted tree turns Barrie Drive in
New Hempstead into an obstacle course
I am at wits end by day five. Friends, neighbors and relatives offer us their newly energized homes, but I want my house, and my life, back. At 11:45 I hear the magic words: Power is back! I am out of the library in seconds. I come home and discover my heat running, my lights working, my frozen goods still frozen and my refrigerator miraculously chilled. I go outside to the power crew who drove up from Georgia and thank them profusely.
My power has been back for four days, but I still check the outage maps obsessively. While the outages in my area have been cleared up there are still thousands who may not have power for days.
I would like to think I have learned to feel more empathy for others and to appreciate things that we take for granted, like electricity. But I think what I will take most with me is the warmth of human kindness that I saw as people went out of their way to help each other, store food for each other and give each other a warm place to sleep, something that can light up even the darkest of nights.
Sandy Eller is a freelance writer who has written for various websites, newspapers, magazines and private clients in addition to having written song lyrics and scripts for several full-scale productions. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.