Belle of Liberty

Letting Freedom Ring

Friday, November 02, 2012

Let There Be Light - And Self-Reliance


Let There Be Light – and Self-Reliance


 

As you readers might have surmised by now, I’m a New Jersey resident, living in the northern part of the state.  The worst part of Hurricane Sandy struck our shore towns, and all our prayers are with the Shore residents.  Particularly heartbreaking to us is the loss of Seaside Heights, the preferred shore amusement destination for families living in northern New Jersey (Wildwood is much farther south and a longer drive, too long for families with young children).  I remember all the good times we had there and at Island Beach State Park.

Being somewhat less of a priority, the Media hasn’t noticed northern New Jersey.  They didn’t see our cordoned-off highways, tree-blocked roads, and darkened towns.  No one is to blame, there; the Jersey Shore got hit hardest.  After three very chilly nights and days spent at Mom’s house (just over the hill from where I live), the power has come back to my town.  Mom didn’t have electric – she still doesn’t, but more about that later – but she did have natural gas, and a younger son with a huge diesel pick-up truck from which he was able to run a wire and give Mom electrical power so she’d have light.  I spent my days at Mom’s so I could have something to eat and some very cold nights in my own place to make sure no one tried to break in.

Let us remember our priorities.  Our family happened to be lucky and live in a lucky town that has its own power authority.  Most of Mom’s town and the town that supplies the electricity had electricity within about a day or two of Hurricane Sandy.  All that’s left is a small piece of my mother’s street, which we affectionately call Cape Canaveral for the way it lights up like a landing strip (at least as seen from Mom’s hilltop home) at Christmas.  The other end is a curving, snake of a road that barely grasps the side of the hill in one place.  On cold winter nights, you can look down upon the town below, lit up like a fairy village and sing, “O Little Town of Bloomingdale…” 

The southern section of the road is where the damage occurred.  An enormous oak tree fell on top of the property owner’s car and then struck down the utility pole on their property as well as the utility pole across the street.  The owner had some problems getting hold of their insurance company so they could inspect the damage and remove the tree.  The tree was finally cleared from the road but the utility guys still haven’t come to restore the lines.  We’re not sure why.

My town took a bit longer to get the power restored.  When I came home this afternoon to feed my cats and check on things, I noticed that it was warm.  I flipped the dining room light switch and there was light.  Hallelujah!  If you want to know what’s the matter with clustered home or condominium living, just ask us.  First, we’re all electric.  That meant no heat as well as no power.  These types of buildings are constructed on concrete slabs, just to enhance that sensation of freezing cold.  My basement was actually warmer than my apartment.  My male cat immediately took up his place in the sun bed in the kitchen and stuck his head down towards the baseboard heater.

Before any power could be restored in New Jersey, trees had to be removed – and the trees were down everywhere.  This wasn’t like your typical summer thunderstorm, where one area happens to get hit, or even the path of tornado; the damage is everywhere, from one end of the state to the other.  Older brother, taking a break from his duties as a facilities manager, came to Mom’s house for dinner then we rode up to his house.  Younger brother had already been there to check on things, since OB couldn’t leave his workplace to check on his house.  Four enormous trees came down on his property – all laterally, across the property rather than on top of his house.  Had they fallen on his house, he wouldn’t have had a house left.

But what an adventure we had just getting there.  All the lights on Route 23 were out, so no cars were allowed to cross the highway – and he lives on the north side of the highway.  The main road into his town was closed off, so we had to take a back way in, once we found a u-turn strip that wasn’t taped off.  We found ourselves looking at the roots of huge tree trunks on both sides of the road.

Ridge Road had been blocked by a tree.  Earlier in the day, Younger Brother, on his way to check on Older Brother’s house, found his big diesel couldn’t fit under the tree.  So he got out his trusty chainsaw and started removing the obstacle.  Nothing could get by due to the branches.  As he was getting it out of the way, a cop came along and told him to stop.  That’s our government for you.  They don’t want us to do anything for ourselves.  Either the government does it or it doesn’t get done at all, and in this case, the rest of the tree was only removed today.  However, YB had removed enough of the branch for low-profile vehicles to get under.  Mind you, it’s a scary prospect.  But when it’s the only way home and you don’t know what other roads are blocked in a town called “Oak Ridge” you’re going to take the chance.

Navigating our local area has been something of a challenge these last few days.  The shortest route to Mom’s house was blocked by a downed tree or power line.  As it’s between two blind bends, no one can really tell what it is.  Then, of course, Mom’s road was blocked where that tree went down so that meant another detour.

Then there was the problem of getting to the only store open in our area the day after the storm – Wal-Mart.  Since the lights were out and the highway was cordoned off, southbound drivers had to figure out a way to get from the northbound side of the highway where Wal-Mart is, to the southbound.  The only north side turnaround is a good five miles up the road, unless you’re a local and know the back roads down to the Hamburg Turnpike and the Rt. 287 (and only other) access to southbound Rt. 23.

On the day after the storm, I decided to walk across the street to the shopping center to see what was open.  With no power, absolutely nothing was open.  A man was walking along the mall sidewalk in the opposite direction.  I commented about how nothing was open.

“I’m open,” he said dolefully.  “Do you want to buy a pizza?”

I told him, “Sure!”  I knew I was going to Mom’s house for dinner.  But he was desperate for business and many of my neighbors are elderly and had no place to go for a warm meal.  The pizza guy didn’t have electric, but he must have had natural gas for his ovens, so I bought a pizza (with cash) and brought it back for my neighbors who hadn’t had any kind of warm meal since the power went out.

The shopping center finally got power.  I went to the pizza guy’s last night and just as I had told him, his eatery was packed with customers, his employees running back and forth trying to keep up with all the orders.

Now that our power is back here, the Jersey Shore is being rescued, and we’re all warm again here in my complex, I want to thank God for sparing us as much as he could.  I do not have such kind words for Gov. Christie or Pres. Obama.  Obama spent exactly 90 minutes in Atlantic City, was shown hugging one person, and playing patty-cake-on-the-back with our governor.  We were listening to the event on Mom’s battery-powered radio.  Their words are still ringing in my ears:  Gov. Christie:  “I’m proud to say that Newark was the first city to have power restored.”  And Obama:  “We know it’s bad everywhere in New Jersey, but you’ll just have to tough it out.”

Excuse me?  Excuse ME?!  I don’t begrudge Newark its power.  But it sounds like there was a political hierarchy to where power was restored first.  Butler and Bloomingdale, the downed trees notwithstanding, didn’t have to rely on the government for help.  Butler had a blown transformer.  Once it was restored, so was power.  That’s all there was to that. 

That’s one reason for not having regional utility authorities.  Shared services between local communities; sure.  Regional utility authorities; not so much.  Well, New Jersey, that’s why you’re suffering.  That’s why Newark and Jersey City have power but West Milford and Oak Ridge don’t.   You may save some money by regionalizing.  But when the trees and the power are down, and you have elderly people and children freezing and going hungry, whether they be in Newark or Oak Ridge, you’re mighty glad to have that local authority to take care of its own.

“Tough it out?” Mister Obama??  Tough it out?!!  My younger brother would have been glad to take the rest of that tree down so the Ridge Road residents could get to their homes.  YB is a survivalist; a camper, caver, mountain climber.  He’s big and he’s strong; he’s “tough.”  He’d have gotten the job done.  In fact, many of the Oak Ridge residents themselves have chainsaws and could have cleared that road.  Only the government wouldn’t let them.  The tree wasn’t in their way; the government was.

We can tough it out, Mister.  Just get the hell out of our way.  Christie softened his tone a bit today as he once again toured the Jersey Shore, admitting that no matter how glad you’re supposed to feel that your neighbor that they’ve got power, if you’re sitting in the dark with no heat, no electricity, and no food, feeling glad for your neighbor just isn’t going to work for you.

Mom is 88 and her artificial hip has been giving her pain.  My power came back but I still went over to her house.  She was weary of sitting in the dark, sometimes alone but more often with me or one or both of my brothers, though warm from the steam heat on the natural gas stove and obviously able to cook food if not refrigerate it.  She misses her television tremendously, however, and was all the more downcast because only those 25 to 50 homes on her road are without power.  Feeling isolated that way can work such an evil on your spirits.

Down at the end of the street she can see lights, and on the two opposing hills above her house, she can see people have power.  She was so depressed between the pain and the darkness, she started turning to morbid thoughts about future funerals and coffins.  Finally, I insisted as best I could that we take the food to my place where there was heat, light, and television.  Once she ate and got to watch the local news and see what was happening, her spirits lifted.  By the time we returned to her house, she was the Mom we all know and love once again.

Meanwhile, people at the gas stations were starting to panic.  I went to mail something at my local post office this afternoon and found out I couldn’t get there because the police had cordoned off the road for the gas line.  The line actually snaked through the post office parking lot.  Tensions were high at the gas station and as I passed by, I heard voices and tempers flaring.  One of the patrol officers went over to investigate and calm things down.

The Mainstream Media has only begun to notice the gas lines.  They won’t see them again now for awhile.  In Bloomingdale, the last gas station, the Gulf Station, has shut down except for fuel for emergency vehicles.  The line began at Butler Park and at the Bloomingdale Municipal Building (the road forks at its north end), all the way to the end of town where the gas station is.  That’s to say nothing of the people with generators lined up to fill their gas cans.

If anyone underestimates the importance of gasoline, they can take a good look at those lines.  No, the people on those lines aren’t poor, but somewhere in the affluent Middle Class, so maybe you think they don’t deserve pity.  What they are are workers who have to get to work in the morning, come what may.  They’re the ones supporting our blighted cities to the east and south.

Mass transit is the answer, you say?  Well guess what?  New York City’s subway and road tunnels were under water.  One lane of the Lincoln Tunnel between New York and New Jersey opened today and that was for buses only (understandably).  New York was closed and evacuated below 34th Street.  The distance from 34th Street to the Battery is a mighty long hike, and even further from 195th Street, where the only access to New York City, the George Washington Bridge, was open to any traffic at all.  Commuters heading for midtown had to stand in line to take the GW bus across the span and then try to cram themselves into one of the uptown subway lines down to Midtown.

Why no gas, you wonder?  The news is that New York Harbor was so badly damaged that the oil tankers and barges can’t get into the Ports of Newark or Elizabeth to discharge their loads.  And once they pulled into their berth, as of this time, there’s no power to transfer the oil from the tanker to the refinery and from the refinery to the tanker trucks.  Then there’s the question of whether there’s enough diesel fuel for the trucks to make their deliveries.

Meanwhile, one of the reasons the power company truck can’t get up to my mother’s road to restore the power may be that there’s no fuel for the trucks.  Gov. Christie finally got around to calling in the out-of-state cavalry, something he ought to have done as soon as the storm passed.

Most suburban New Jerseyans were on line at the Home Depots and Loews stores before the storm to buy batteries and generators (although you need a particularly large one to run a refrigerator), knowing they couldn’t just depend upon the government.  They were also on line to buy expensive bags of ice.  Really, you can make ice yourself for a lot less money if you just think and plan ahead.

Our supermarkets are open again.  Some had generators to preserve their cold food; others didn’t.  A “canny” person will stock up on canned foods and small quantities of cold food to put in their freezer.  The one thing I’d forgotten was dry milk.  That was the first thing I bought when my local supermarket reopened.  Another thing I bought were solar battery lights that I could set in my window during the day and shine at night.  And here I thought green energy was totally useless.

New Jersey is a lesson to the rest of the nation.  This was a natural catastrophe but it could have just as easily been a man-made catastrophe – a terrorist attack, an accident at a power plant, or even worse, an outright war.  Ask yourself whether you’re prepared, what you would do, and how you would survive if there was no one to help you?  What would you do if your government started “rationing” food, power, supplies for whatever reason?

With the election so close, I can’t help wondering whether these are “shortages” or deliberate “rationings” in order to score points for the Greenies?  To teach us Suburbanites a “lesson?”  Were we purposely left without power so we wouldn’t be able to view crucial pre-election commercials, while New Jersey inner cities were serviced immediately?

New Jersey was left in the dark.  When the lights finally come on for everyone, you’re going to see some pretty angry people.  They should beware and remain prepared, for now a Nor’easter us forecast for Wednesday and Thursday.  As for Election Day, let us hope that by living in the dark a light bulb will go on inside New Jerseyan’s heads and they’ll see the light about depending on the government.

 

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