Saturday, July 22, 2006

After the Storm

It's interesting that we say "I don't have any power," instead of, "My electricity is out."

Electricity has somehow become an archaic term. My parents might say that, and so would some others, but for most of us, it's "power", which begas the question of semantics. My power was out for approximately 51 hours., or two days and some change. Blessedly, it was turned back on late last night, so when I came home from work, the lights were shining in my house like a lighthouse guiding me in on the rough seas.

Over the past several days, the world began to look very strange to me. The night of the storm, I saw objects flying through my backyard, huge trees bending in the wind, heard things hitting the building. In terms of damage, my street fared pretty well. One tree in a car, tons of debris, but no big structural damage. Driving to the Royale Wed. night after the storm passed, I quickly realized how huge this thing was. Magnolia was blocked in two places by gigantic felled trees across the road. Even in the dark, I could see the damage to Tower Grove Park. Stoplights were out, and the evening was pitch black, save the lightning bolts spinning across the sky.

The next day, Sarah and I struck out, having sweated like crazy in the heat all night. We needed food, gas, and some air conditioning. We saw billboards torn out of roofs on Gravois, trees that had hit homes, cars srtuck with limbs on top of them. The devastation was huge, and this was a quick storm. Driving became an obstacle course, with asshole drivers weaving in and out of traffic, people not stopping at the broken stoplights, near fisticuffs at the pump. Nothing was open, and that was our first indication. Power was distributed oddly, block by block. On my street, the first night, two houses had power while the rest of us lived in utter darkness.

I went to work to read the paper, to check out info. online. There it was "State of Emergency", "National Guard", and numbers that amazed me. I realized then, that I really felt like I was without power. I'm fine without the TV. I can even live without my computer and don't mind sweating through the 100 plus temp., but not having quick access to information left me feeling more isolated than I would have guessed.

And then I kept hearing people talk. Everywhere I have been the last few days, "Do you have power?" But the funny thing is, in several situations, especially while I was at work last night, I would hear people say, "I have power and you don't," and a few times, I stopped, thinking they were not talking about electricity, but rather, actual power-- like the power to exert control. And that's what it is. What a funny thing we say.

Despite all the damage, I have seen some of the most interesting things the last few days. During the storm, because it was so hot, everyone on my street was out on their front porches, calling to one another over the rain. As I drove around that night, I saw scores of people out walking with flashlights, pulling debris, checking on people. My whole street has become a one-stop source of information, everyone hanging outside because of the heat. I've heard reports many other places of the same thing: block captains patrolling all night for safety, my neighbor staying on his porch in the pitch black, impromptu block parties to create a street presence in the dark. People opening their homes to friends, local businesses doing what they can. Last night, a bunch of people, prompted by the owner of Tension Head Records, went down to Cherokee to patrol the streets. And then today, despite all the debris in Tower Grove Park, despite the lack of power and local businnes, the Festival of Nations went on as planned in the park... and it was packed.

I like that. I like seeing community sprout up and be felt. I like people pulling together. I like that I have gotten my information for the last several days from word of mouth and from conversation, rather than from a computer. I like that in the darkness, we all have seen something different.

The other day, I told someone I felt like the city had been split in two: the "have's" and "have nots". I was a have not. Today, when I got power, I called everyone I could think of and told them they have somewhere to stay. I've realized a third category in the past few days... I'll call it, "community". Screw the power.

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