We felt it as much as we heard it. The thunderous cracking of ancient limbs as the oak tree landed with enough force to shake the yard. Lights that had been flickering since the wind rose blinked out, and all the electronic whines and hums and blinks were cut off. Silence and darkness fell across the neighborhood, and all we could hear was the wind and the rain beating against the house.
We awoke on Sunday with the sun. Power was out throughout the area, right along Churchville Road and into Bel Air. Nothing was open between the Aberdeen Wawa on Rt 40 and the Bel Air Double T Diner about 10 miles due west on Rt 24. We got breakfast across the street from the Double T at Einstein Bros Bagels, a young but highly efficient staff (the oldest looking no more than 25) handling the overflow from the Double T with a cheerful professionalism that was greatly appreciated and eased some of the initial dread of a potentially long power outage. Thus began our week of dining out.
Don't get me wrong. I do count myself among the lucky. This summer's roof repairs held fast throughout the hurricane. There was no need for FEMA or the Red Cross where I live. There was no flooding in my area, no structural damage, at least nothing that extended beyond my own home. When that big oak tree came down, we knew it took a wire down with it. We called BGE on Sunday, and they had a crew there on Monday to assess the damages. The downed wire was attached to a utility pole, which the oak tree had snapped in two. That's all anyone could agree on, though. BGE replaced the pole but labeled it "Private" and claimed they could not work on the damaged line running from the pole underground to my home. A private electrician came out and said that the set up was not in compliance with current county regulations and they would need a permit to perform any work. And so on, until, after several calls to BGE, an older technical appeared late Friday night and hooked us back up.
As our week of take out progressed, each day began with the hope that this would be the day that everyone figured out how to turn our lights back on but ended in a restaurant eating burgers, tacos, any variety of things but nothing that actually felt like dinner.
We hit the newly discovered Fiesta Grill a couple of times. These were the best meals we had, and they appear to be consistently above the bar, not only for Mexican food, but for restaurants in the area as a whole. We also hit the Five Guys, a favorite that by week's end had lost all of its appeal. When left to my own devices on Tuesday night, I wandered into the Rogers House Tavern in Havre de Grace, a little hole-in-the-wall that looks to mostly cater to a loyal crowd of regulars. They welcomed me in and served me the best grilled ham and cheese I've had in a long time. And, of course, there was a lunch at the Laurrapin Grille and a special thanks to Chris Gengenbach who continues to make the place feel warm and inviting. When he saw me wander in, dazed and baffled and unwashed, he greeted me with a genuine smile and offered me a drink.
So, my experience with Hurricane Irene resulted in minor inconvenience for about a week with some residual headache still to come. Sure, I wanted the lights back. I wanted a hot shower and running water. But mostly what I wanted was a home-cooked meal, and to eat in my own dining room. Something about the inability to do these simple things created a greater sense of dislocation than not having any lights. Without the nightly ritual of cooking dinner, eating together (whether in animated chatter, irritable bickering or comfortable silence) and then cleaning up the kitchen, I felt lost, frustrated, depressed. And then the acid reflux kicked in.
By Friday, after a late lunch at Five Guys, I decided I was done. Confident that we would have at least a temporary hook up within 24 hours, I popped a multi-vitamin and did not mention food again. And The Fates smiled down upon us, sending us a technician knowledgeable in old farm electrical systems who firmly believed that the utility company is responsible for getting the power to the home, even if some farmer put up his own private pole 70-some odd years ago.
The power is back on. The refrigerator is cleaned out and ready to be restocked. While Gareth is cutting up the tree today and may be too tired to cook tonight, just knowing that we can fend for ourselves again is a comfort.
Additional thanks go to Juan for letting us use his shower, to my in-laws in Aberdeen for the same and for joining us for dinner, to Jim for helping us remove the big ass tree, to anyone who worked directly with me on Wednesday when I felt that all hope was lost, and to my employer for allowing me time off to get this mess sorted out.