Saturday, November 3, 2012

One Wedding and a Frankenstorm

This is a tale about true love and the ravages of climate change.

First, picture a young couple, very much in love, who have spent the last year planning the perfect wedding in Newark, Delaware, 147 miles away from our home in the Garden State of New Jersey. It will be an idyllic affair. The bride is a statuesque blond and the groom, tall and athletic. The event is being held at a country club that sits on the edge of a pristine golf course with green, rolling hills. The bridesmaids will be wearing midnight-topaz blue dresses and the ushers will be attired in dark suits and ties. 

Celebrants will be served a several-course dinner and will dance the night away to the strains of loud and well-played live music.

Now picture that this unsuspecting couple has planned the most important day of their lives on the same weekend that an evil Frankenstorm named Sandy is plodding its way up the coast, leaving a trail of devastation and death in its wake. Lifetime vows are being made and guests are whiling the evening away like a reenactment of the Titanic as The Storm of the Century is darkly closing in.

My husband, Steve, and I had traveled 90 minutes by train to attend this lovely affair. We arrived on Friday midday. The wedding would be the following night. We began to realize as the shuttle pulled up to our hotel that we should be buying supplies—like food, bottled water and bandages—back in New Jersey to weather the storm. It also became apparent that our Sunday afternoon train back home might be cutting things a bit close. So I called Amtrak and rescheduled for a 9 a.m. train instead. This would have us back home in Jersey by midday Sunday.

On Saturday, as we were strolling around Newark, taking in the sights of this quaint little college town, my daughter, Chelsea, texted me to find out if I would like her to bring some wood in for our new wood-burning stove in case the power went out during the storm. I texted back, yes, and can you buy us some bags of ice for a cooler and several jugs of water as well? Sure, she said. Later that day, she texted back a photo of empty shelves at the local grocery store. A panicked population had cleaned out everything on the shelves. Oh well. It was nice of her to think of us since she no longer lived at home.

The wedding went off as planned. The couple looked like Barbie and Ken. I cried as they came down the aisle past us to start their life together as husband and wife. How did this cute little two year old I'd watched in play group grow up so fast to become a lawyer and married woman? We left the wedding at 10 p.m. and returned to our hotel to pack. A taxi was picking us up at 7:45 a.m. the following morning to get us to the train station in Wilmington, about 20 minutes away from our hotel.

When we woke up the next morning, I switched on the television and noticed on the news reports that Amtrak had canceled all service between Chicago and Washington. I became worried that our train might also be canceled, leaving us stranded in Delaware with no food, water or accommodations as Sandy curled her powerful arms of destruction into the area. I called Amtraks’ automated line and a robotic Julie answered, saying there was no information on the status of our train. She mechanically suggested I speak to an agent. So I called to speak to an agent and left my phone on speaker so I could get ready to leave the hotel while waiting for someone to answer. Repetitive messages cheerfully reminded me that I could go onto the Internet to find out train status, which turned out not to be true. I waited for 60 minutes for someone who was "busy with other customers" to answer. They never did. Finally, as we pulled into the train station, I hung up and hoped for the best.

I put my credit card into the ticket machine and it spit out two Amtrak passes. Then we went over to the ticket window to ask if our train was still running. The clerk smiled and said, yes, it was running and on time. It rolled into the station as 9 a.m., as promised. We gratefully boarded with gray clouds and wind at our backs, leaving us with a neurotic sense of impending doom. We arrived in New Jersey at 10:15 a.m., located our car and sped back home. The skies were steel-colored, but no wind or rain was yet in the area. After stopping at home to feed the cats (our daughter had fed them while we were gone), we went directly to the local grocery store where they were restocking water jugs. We bought some and returned home to fill the bathtub—not sure why—and cook soup and muffins (two important staples during adverse weather events).

The storm finally hit Monday night. We were texting relatives and friends to make sure everyone was okay. One by one, everyone began to lose power. We were one of the last to go dark late Monday evening. Winds picked up, sounding like a freight train passing our windows. We had already fired up our wood-burning stove before the lights went out, so were toasty warm. I had also bought a battery-powered lamp last year after an unprecedented Halloween blizzard had left us without heat or light for a week. So this year, we were prepared. We sat by the light of our 1000-lumen lamp, playing bingo and eating muffins. (Before judging us, please bear in mind our age.)

The following morning, we had no idea what had happened as we had no power and no Internet. Steve walked outside to survey the yard. No trees had fallen, but a large branch had bounced off his car’s windshield, leaving a sizable spider web of glass. After some brief cursing befitting an Italian, he adopted a Zen viewpoint about it. Compared to what other people most likely had suffered, it was relatively benign.

During the day, our power would come back for two minutes, giving us a brief snippet of television news, then die again for hours. This peep show of events revealed that much of our beloved Jersey shore had washed out to sea and some areas of inland flooding had occurred. Most deaths were due to fallen trees. This on-and-off power tease went on throughout Wednesday as well. Some of our family and friends got their power back; some were still in the dark like us. On Thursday morning, Steve found out the power was back where he worked, so I drove him in as his car was at the dealership getting a new windshield. The office where I was working freelance was still closed, curtailing my income for the week. 

Fortunately, Thursday night, our power came back. Now we were faced with another barrier to our livelihood. Our cars were running out of gas and so were the local gas stations. I had the option of working from home, but Steve didn't.

So ends the tale of one wedding and a Frankenstorm. True love and true destruction. We knew that eventually things would return to normal—until next year.