Storm Sandy Discoveries

Storm Sandy Discoveries

Like many people on the East Coast, I’ve had a cold taste of the helplessness one feels during and after a major and crippling storm. I’ve also gained a deeper appreciation of what doing without really means. It’s not that I hadn’t done without before—as a poor kid it was the norm—but there was always something I could do—to get out and make things better. A storm like Sandy is different. You immediately realize how reliant you are on many things—clean water, electricity, warmth, light, hot coffee, food, gasoline for transportation and just keeping a car warm enough to get numb fingers moving again. My week without was just that—a week—so I cannot fathom how, after Katrina, New Orleans and other areas could be left hanging so long—and even to this day. There was poor leadership then, but it seems to me it may be that we have short and poor memories when stuff doesn’t happen to us—personally.

Here are a few things I discovered in my very unusual week thanks to Storm Sandy:

Small bottles of water kept close under layers of sweatshirts—and brought near body temperature—are still cold. I doused some over my head, just to test, and it actually hurt. Cold water bathing is a true heart-stopper.

Hand warmers get really hot when left in you pockets! But the heat doesn’t last. Next storm we’ll try sock warmers.

I rediscovered a vaguely familiar noise from the past—it was the old landline phone hanging from the kitchen wall. At first I didn’t know what it was—all my fancy plug-in phones didn’t work. It makes sense to keep one of those old ringers somewhere—for emergencies and storms.

My original Blackberry Curve with the roller ball charged everywhere—off car adaptor, laptops, and if I had one and the sun was out—it probably would have charge by solar, too. It worked for short calls and e-mails really well, but when I pushed it to try the Internet it froze in my cold hands—until I removed the battery. Dexterity is lost in the cold.

My wife’s iPhone 4 worked the Internet like a star, and allowed me check our repair status at the Connecticut Light & Power site. The status was never good, which was really depressing. I was happier not knowing. I did stop and greet every white truck atop our driveway, though. One guy had just stopped to make a cell phone call, and had nothing to do with an electric or cable company. Everyone, working for those companies, who I talked with, had a different story, and they all had a camera phone with images of our leaning electric pole. There should be a collection page for that somewhere, huh?

Before the storm, I thought very little of New Jersey Governor Christie, although my son, who lives in the state, loves him. My impression was that he was kind of a bully, and his education stance at the start of his term was a bit sketchy. But I’ll give Christie credit—before, during, now, and after Storm Sandy, I’ve change my mind—he’s the kind of leader you want during tough times, and especially a disaster like this storm. That guy is relentless, takes no nonsense, and gets things done. Wish I could say the same for the Governor of my state—but I can’t. Who knows, that may change, too. Christie is back on my OK list.

An inexpensive battery operated radio is worth more than it’s weight in gold for finding out what’s going on—as well as for a bit of sanity. Ours was one of those L. L. Bean crank/battery radios. I got tired of cranking, found three AAA batteries and played it non-stop for a week. It still has enough power to spare, but I hope it’s a long way until I need to use it again.

I tried listening to a local radio station, but discovered it broadcast Rush Limbaugh during the day starting at sun up, and ended its day at sundown. Both are useless listening normally, but during a storm like Sandy, just plain crazy. Luckily, because CT borders NYC I was able to get CBS 880 Radio News. I actually listen to them in the car and as a wake up in the morning during normal days. During the storm, 880 News was brilliant. I not only got the news, but also found out the true magnitude of the destruction through their on-the-scene reporters. I’m sure more people listened to them than any news vehicle during the storm. That station is a class act. If you’d like to see what I mean, check it out one line—from anywhere—if you have an Internet connection—that is–click Listen Live. Someone should give that crew a medal—or something.

We rediscovered neighbors, and they rediscovered us. The golf driving range owner, down the street, who is a friend, let me set up a charging/office desk next to his coffee machine—to recharge my depleted batteries and keep up with what little e-mail I received. Neighbors checked in on us. They stopped by, invited us over to their houses—and offered us dinner. That was nice. One morning I received a text from the driving range, which said, “hot coffee and doughnuts.” I texted back, “On my way!” There is nothing like a hot cup of coffee.

I think most people understood that this part of the country was pretty much closed for business, so not much was happening in my connected world. When NYC shuts down, you know it’s bad. My favorite line was something about “subway cars aren’t submarines” when the underground was flooded.

You can heat a can of soup with a candle. It takes forever, and I was afraid to leave my makeshift cooker. My wife didn’t think it was a good idea, so I promised not to try it again. Like every husband, I always listen to my wife. Oh, that warmed soup tasted so good.

We found a great diner and visited it twice. I had hot soup—what a difference. My wife and I sat getting warm, but there is also that difference in warmth you get from hot soup, or a cup of hot coffee. That internal difference in body temperature is a smile.

I re-experienced reading—for myself. There’s something about holding a real paper bound book, but my reality was augmented during this storm. Because I was able to charge my iPad with my car adaptor, I was able to read, by the light of the backlit iPad—previously downloaded books—that had gone unread. Cold and early evening darkness offered few options. We missed TV for a day, and enjoyed reading as much, or more. My wife said, “You never told me I could listen to a book on this thing.” I just smiled. She listened to an audible book that I’d downloaded for her months earlier, and I read in the traditional way—she had my earbuds! I like flicking rather than turning pages. I have to admit that it was a new feeling being concerned about battery depletion while reading a book. I found myself hoping that the books wouldn’t end—in more ways than one. The book I have yet to finish is The Lost City of Z by David Grann—it’s a very interesting book about the search for a lost explorer and traces of an advanced civilization in the Amazon. Somehow, that was a fitting read for my circumstances as well—many of us seemed kind of lost in this storm.

I didn’t know I still had it! While hunting for connecting wires I uncovered a treasure—it was my old video iPod. I plugged it into my laptop and it charged. It had video and music, as well as old pictures of a visit with my daughter on it. I watched a movie on that small screen, just like I used to do while traveling by train to the city. It really was only good for one movie then—and during Sandy—good for one movie now. But I have to say that most devices I tried during our power loss were only good for one movie—if that—without a low battery warning.

One night we began watching The Great Escape on my laptop, it’s a WWII prisoner of war breakout movie with an incredible cast of characters, including Steve McQueen. My wife asked if anyone died in the movie. I said yes. The rest of the night was spent watching Meet Me in St. Louis, a musical with Judy Garland. We enjoyed it, but I kept thinking that most of the actors in the movie were dead. I sang along—for as long as I could—but there’s something about a sharp elbow….

I’m reconsidering… maybe WiFi isn’t enough on a device for me anymore. More broadband questions for me to ponder, and certainly more cost to stay completely—or should I say—more or mostly connected. Even the wireless services had problems from this storm.

Luckily, I didn’t have to travel, so that made life a lot easier. My son in New Jersey hunted for open gas stations on his way to work. I heard that a cab driver from the City traveled, without a fare, a round trip of 120 miles to tank up.

I don’t know—I’m still not sure about a generator. They present a whole new set of problems. If cooking soup with a candle is dangerous—I’m sure a generator could be, too. I do know that a friend of mine said that his wife is making him get one. If our wives talk, I may be getting one as well. Buying one is probably a good way to never to use one. I bought a snowblower last year, and we didn’t have a winter. If I buy a generator, maybe I’ll never have to use that either!

One thing that didn’t stop was getting those slick brochures/mini posters from Connecticut political candidates. The two running for Senate, McMahon and Murphy, have been going at each other from the get go with negative ads. In the cold and dark I had a chance to think about this, too. McMahon supposedly spent 50 million dollars, or so, on advertising nonsense, and I’m sure Murphy isn’t much better. Here’s what I think one of them should have done instead of all the negative nonsense and throw-away slick mailbox posters. Hold town meetings in each of the 169 Connecticut towns. Research each town’s need first. Then at the town meeting say, “I know your town has a need—for a roof on the old library—and some books, too. You know, instead of wasting my time with attack ads and other such nonsense—I’m donating enough funds to make that town need happen.” If I ran the campaign, I’d then get the candidate back on the bus—and off to the next town meeting for more of the same. Heck, I could get elected that way, but alas, I don’t have any money to donate. I just think something like that would be a better use of money—and a better show of a candidate’s character. Researching each town’s needs couldn’t hurt either, especially if you’re running for a state office. It’s probably too much common sense, so there’s probably a campaign rule against it. The things I think about in the cold and dark!

Seriously, most people had it a lot tougher than most of us—they lost family—they lost homes—they lost memories—they lost everything. We just lost electricity and felt the cold a bit. My heart goes out to all those who lost—and pray for them all to endure. While life can really suck at times, it also can be most glorious. During the storm my youngest son and his wife told us to get ready for our next grandchild—in total that will make 5—to this point. We are thrilled, hoping for a girl to spoil—joining the 4 boys already on the team. Remind me to have them avoid putting Sandy on the baby name list. That’s just asking for trouble!

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Ken Royal is a teacher/education and education technology blogger/reporter, video interviewer, podcaster, education event news commentator with 34 years of classroom/school and instructional technology experience. His teaching accomplishments include: 4-time district teacher of the year, Connecticut Middle School Teacher of the Year, and Bill and Melinda Gates award for Technology School of Excellence. Read more of Ken’s work at Royal Reports.