Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Weathering the Apocalyptic Storm

Having missed the first three weird weather apocalyptic riders through the northeast in the past three months--Earthquake ‘Ike’, Hurricane Irene, and Tropical Storm Lee-- it only seemed karmically right to be here in Madison for the fourth plague--the freakish ‘snow storm of the century’ yet to be named.   The first three disasters wrecked havoc with their torrential rains and floods, but the aftermath of this fourth disaster was worse than all three, and twice as weird.   

Snow flurries in usually warm October? In the autumn season famous for colorful foliage?   The red and yellow leaves were still turning when suddenly over 12 inches of snow weighed down over-burdened trees; their branches broke and cut down electric lines, which cut off electric power and made the roads unsafe to drive. Lights, heat and train service were cut off for nearly two million residents in several States. I was beginning to fear that radio preacher Harold Camping, prophet of doom, might be right about the end of the world coming in October 2011 (though maybe his calculation was one week off) . See Family Radio Bible Fellowship

I retreated to my apartment in Madison to wait out the snow storm of the century and final Judgement Day (according to Camping). With nothing better to do alone in the dark, I lit a candle, said a prayer, managed to stay warm, and for as long as my computer battery would last, decided to chronicle how I was weathering the storm:

Day One

The first night was only mildly annoying.  My dinner plans were canceled and I was fine in my apartment.  I was in touch by phone with family members in sunny San Diego.  The apartment stayed warm with residual heat. The food was still cold in the frig, the water still hot in the tank, battery power sufficient on my cell and computer, and I had five candles to light as needed.  Went to bed a little earlier than normal and managed to get a good night’s rest.  So far, so good.

Day Two

I needed my cup of strong morning coffee.  Wasn’t going to let a little snow flurry, trees and power lines down on the streets and sidewalks, or lack of a gas stove keep me from my daily routine.  

True, all of Madison was without electricity, and 600,000 households in the area still dark.  Still, I was sure Starbucks in Summit was open and serving eager customers from nearby towns who needed their morning Java, and that was my #1 goal for day two of the storm of the century.

I had parked my car in the garage to avoid the snow, and when I backed it out this morning and starting rolling down the street I noticed that the front tire was flat.  Upon examination I noticed a sharp screw stuck in the tire. I wasn’t going anywhere this morning by car.

Surely, AAA will come if called to rescue me.  That’s why we pay them a couple hundred dollars a year—for once in a decade emergency road service.  However, the Service system was overwhelmed today, and only truly emergency road situations were being responded to in time.  No home service available at this time.

I guess I could have tried to change the tire myself.  I had done so in a previous life, time and place.  It used to be fun to jack up a car.  But nay, I don’t’ have to go to church today, don’t have to go anywhere really, so I’ll let it wait till tomorrow and instead try to find coffee by foot.

Downtown Madison is only a 10-minute walk from my apartment across the street from Drew.  I enjoyed the walk on this clear, bright, snow-covered day in October.  And stepping over power lines and around downed trees on the sidewalks was fun.  But all the businesses, restaurants, coffee shops, and gas stations in Madison were closed.  Only Stop and Shop grocery store had generators and was open.  I popped inside, bought three more candles for the apartment, and found to the Latte machine near the check out lines.   Lots of homeless type people were hanging out near the coffee machine.  There was already an empty cup under the tap. “Doesn’t work,” someone said, as another person tried to fix it.   I was still determined to find a good, dark brew.

I had a package of Starbucks instant Via if only I could find someone who had a Coleman stove to loan me so I could boil water and poor in the Via.  I found my way to Drew where an emergency food line was set up for breakfast and dinner for students still on campus.  But by the time I got there, breakfast was over; the coffee was cold and the hot water only slightly warmer.  But at least I got to eat a cheese and tomato sandwich with salad dressing.

My quest for the Sacred Cup continued as I walked back downtown to the railway station.  I would go to Summit by train and there find Starbucks and enjoy a Tall Skinny Pumpkin Spice Latte with whipped cream.  Waited a half hour for the next train, only to be notified by another would be passage that he just got an alert that train service through Madison had been suspended today and tomorrow. Walked home in the early afternoon still without my morning coffee.

My next plan was to pump up my bike that had not been ridden in 4 months and ride 10 miles to Summit.  But on second thought, I only rode back down to Stop and Shop to charge up my cell phone that had gone dead after talking to my wife and daughter sunning it up on the Lord’s Day in San Diego.  They only were able to give me telehugs and virtual Via through the G3 cellular network, which was true love minus caffeine.    Still managed to read in what was left of the daylight before heading back to Drew for supper (beef and vegetables, and even raisin oatmeal cookies).   After dinner the students who remained at Drew without power, after they cancelled Monday’s classes, were directed to board buses outside in the dark to be taken to Saint Elizabeth College in Florham Park which still had power.  There they would find a cot to sleep in and three square meals tomorrow that Drew had arranged in their process of closing down during the State Emergency.

I rode back to my apartment, cell phone now re-charged, and battery stretch on my new MacBook, with nothing more to do than compose this blog.  Only problem now is that I cannot post it due to the Internet being down on the neighbor’s wireless modem router I hijack to get online (too cheap to pay for my own cable).  All five candles lit at 8pm, enough battery power left to finish this second day post, enough blankets to keep warm all night, with the promise of a new and warmer day in Madison tomorrow.  Clearly, Harald Camping was wrong about the weather.
Day Three

If this was judgement day, I passed the test.  After an evening under two blankets with a hoody over my head, I awoke at 7:30am with one thought and task on my mind:  Forget morning coffee for now; I need to get my flat tire fixed!  If AAA can’t come out in the snow, then I’ll do it myself.   

I had a spare tire under the car. I managed with some coaching to jack up the car, but the old tire apparently had dry rot and was corroded onto the lug nuts so that it wouldn’t come off.  Two neighbors in the complex (Dan and Dave) tired to fix the hole with a tire patch or change the tire with me.  Even the resident manager and his workers tried to kick it loose, but it wouldn’t budge.  The resident manager offered to call a mechanic friend to come out and look at it (all the Madison garages were still closed).  Thank God he did and managed to repair it by 2pm.  My 2003 eight-seat Honda Pilot I used for years as ‘car pool dad’ was now road-ready—with a little help from my friends and their friends. 

My afternoon task was to get a hot shower after 3 days.  None of the friends I called in Madison, Summit or New Providence had power and were seeking their own provisions.  Jeff and Julie in Caldwell did not have electricity for lights and heat, but they had a gas for their water heater and thus hot showers.  Additionally, Jeff opened his church--Caldwell United Methodist Church--as a hospitality center during the outage for members and neighbors to come over for hot coffee and food, as well as to charge up their cell phones and computers and to get online.

With my road-worthy vehicle I headed to Caldwell through many back road detours due to downed trees and electric lines.  My good friends offered me a hot shower in the parsonage and internet access in the church.   They even had chips and hummus in the kitchen.  And hot coffee!   O that all churches offered this kind of warm hospitality during disasters (not to mention on Sunday mornings).   I was a happy camper the rest of the afternoon.  

Since Drew had to cancel all classes and lectures this week, I had access to the already-paid-for hotel guest room of one of the canceled speakers who no longer was coming.   Since my apartment still had no power or heat, I checked myself into the unused room and enjoyed a fine Madison Hotel experience, complete with Jacuzzi, not to mention a delicious Thai dinner followed by Cappuccino in Morristown with my Dean (who also had no power but was more willing than me to weather it a third in the cold).  ‘In times like these, you need a Generator!’

Day Four

Finally, electric power is restored in Madison, and the heat back on in my apartment.  I feel good all over (except I may be getting a cold).   I was back to my normal work routines, even if Drew still was not yet open or ready for students, staff and faculty to return to campus--due to what Drew is calling Treemaggeddon 

And that’s how I weathered the four apocalyptic Horses and their Riders in this End-time scenario.  

October 21 dawned without fanfare, apocalyptic weather followed, and now is passed.  No rapture. No final Judgement Day.  We all are still here.  And Rev. Camping is back on his Radio show re-setting the date. No Rapture in October

Personal Plug:  I will be lecturing, along with Dr. Robert Morris, on “Rapture Culture and Putting the End of the World in Perspective” at the Interweave Center in Summit, NJ—next Tuesday, November 8, at 7:30pm    www.interweave.org