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Ground with the wind


The recent power outages up north have got me remembering our own fair summer without electricity here in the Triangle. Of course, we didn't have all the speculation about the cause. Our power outage was caused by an overwhelming act of God. Yes, I'm remembering Fran. And even if she didn't have just the one name, we would all deserve to be on a first-name basis with Fran. We earned it.

I myself slept through Fran. Somehow the noise didn't wake me, and not even the psychological handicap of having two 50-year-old willow oaks in my postage-stamp-sized front yard was enough to trouble my sleep.

I awoke refreshed and toured the neighborhood with friends the next day, looking at the storm damage like it was a botanically-themed putt-putt course. No giant windmills, but enormous tree roots in the middle of Club Boulevard. Since refrigerated and frozen food were quickly going the way of all flesh and all cellulose, outdoor cookouts in friends' driveways became the way to eat dinner. Times like these, you valued your extra crunchy, granola friends because they were the ones equipped with little gas stoves and miner's headlamp flashlights, and their good nature made them ever willing to take care of their more slack-ass friends.

I must say, though, that even the most prepared of our friends confessed that, after assembling all their camping gear the morning after Fran and aglow with the particular satisfaction that comes from being prepared for an unexpected extreme circumstance, they realized that while they could boil water for their morning coffee on their little gas cook stove, they had no way to grind the beans.

Across town, I had ground coffee. However, I was attempting to boil water for it over a tiki torch in my backyard as I fought off the morning mosquitoes. I managed to get the water reasonably hot, but the coffee was undrinkable. It tasted like Cafe Citronella.

So my girlfriend and I and my visiting best friend headed towards Ninth Street in pursuit of our morning fix. The street looked like a sound stage out of Night of the Living Dead. It was dotted with individuals and small groups wandering caffeineless and stupefied from one business to another looking for somewhere open, with power and brewed coffee.

We hit pay dirt when we got to Wellspring and happened to catch my girlfriend's neighbor, a manager at the time, heading into the generator-powered, but not-yet-open grocery. My girlfriend, never completely clear on her neighbors' names, exhibited the extraordinary clarity of people in a crisis, screaming "Cindy!" across the parking lot. Her neighbor turned and looked and took pity on our sad little band. She led us into the store and right to the coffee urns. She didn't charge us anything.

But as we were turning to leave, each of us cupping our precious cargo, she grinned sardonically at my girlfriend and said, "You know, if you're going to ask someone for a favor, you should get their name right."


As our season of hurricanes progresses, many of my neighbors' thoughts are no doubt turning to batteries, candles, and generators. I must confess, I used to think of those things, but now, with the prospect of natural disasters looming, my thoughts turn to ... etiquette.

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