Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Columns

July 7, 2012

Summer fun not always easy to find in the stressful, topsy-turvy summer of 2012

Driving through Lynchburg last week, it was obvious something was wrong. Traffic light after traffic light was dark and drivers cautiously watched each other at intersections, trying to be polite and observe the rights of way. Restaurants were shut down and gasoline stations were empty. No shoppers at silent grocery stores. It was something akin to one of the sci-fi horror films.

Finally, near Brookeville, the home of Hokie football star Logan Thomas, there was a gleam of normal living when both a gasoline station and a Captain D’s were open almost side-by-side. It was a little unnerving to watch some 25-30 cars in various lines jockeying for spots to guzzle what remaining gas might be available. In the restaurant, customers stood in line, looking outside at a parking lot with every single space filled.

Friendly employees asked for patience, explaining there was no ice left and that soda was room temperature. No one complained, and there was a general feeling that food and drink of any kind in nearly any condition was a blessing. On every hand were stories of families with no electricity, no phone, no water, no cable, and no timetable for repair. Children who had been doing without TV were thrilled to romp around in the play area, while parents whose bathrooms and showers were not operating made certain to wash hands and faces, among other chores, while eating a much-anticipated dinner.

On the way back rest stops near Radford were closed and trees littered many roadside scenes. At home, it was no better. No utilities. Fearful of opening the freezer or refrigerator, there was no need to look for food. Without a telephone to use, we have been itinerant homeowners with an “off and on” (mostly off) lifestyle these past few days.

I feel sorry for the frazzled Appalachian Power employees, many of whom have been pulling 16-hour shifts with precious little time to rest as they try valiantly to restore to us our modern conveniences. I admire them for their loyalty, dedication, and fast action. Anyone who has had to climb through the mountains, saw up trees and/or limbs, maneuver around big boulders, and wonder if a snake is underfoot while battling a high-voltage power line can appreciate the heroic deeds of the APCO workers. For those of who have not been on one of these emergency crews, it is hard to imagine just how difficult and dangerous the work can be. Thanks to all the power company employees for their work on our behalf. Hospital, police, fire and rescue teams have also been on a nerve-jangling, unsettling emotional roller coaster, too. Their jobs are made much more complicated in time of emergency when so often the people who need help the most are in the most inconvenient locations to receive it.

Here in Bluefield, it is usually “normal” to be excited about free lemonade, fireworks displays, local baseball, and now the Greenbrier Classic golf tournament up at the Greenbrier. In the stressful Summer of 2012, any or all of those events are of small concern right now. When the power is off, the water won’t work, the phone line is down, and there is no way to turn on the television, life takes on a whole new meaning. Families often turn to the radio for news, make certain the windows are raised to help keep the heat down, and wonder about what to cook. Food doesn’t last so long as the temperature rises. Freezers that just keep cool during winter power outages freeze and thaw, ruining meats and veggies, so the money and the nutrition both simply drip away in such times.

On the way home last week, an old fellow running a little market that was lucky enough to have power scratched his head and made some observations from the worn wooden barrel he was sitting on.

He noted that he was more than 70 years old and said he did not remember weather like this but that was not his biggest worry. He said if we ever have a real emergency in the United States the country won’t last long, pointing out that very few people raise their own food or have any land on which to do so.

Not many have cows, or can raise their own meat, being forced to fish at seafood restaurants and do their gardening only in the grocery store produce section with just a kitchen shelf or two of “stored” food available with that being of no value without electricity. I was more than a little nervous by the time he finished talking.

Maybe the third of the four seasons we usually enjoy in our grand area will be more peaceful and less stressful. Meanwhile, keep some peanut butter and crackers and a supply of water handy!

 Larry Hypes is a teacher at Tazewell High School and a columnist for the Daily Telegraph.

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