Friday, September 3, 2010

Juan another hurricane? Um, no thanks.

Hello, Patient Reader.

Be warned: I'm about to dredge up the hoariest trope of small talk known to mankind: the weather.  I apologize in advance.  

In light of this I also feel somewhat obliged to trot out an Amber-alert style bugaboo to wrangle any Reality- T.V.-crippled attention spans out there in the cheapest manner possible:


There, I said it.  And I'm likely the last person to say that word today on the entire East Coast of North America.

People love talking about extreme weather in the work environment, especially in call centers.  Carbon units working in places like this often hang the hat of false hope on things like blizzards and snowstorms, hoping against hope that for one day their modern taskmasters will spontaneously chuck aside six-hundred years of precedent and close the joint.  

Well, let me be the first to tell you right here, right now: your hope is as pitiable as it is vain.  Forget about it.   The circumstances depicted in the motion picture Armageddon wouldn't result in call center closure.

Let me illustrate, m'kay?  Back on Sunday, September 28, 2003 Hurricane Juan hit my home base of Halifax Nova Scotia right square in the mush.  For the four or five days previous to his landing most of the local population (your truly included) had been ignoring the weather warnings, our collective ignorance not discriminating between radio, print and television.

And can you really blame us?  Were Maritimers for f#@$%'s sake!  I went downtown to see a band during the Storm of the Century!  We're constantly hearing about gale force winds and torrents of precipitation whether it be rain, sleet, snow or canine/feline.  We kinda grow numb to weather warnings. 

It also doesn't help that the media can be a bit "Peter and the Wolf" about such things.  A few years back I had to call the cable company in Newfoundland to get them to put a block on my mom's access to "The Weather Network".  It's like a porn channel for older people. 

My mom's always been the fretful type, but armed with "TWN updates, it was like giving a pyromaniac a flame thrower.  I'd get frantic phone calls from here like: "Now, for the love of God, promise me you won't go outside tomorrow.  'The Weather Network' says there's going to be a blizzard warning in effect!  They've already canceled elective surgeries in Dartmouth!"

The next morning I'd wake up and look out the window only to witness the most gentle, elegiac, Victorian winter scene imaginable: rosy-cheeked emparkanated couples strolling casually down clear sidewalks hand in hand,  goober-nosed ragamuffins engaged in snowball fisticuffs, people leisurely skiing down closed roads while a choir from "Whoville" sings "Welcome Christmas" somewhere nearby.  All the while a few rogue snowflakes float down from on high just for atmosphere. 

Please note that in the epoch called B.J. (that's Before Juan, you pervs) I would write off such things as purely alarmist.  But not anymore.  

Sometimes there's nothing wrong with a l'il dollop of healthy hysteria.  I wish I'd heeded just one of the many  warnings that proceeded Hurricane Juan's Tazmanian Devil impersonation.    

As its primeval wrath fell upon us I began to get a little freaked out.  As a thirty-three year old adult I'd hoped that I'd confronted and coped with every possible weather phenomenon possible.  That night all I could think was that all bets were off and anything could happened.  

Outside the tree limbs were bent horizontally and every once in awhile I heard the distinctive "Ker-RAK!" as one ripped free from a trunk like a droid limb by Chewbacca after losing a game of holographic chess.  Sheets of rain came down so heavily that it looked like snow.  It literally appeared as if someone was standing off to the side blasting all the windows simultaneously with a pressure washer.  

I won't lie to you, I was shitbaked.   We were still on the top floor of our apartment at the time and inevitably I became convinced that the roof was gonna come off 'er.  In a fit of paranoia I dragged the spare mattress out into the living room and tried to sleep there with my clothes, a flashlight, keys and wallet all stowed nearby to facilitate a quick "exit stage left".  

The next morning brought one of the most beautiful days you could imagine.  Just for shits and giggles I decided to call our call center weather line and heard:

"All call centers are open.  For employees in Halifax, please take extra caution getting to work.  Good-bye!"


I glanced outside was alarmed by all the flotsam and jetsam scattered around.  I rushed downstairs to check the car for damage but mercifully there was none.  We hopped in the Ninjamobile and were off to work.  It was Monday, after all.           

En route to work me and the S.I. began to get somewhat unnerved by what we saw.  Leaves and other detritus were plastered everywhere.  Power lines and trees were tilted everywhere at Daliesque angles:

There wasn't a soul on the street, pedestrian or vehicular.  Pissed that we hadn't gotten the memo RE: THE END OF THE WORLD, we turned on the radio and were shocked by the snippets we heard:

"State of emergency...police are ordering all non-essential workers to stay off the roads...power company crews from neighboring provinces being called in to least two deaths attributed to Juan..."  

And all we could think was "What the eff are we doing going to work?!?"

I wasn't the only one.  It was friggin' bedlam in there.  The first thing I saw was one of the more acerbic soccer moms tearing a strip off the department manager for not closing the center down.  

In what must have been an attack of conscience, they soon decided to send us home, which kinda gave me a chuckle.  We were there already, so why not stay?  People had already driven around and over tree limbs, parts of people's roofs and live power lines (!) to get there for fear of reprisal and now you're just gonna turn them around and send them back to run the gauntlet all over it again?  It didn't make a lick of sense.

But this is how people in call centers are often made to feel.  By September they've already burned through their pittance of available sick time allotted to them at the start of the year and often truly believe that if they don't find some way to get in to work on days like this they'll be reprimanded, incur a recorded warning or possibly be fired.  I know I've certainly felt that way at times. 

The funniest thing about our department closing down is that other departments of the same company in the same building stayed open!  What, were their lives less important somehow?  It was ridiculous.

Playing devil's advocate for a moment, if people actually thought about it they shouldn't have complained so vehemently.  After all, when we drove back home through the obstacle course of  debris all we could really do with the power out is sit and watch our frozen food slowly melt and rot.  Weeeeeeeee!!!

The call center, on the other hand, had a bakers dozen backup generators that would keep it fully functional even during a zombie apocalypse.  They had light, power and more importantly, hot grub.  Hey, even crappy call center cafeteria food can be worth of Zagat's Guide when compared to a cold can of "Spaghetti-O's".

Speaking of food, this proved to be a bit tricky.  That night I just said "Screw It", picked up Prudence Goodwyfe at work and then we took a dart out to the Irving "Big Stop" service station/restaurant for a little dash of civilization.           

We were stunned when we arrived only to find it closed.  We just sat there staring at it for about ten minutes thinking: "The 'Big Stop' can't be closed.  It's never closed.  Truly this is the Seventh Sign."

Now near starving and with darkness bearing down on us, we rubbed our heads together to try and figure out what was close by that couldn't possibly be closed.  And then it occurred to us...


We blasted over to the Robert L. Stanfield International Airport to raid their understandably busy food court.  I had the best "Whopper" I ever ate in my life that night.  And likely the most expensive when you factor in an airport's ungodly parking rates.

I know I'm already starting to sound as if people were mere minutes away from resorting to cannibalism but when you're in a scenario like this, it gets kinda weird.  When you ponder it for a moment you begin to realize that there isn't a whole helluva lot keeping society from breaking down into complete anarchy.  Electricity, law books and the nominal presence of police is all that prevents everything from going completely shithouse.
I'm telling you right now, it wouldn't take very long for some sort of 2012 nightmare scenario to play out.  Cripes, force people to live three days without Hot Pockets, fuel in their Suburbans and the ability to watch "Jersey Shore" whenever they want and see how snaky they get.

But I think Haligonians kept their cool and really banded together.  I remember some very charitable restauranteurs on Quinpool Road cooking up meals for people in the neighborhood right on the street in front of their establishments.  Likely it was to try and use up food destined for inevitable spoilage but I like to chalk it up to the kindness of strangers.  
Speaking of food, my significantly wiser half threw ours out on Tuesday.  I mourned like Homer Simpson over that ten-foot Hoagie Marge forced him to chuck out only after four short weeks.   Mercifully we'd fallen out of the habit of buying a ton of groceries so we didn't lose too much.  One really cool thing our work did was issue grocery store vouchers to help people recover lost food.  We had so little spoilage I think $20.00 pretty much covered it all.   

I didn't really miss television, movies or video games much.  I'm enough of a Renaissance man to enjoy playing board games or reading by flashlight as much as the next cowpoke.  But after four days the novelty started to wear off.  I'll tell ya what got really old really quick was the inability to take a hot bath or shower.  We went into a colder snap two days after the storm hit and we were forced to try and heat enough water by candlelight to take a quick splashdown.   You have to understand that 700,000 people at one time were without power in central Nova Scotia and everyone we knew was in the same broken down and leaky boat. 

The really frustrating thing is that if we'd paid any attention in the fist place to all to the prior weather-related tub-thumping we could have excavated the Coleman stove and propane tanks out of our storage closet and cooked a few meals out on our patio.  In hindsight I guess we just assumed that the power would likely be back minute now?  How 'bout now?  Okay...NOW!   Now?  Please?  For the love of everything holy...

But the days wore on.  And on.  And on.  By now an unspoken contest had begun amongst our circle of friends as to who would be first to get their mojo back.  We all piled in on the first person to get 'lectricity, not to eat a hot meal or shower properly but to watch the latest episode of Angel on Thursday.  It's a wonder she let us in the front door since by that time we were all gettin' kinda ripe in spite of our prison camp cold water scrub downs.

When a couple we knew just up the street got their juice a-flowin' 'round that same time we were convinced that out turn would come next.  But Friday came and still no "things go move when me press button".  

Wanna know why?  Turn out that transformer that was bouncing around in the street?  Yep, you guessed it...OURS!

Sick and tired of being energetically challenged we decided to get out of Dodge.  Bless my wife's kind and generous parents for putting us up (and putting up with us) on such short notice.  I want the record to show that I still don't hose a grudge for hosing both of us down in the driveway before you let us in the house.  You could have made more of an effort to shoo the neighbors away, tho.     

When we got back to Halifax on Sunday evening the power was back on.  As far as we knew it went back on five minutes after we locked the door.

Later we drove around to survey the damage.  It was pretty grim.  The stately trees of Public Gardens had been uprooted:

Barrington Street looked like the set of "28 Days Later":

 The planks of the boardwalk along the historic waterfront where we walked every other night were twisted like broken piano keys:

A beautiful schooner named the Larinda had sunk where she'd been moored, her mast jutting skyward on an angle like the arm of a desperate drowning man:

But it was Point Pleasant Park that really brought a tear to my eye.  Conditions had made the park particularly vulnerable.  Even before the hurricane, this beautiful wooded area in the South End of Halifax could never be considered "dense" and, as such, it gave little resistance.  Worse still, we'd had a particularly hot fall and there were still a lot of leaves left on the trees (sound familiar?).  The rumored 230 kilometer per hour winds wreaked havoc on this little slice of heaven.

My first walk through was heart-rending.  It looked as if some great mythological titan had brushed his mighty hand along the earth and laid out those ancient trees like freakin' matchsticks:

In my first walk through I remember strolling along one of the footpaths around Ogilvie Road and being horrified that not one tree impeded my view down to the Northwest Arm.

Check out this stunning before and after pic:

Only now does the park, the city and the people of Halifax seem to approaching some semblance of recovery.  Now we're being told that another similar storm is tracking right for us.

We won't truly know the impact of Earl's fury until Sunday but speaking as someone who's already been through one I think I can speak with confidence on behalf of my fellow Haligonians when I say:


EPIC: Joe Rogan on the tenuous nature of technology. WARNING: not work appropriate!



1 comment:

Brodie said...

Loved the epic! Joe Rogan is the man!

I also hope for a lack of Earl, but for selfish petty reasons - my least favourite part of Juan was people at work "keeping score" of the damage. I hated those conversations.