Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Reality Bites

Second in the continuing saga of a woman facing a personal crisis. When I last posted, I was inching my way home from work Thursday night.

At 7 PM, I reached my neighborhood. The sore throat was getting worse, and I decided to stop and pick up some Thera-Flu. The grocery store parking lot was a lake of slushy snow. My shoes and socks were drenched by the time I waded inside. Gwen, the manager on duty, asked "What's wrong with you getting out in this weather?"

I quickly found the Thera-Flu, but didn’t head for the checkout. Even with wet, freezing toes, I wasn’t anxious to go home to a cold, dark house. Wandering the aisles, I picked up snacks that didn’t require refrigeration (bananas, pretzels and Pepperidge Farm Bordeaux cookies). As almost an after-thought, I grabbed a package of flashlight batteries.

SECOND ERROR: I didn’t take the dangerous weather seriously. Although accustomed to developing contingency plans at work, I failed to assess my readiness to handle a home without power. Instead, I worried about having enough snacks.

The drive home was eerie. Although it was just 7:30 PM, I only saw two other cars on the normally busy streets.

Let me stop here and explain where I live. For the past fourteen years, I’ve owned a 3 bedroom/2 bathroom ranch house in a bedroom community adjacent to Dallas. The chief attraction of the neighborhood is its terrain. The steep inclines are reminiscent of the popular Hill Country around Austin. My front yard slopes down about five feet to the street. Other houses in the area have roofs either even with the street level or sixty feet above street level.

Only minutes from the skyscrapers of downtown Dallas, towering trees, no sidewalks, a flowing stream and abundant wildlife (including owls, possum, and raccoon) provide a sense of rural living to urban dwellers. Over the last decade, coyotes have eradicated the rabbits (and more than a few cats and small dogs) before being edged out themselves by the reemergence of the more resident-friendly gray fox.

But, during a storm, my familiar neighborhood turns hostile. Fallen tree limbs block streets and the steep hills become impossible to navigate. Ken had warned that my most direct route home had already been closed off by the town’s road crew. Remembering his alert, I circled the development and came in on H Street, the most level block in the neighborhood.

When I reached the corner on which I live, I turned in the direction of my driveway. Although the incline wasn’t sharp, my Toyota slid backward.

For ten minutes, I tried to maneuver the sixty feet from that corner to my driveway. I rocked the car back and forth in an effort to free it from the frozen tundra holding us prisoner. The tires spun, the engine labored and, every time I broke free, the vehicle fishtailed. The Toyota finally took the decision away from me, sliding backward into a snowbank across the street from my property. Disgusted, I decided to leave the vehicle where it sat -- half on and half off the street.

Reaching my house was another ordeal. My feet sank into snow up to my knees. Fortunately, the white powder also acted as a shock absorber because I fell four times between the car and the house. Beneath the fluffy stuff was that treacherous glaze of black ice.

When I purchased the property, there were over three dozen oak, pine and cedar trees on it. Half a dozen are over forty feet tall. I've been diligent about keeping them pruned. Every spring, there is at least one or two dying members of the tribe that need to be expelled. Now it seemed all that work had paid off. The brilliant white of the snow illuminated the property, making it nearly as bright as day. All looked well. In contrast to other houses on the block, I couldn't see any fallen branches on my property.

Bob The Cat had worked himself into a fine tizzy by the time I made it indoors. He followed me and my flashlight, complaining loudly at being so mistreated. Once fed, he satisfied himself with the occasional sotto voce curse.

Although the power had been out for several hours already, I didn't bother looking for the candles I keep stored over the bathroom sink. I was confident that Oncor would have the electricity back on by morning at the latest. Yet another error in thinking.

I piled blankets and comforters on the bed and prepared for a long winter's night. The house wasn't as cold as I would have expected. I wondered out loud to Bob whether the snow might have an insulating effect. Just in case, I checked all six inside faucets to make certain they were dripping. The three outside faucets were already wrapped for the winter. The first smart thing I'd done.

The memory that stands out the most is the utter quiet. No appliances humming, no clocks ticking, no sounds filtering in from outside. It was completely silent.

Although I rarely wear pajamas, I did that night. Added a pullover top and a flannel jacket. Two pair of socks.

Toasty warm under the blankets, I used my cell phone to call two friends. Thinking myself wise, I kept each call under twenty minutes to save my cell bars.

By 8:45, I was ready for sleep. I didn't even want to leave my cozy nest for the bathroom. With Bob curled up next to me, I dozed off.

Sometime after 11:00 PM, that potty break was no longer optional. The cold tile of the bathroom floor made my toes forget the two pair of thick socks I wore. After turning the faucet on, I stuck my hands under the tap. An echo from the water pipe was my only reward.

No water.

In an instant, I went from complacency to panic. The reality of the situation struck hard. No land line, no power, no water. A car stuck in a snowbank. Memories of a slip on ice in my sloping yard during February seven years earlier flooded back. Four broken bones in the left leg, two operations and two months in rehab. No way was I going to be walking around outside in this weather.

I was as terrified as if I’d found myself snowbound in a log cabin alone on a remote mountainside!

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