Seattle had a mighty windstorm last Thursday night. Which explains why I haven’t posted here since then. Gusts reached 80 miles per hour and 110 miles per hour in the Cascades. By 1 AM Friday, 1-million people in the greater Seattle area had lost power. As I write this, 200,000 of those folks remain without power over four days later. 8 people have died, many from carbon monoxide poisoning from heaters or generators which leaked fumes into their living quarters. A Madison Valley resident who was a famous voice for audio books died trapped in her basement from a freak flood which jammed her door shut and prevented her escape.
On Thursday night around 10:30 PM, I heard an enormous crack. It’s hard to describe the sound since it was like nothing I’d ever heard before. Suffice to say, it was loud and powerful. So much so that I left my nice warm house to venture out into the 35 degree night cold to see if I could tell anything more about what had happened. I couldn’t. A few days later I heard from a neighbor that a tree had fallen down on the corner of another neighbor’s house. After viewing the tree, I estimate it was somewhere close to 80 feet or higher. It could easily have come down smack in the middle of the roof. Instead, it merely sliced off a tiny fraction of the corner edge of the house and a small portion of two balconies. But the tree did down the electric line between two poles in front of the house. The home where this happened had recently been remodeled into one of those gargantuan suburban compounds that high tech entrepreneurs seem to be so fond of in Seattle these days. Seeing how close the downed tree was to the new house I couldn’t help but wonder whether perhaps in the regrading process on the steep hill on which this property sits, some soil had been removed around the tree or even that a set of roots might’ve been severed to accomodate the new house. Needless to say, I don’t have much sympathy with people who have such edifice complexes. Though I have no idea whether the downing of the tree was a natural or a man-made catastrophe.
I am convinced of one thing: that the damage caused by this tree to the power line contributed to the enormous delay in getting power restored to our neighborhood. I might be wrong about this. But if I was a betting man, I’d say it contributed.
It was a horrific storm. One that I will always remember. And I won’t remember it because of the sheer frightening force of the wind. It seems to me I’ve lived through storms as strong. It was the aftermath that was so frightening and unnverving. Trees went down everywhere. Big trees. 135 foot trees. Trees that don’t normally come down. Hearty natives like Douglas Fir and Madronas that are used to this climate and were meant to take the punishment meted out by our rough winters.
The reason we lost so many trees is that we’ve had an absolutely sodden fall and winter. Rain everywhere. Rain all the time. Actually, I’m exaggerating but only slightly. Heavy wind without rain will not harm trees here. But awesome amounts of rain soaking their way into the soil separate the roots from the medium. When you add 60-80 mile per hour winds, that’s when you get the worst windstorm in Seattle history.
Seattle City Light has worked valiantly (at least they seem to have) to bring back power. They’ve called on crews as far away as Wisconsin and from states like Oregon, California and Nevada. But it’s been slow going. We only got our power back on early this morning after nearly four days of frigid cold (temperatures outside sunk into the high 20s). We stayed at a cousins’ house since Friday night. They were heroic, valiant and generous to house us. Life couldn’t been sheer misery without their mercy. But with twin 2 year olds and a five year old, it becomes old fast. Not the cousins’ or their home, but not being in one’s own home.
My five year old reacted valiantly to our distress. He loves our friends’ 11 year old daughter, Rose, and they had a blast. Rose also “adopted” our 2 year old boy. He followed her obediently around the house and tried doing everything she did. Adin had a grand old time. But our daughter Miriam had a harder time. I think she’s more attuned to my wife’s and my moods and senses when we’re under stress (me especially). It could be that she had such a hard time because I found this experience so stressful.
Anyway, the first night we put Miriam and Adin in side by side cribs. But she cried like there was no tomorrow. To prevent her waking up Adin, we had to go get her. This is a fatal mistake under normal conditions since you’re likely not to get such a child back to sleep–or certainly not easily. Once we got her up, we tried nursing her to make her calmer. That didn’t work. Then we gave her a choice: sleep at our cousins’ nice, warm house with Mommy & Daddy; or go back to our home and sleep without Mommy in a freezing cold house (with Daddy). I was slightly shocked, but not terribly surprised that she chose to go back home. My 2 year old girl is a homebody, a domestic goddess. She really preferred her own crib in 42 degree weather to sleeping in someone else’s house.
I took her home and we slept alone in our house. I covered her in a six layer down comforter. She lay down to sleep and drifted off without a peep. Except for a short crying spell at 5:20 AM, she didn’t wake up again till 8:45AM. I was amazed. But when I woke up it was so cold that just walking around the house made her shiver. She mournfully said to me: “Daddy cold.” It broke my heart. So I bundled her up in her coat and we drove back to our friends’ house.
Later that day, Miriam wouldn’t take a nap. So my wife had to drive her around and she slept for an hour. For the next night, we determined that we wouldn’t repeat the night before. We’d put Adin and Miriam in separate rooms and let them cry it out till they put themselves to sleep. This was the lowest point of the entire heatless experience for me. I cannot stand hearing my babies cry uncontrollably. It somehow unnerves me. I become a combination of deeply depressed and deeply frustrated. IF you add to this our complete inability to control our environment and provide them with heat–I felt like the worst father I could imagine.
With them still crying themselves to sleep, I drove back to our house to pick up a few items we needed. Knowing how disturbed I was, my wife called to tell me they’d cried themselves to sleep. But I somehow felt so emotionally overwrought, I took little comfort from this.
But by the next morning, our host called our home answering machine and wonder of wonders, it picked up, meaning we had power once again. By the time we’d loaded up our car with the detritus of a four day stay with cousins and got home, around 10:30 AM the house was at a wondrous 66 degrees. All seemed right with the world. Well, at least all seemed much better with the world.
Seattleites have reacted to this disaster in typically magnanimous ways. I’m from New York. I don’t feel as magnanimous. A KBCS DJ today dedicated a series of upbeat Zydeco songs to the hardworking road crews attempting to get power restored for the thousands who remain without power. I was amazed at the sheer generosity and patience of his dedication. Being from New York, my first impulse is not to thank Seattle City Light. My first impulse is to ask why it too ’em so long. Do 150,000 Seattle city residents have to lose power in such a storm? And should 15,000 of them remain without power four days later? If you call the utility’s hotline should they be able to give you something more than vague generalities? And if you call your City Council member, Nick Licata, as I did–wouldn’t you think with the city facing one of its worst storms on record, he would’ve made some provision to accept weekend calls from constituents in need of his help. Why would the City Council treat this wicked weekend as a typical leisurely few days off? Why couldn’t they have offered people a help line to call if they couldn’t have actually been in their offices to take constituent calls? I thought it was low of them to leave their constituents in the lurch like this.
I have to say that my personal experience during the storm and its aftermath took a little of that magical shine off the city. I had a few encounters that were downright rude with my fellow residents. For a city that prides itself on tolerance, easy-goingness and a live and let live mentality, that’s not the way I found a few of my fellow residents. On Saturday, I pulled into the Arco station at Jefferson and 12th Ave. I saw that everyone seemed to be forming a double line to get to two islands. But no one seemed to be using a third island. In order to access the island, I needed to turn my car around which I did. The gas station attendant came screaming at me and refused me service. He claimed there were only two lines available and that I wasn’t allowed to turn my car around (which I’d already done and was at the pump). There were no signs saying what the attendant claimed.
I drove off, resolving to call Arco’s regional office to complain about being denied service. I promptly drove across the 520 bridge to the 76 Station at the first Bellevue (Clyde Hill) east bound exit. There folks were easily and politely turning around their cars when they needed access to their gas tank on a different side of the vehicle. No one was being turned away. Everyone was cool. What a difference it made going to the eastside for gas.
On Friday night, our friends took us to the 5 Spot for dinner. We had a 6 PM reservation. We ordered and received our appetizers in a timely fashion. But our main courses hadn’t arrived 65 minutes after we ordered them. That’s when my 2 year old “spirited child” decided he’d had enough of sitting at a table patiently for food that didn’t come. He took off up and down the restaurant’s aisles with me in tow. He’d run all the way to one end of the restaurant ending up under the bar TV, which enthralled him. Then, he’d make a break in the opposite direction passing through the serving area just outside the kitchen and mounting the steps to the upper back room. He’d take one look at what everyone was doing there and then swing back, reversing his tracks to the bar. About the third or fourth time he did this, the manager came running up behind me and told me she couldn’t have my son under foot, endangering himself and his servers and possibly causing an accident. I told her the only reason he was doing this was that her kitchen hadn’t served food we’d ordered over an hour before. She told me the food was coming “in a few minutes.” Twenty minutes earlier, our waiter had told us our food would arrive in “a few minutes.” I was skeptical. But even more, I was angry that a manager of a family restaurant would mistreat a 2 year old customer who, through no fault of his own, had reached his own threshold of tolerance for waiting.
When the food didn’t arrive in “a few minutes” she sent out a single fruit plate with a slice of orange and two strawberries. She, of course, had never dealt with a two year old and didn’t realize that feeding him alone wasn’t going to fix the problem. The problem was that my “spirited child” wouldn’t sit still unless everyone at the table was eating their food along with him. What he was looking for was a communal meal that would occupy his attention and his appetite. He wasn’t interested in individual service for him alone.
The manager warned me that if my 2 year old was found in the bar area she could receive a $500 fine. It seemed to me that these were arguments she’s used on other families with 2 year olds before. And they seemed preposterous. The 5 Spot has a bar with no physical separation from its restaurant. How could you possibly expect to keep the bar minor-free without a physical barrier preventing a child from entering it? Her excuse struck me as the kind of argument you get from someone who’s not trying to meet you halfway, but trying to come up with reasons to justify her own pre-conceived ideas of how a 2 year old should behave.
All this being said, I completely understand her position in the sense that it wasn’t the most ideal situation to have a 2 year old walking through the aisles of this restaurant under those conditions. The restaurant became crowded just after we arrived and this had undoubtedly slowed service considerably. Also, the crush was caused by all the other folks like us who were without power and looking for a restaurant that would serve them a warm meal. It was no doubt a difficult, hectic night for both the manager and us. I could see her point and the reason for her concern–but only to a point. What SHE didn’t seem to see was that her kitchen caused the predicament. Without the 65 minute wait, my son would’ve been a model citizen.
Most similar situations I’ve found myself in–notably on crowded airline flights–the staff tries to be patient and works with you. Considering that we were a family with three small children who were in exile from our freezing home, you’d think she couldn’t exhibited a bit more patience and understanding of our predicament. But she didn’t. What I think she should’ve done as soon as she found an inordinate delay in serving customers–was to tell each table that because of the crush there would be some service delay. If we’d known this early enough, we could’ve either left and found another restaurant; or decided to stay and been prepared for the delay. As it was, since we never heard such a warning we didn’t know when our food was coming. We just kept waiting in hopes that it would arrive soon.
Finally, my wife took our boy outside (29 degrees by the way) and ran with him up and down the street for some time. By then, then food was served. I took one look at my dish, realized how frustrated I felt with the restaurant, and told the waiter (who’d provided us pretty decent service considering the constraints he faced) that I wouldn’t be eating. I asked him to remove my main course from the bill. I could tell he wasn’t terribly happy with me, but I think he understood why since he’d heard my altercation with his boss. We bagged up our food and left.
Our cousins live in the neighborhood and like this restaurant. I felt badly that things went so wrong for my family on this night. I could tell that my wife’s cousins wished that I somehow could see my way to sitting down and letting the incident blow over. But being from New York, I don’t brook combative restaurant service especially well. And I especially don’t like my 2 year old placed in the position of bearing the brunt of a manager’s displeasure especially when it is not his fault.
So I vow I will not return to the 5 Spot. I’ll be calling the chain of which it is a part to inform them about my experience. You’d think that the 5 Spot’s manager would have had a bit more patience and generosity of spirit considering the conditions under which we customers were living at that particular moment.
A few practical lessons I’ve learned from this: do not throw out that simply old telephone that plugs directly into the phone jack. If you lose power but don’t lose telephone service, the only way to maintain a land line is with such a hopelessly out of date phone. All your cordless wonders will die in hours. Leaving you with only your cell phone, which also will die in hours unless you can find some way to recharge it.
I also admire immensely people who’ve created alternative energy sources through solar panels on their roof or other solutions. When you lose power and are totally reliant on your electric utility to restore it, energy independence becomes a godsend.
And now we’re off to Thursday to visit grandma in Florida planned months ago. You’d think we should have our heads examined for tempting the fates. Either our kids will be model citizens because of their “practice” in the windstorm; or they will be sheer misery after having suffered through their previous experience and not wanting to venture forth from their nice warm home on a 10 hour plane trip. Me, I’m just hoping for mercy. A nice calm trip. But with three young ones, may one even dare hope for such serentiy??