10/30/12 (Day 1)

There’s nothing much to do but write when the power’s out, is there? This is the way I often wish my life were – simple and focused. Enough time to finish a task without sacrificing the tiddles and crosses. It’s not so much that I’m unable to do this under normal circumstances, but I am too much a slave to distraction, not unlike gripping a live wire and having your muscles lock in place. For the time being, this storm has shaken me free.

There’s no power. We have a few key things that have mitigated the experience a bit – a wired phone, working water and gas, a battery powered radio, candles and flashlights, and a lot of canned foods. I’m imagining the frozen meats in the freezer losing their chill already, despite it being in the 30s tonight without heat. Going to cook as much of that meat as possible tomorrow so it’ll keep longer, but I suspect a lot of it will have to be thrown out anyhow.

We heard on the radio that about 2.4 million homes are without power across New Jersey, and we’re the lucky ones. Houses along the shore have been washed out by 3-foot waves. I’m heartbroken for those who’ve suffered, but it’s been a great miracle that there were less than ten reported casualties. Though, that number will probably go up as the week progresses. They predict that the majority of the power will be back up in about ten days’ time, but the proper cleanup will take much, much longer.

The entire residential area of South Edison is in a blackout. I stopped by my sister’s house this morning, just to check up on her family before hitting the road. No damage to her house aside from a few missing shingles and a small tree that had crushed her fence gate. She told me that the Office Depot down the highway had power and that people were stationing themselves at the display office desks to do work. I was kind of dubious about the idea of doing the same, but my own laptop was out of juice and it was my only lead toward recharging.

On my way down Route 1, I was surprised to see that many stores along the strip were open and had power. It was a sign of relief – we could still get “fresh” food in case our fridge/freezer supplies had to go into the dumpster. All of the gas stations were mobbed by cars, but many opted to walk or bike to get around. It’s the safer option, considering how many traffic lights are out.

I first stopped by a Staples, which was closer than the Office Depot, but they were closed. That didn’t stop me from using their wifi on my phone though – just long enough to send out messages letting people know that I was safe. When I got to Office Depot around 1:30pm, things were fairly quiet. Most of the commotion was coming from Home Depot on the other end of the shopping plaza. I walked in, and nothing really seemed out of the ordinary. I asked the manager – Steve – if I could charge my things, and he directed me to the back of the store where the office chairs and desks were. There were already a few people there charging their phones and on their laptops, but it wasn’t as crowded as I expected it to be. Power + Internet = Score…

I spent some time there charging my laptop and phone up to full while I finished up the latest draft of my thesis. I finished early and sent it off to my professor, though I don’t expect her to get back to me about it anytime soon. We were supposed to have a class tonight, but Kean’s twitter feed mentioned mass power outages. I probably could’ve guessed that when I tried to log into their website only to be denied connection. My sister and nephew arrived to join me at this point so that they could do some work, make some calls, and finish some homework (respectively). I had enough mind to buy an external power supply for my phone, some LED lights, batteries, and an XL box of Junior Mints while I was there. I charged up my laptop and phone to 100%, but only got the external power to about 25% before the manager asked us nicely to start packing things up, because more people had come in to use their outlets and things were getting a bit out of hand. It was getting dark anyway.

I went back home and took a painfully ice-cold shower. Feeling numb and planque (that mean “stiff” for the uninitiated), I slipped under the sheets with my laptop and started typing.

I don’t think I’ll go back to Office Depot tomorrow. As nice as they were, I don’t want to overstay my welcome. I wanted to head to Piscataway today, but my sister mentioned that it was probably hit harder than Edison. I may head down there tomorrow anyway. If the Stelton Road strip has power, I know I’ll be able to recharge my things and eke out some more internet. I don’t want to raise those hopes just yet though.

For now, I at least can look forward to some podcasts I downloaded earlier. Then time to get some shut-eye. This will be the first night in a while that I’ll be sleeping before midnight.

10/31/12 (Day 2)

I got up early this morning, and after eating some lackluster soup, I decided I couldn’t wait until after lunch to head down to Piscataway. I knew that there were restaurants open, so I would eat out for lunch if I could help it. I decided to bring my camera along this time, despite the low battery.


Charging my phone and battery in the car

I noticed that just about every gas station was closed. There were a couple still open, and the streets and highways that fed into them caused block-long traffic jams. In addition to the cars lining up, there were scores of people hovering around the pumps, each with an empty red gas tank. If the police weren’t there, tensions might’ve escalated pretty quickly. It took me a while to find detours around these clogs, but I managed my way to the main shopping strip down Stelton Road. I was again surprised to see that a good bunch of shops and restaurants still had power.

Everything I did after that, up until lunch, was probably a waste of time. I cruised by Panera Bread, but I could easily see that the place was packed to the brim. Went by Starbucks – the same. Looking back, I didn’t know what I was expecting. I decided to head back across town, only to Route 1 North, but found that power was still out around the farther reaches around Menlo Park Mall. It was close to lunchtime by then, so I decided to double-back and head to a Wendy’s that I knew was positively open, only to realize that blockaded sections of Route 1 prevented me from getting onto that side of the highway without driving for who knows how far.

I gave up on Route 1, and was ready to head back to Piscataway, but by pure luck, I saw that my favorite pizza place in Edison – Franco’s – was open and serving up a full house. They were tossing dough around like a… (let me just stop that joke right there). As I waited in line, the phone rang off the hook with orders until Franco finally told them to just stop answering it. I asked them how long it’d be for a pie. Twenty-five to thirty minutes? No problem.

As I was waiting, I listened in on a conversation between an NJ Transit technician, a couple of NJPD officers, and a retired NYPD cop. This was the worst natural disaster they’d experienced, but the overall recovery effort wasn’t going too badly. There were a bunch of fights started over gas though. Just when I thought Franco had forgotten about my order, they came up with my large plain pizza. I tipped them a 5-spot. Opening the box at home, I found the pie hastily misshapen and chewy (as in the texture, not the wookie). Not at all up to Franco’s standards, but I’ll let them slide this time, considering they were nuts enough to be open at all on a day like this.

On a full stomach, I wandered out again to find power and internet. I still didn’t want to make a bad name for myself down at Office Depot, so I headed back to the Centennial Ave shopping district. I had to park at the far reaches of the lot because of traffic. On foot, I passed by Lowes and saw a block-long line waiting at the main entrance. They were selling generators one-by-one at around $800 each. I made a note of getting one myself… but not today.

I kept going until I was back in front of Panera. It was still packed, but I still found myself waiting ten minutes in line at the prospect of a chai tea latte. So as not to squander the opportunity, I got a salad for later as well. Which is ironic, because after I left Panera, I drove across Centennial to settle into Salad Works, where they had open seating and ample power strip space. There was no internet, but I was happy enough to charge my laptop and do a little bit of writing. It was around this time that I found my Sprint service to be up and running again, so I called a few friends to check up.

It was getting dark by the time I got back home with my two salads. (Hey, I felt bad about just sitting there at Salad Works, sucking up power without buying anything.) Just as I sat down to eat, and thought about how dreadful that cold shower would be tonight, the lights, heater, everything came back to life. I was expecting to go much longer without power. Major props to the utility companies for coming through so quickly. Decided not to cook all the meat after all – the thought of doing so seems kind of silly in retrospect.


Schools shut down

I have to start thinking about how I’m going to contact my students’ parents, and how I’m going to gather learning materials without internet. I tried calling while I was at Salad Works, but no answers. My sister told me that Edison schools will be closed for the rest of the week, and I’m not sure if libraries will be open any sooner. On my agenda tomorrow: make another effort to call out again, survey libraries, and find internet.

For now: hot shower.

11/1/12 (Day 3)

I went for a walk this morning, more so to preserve gas than to get exercise. I hoofed it down to the Edison library, assuming that it would be up and running since we got power back the other night. I had my camera with me and snapped a few more pictures as I waded through the debris along the back roads. It wasn’t as bad as the other day; many of the huge uprooted trees I saw fallen had been sliced up and hauled away. The streets were fairly quiet, as I expected more people to be outside and cleaning up. Since power had been restored to many parts of town, I just assumed that today picked up as though it were a regular work day.


Fallen tree

I found the library open when I got there. Open and packed. “NO WIFI” and “COMPUTERS ARE DOWN – CHECK OUTS AND RETURNS ONLY” said a couple of signs stuck to the glass door. There went my hopes of finding easy internet today. At least I could meet with one of my students. I didn’t stick around – I was more interested in lunch at this point.


Street debris

I stopped by H-Mart on my way back for coffee and a sandwich. I checked my phone for the time and was shocked to see that my 3G was working. My inbox was flooded with new emails. I got out a couple of emails to my distant brother & sister to let them know that we were okay. Just as I’d finished hitting send on my message to my brother, the data signal went out again. I wandered around the food court, pointing my phone skyward like an idiot. No luck. I finished eating and went home.

After a little bit of downtime, I gathered my bundle of student folders and went back to the library by car this time. Spent a couple of hours grading and planning until my student came by. She was a trooper for coming out. During our tutoring time, Chuck wandered by.

His name’s not really Chuck, I just refer to him as Chuck because I don’t know his real name. He somehow knows my name though – maybe overheard it the many times he’s seen me at the library. He’s middle aged, always grinning, and walks with a bit of a waddle. Has a very Western European look about him. I’m not sure exactly what it is, but he has some form of mild mental handicap. He hobbled up to the Asian couple sitting one table over from us and began speaking to them from the middle of the conversation rather than the beginning, as he always does. Because why waste time with pleasantries?

“Hi. ‘Yum cha’ means drink tea right? Yeah. I know another one too. (*something incomprehensible*) How do you say ‘drink soda’? Do you always come here? Will you be here tomorrow? Okay, goodbye.”

He then walked by my table.

“Hi Raymond.”

How ya doing buddy.

“Yeah.”

We don’t need to say much because we’re tight like that.

I finished up with my student, and then picked up to head to Metuchen for another. On my way down Route 27, I hit a mile-long stretch of traffic, which turned out to be a still-open Costco gas station. There was no way I was going to get in, so I just kept on rolling. When I got to the Metuchen Library it turned out to be closed. It was all the same – I called the kiddo’s dad and it turned out that he was stuck waiting in line at a gas station. I wasted a good bit of gas there, but it couldn’t be helped. I headed back home to get something cooking.

Would’ve had to drive way out to West Jersey for a few more students tomorrow, but my gas levels are getting kind of iffy. I called them up and found out that power still hadn’t been restored in that area. We canceled for this week, thankfully. Tomorrow, I’ll be able to get some proper editing work done.

At this point, using my car is a luxury. Tomorrow, I’ll grease the chain and pump up the tires on my bike, and peddle out like I used to. Now that I think about it, sounds kind of dangerous with all that’s going on. Then again, the danger level probably isn’t much higher than biking alongside NJ drivers on any normal day.

11/2/12 (Day 4)

I degreased and re-greased by bike this morning but was hesitant about going out in the frigid weather. I decided to wait until after lunch, when it would be a little warmer and I’d have some more food in me to burn. My legs were going to ache by the end of the day. As I headed out and came to the end of my street, I saw Mrs. Gage, my former grammar school teacher, piling suitcases on the steps of her front door. She explained that her daughter, who lives out in Point Pleasant, was washed out by eight feet of flooding. Mrs. Gage invited them to come live in her house while she was going to visit her other daughter in California for a week. This is as good a time as any to take a mini vacation I guess.

I rode back to the library to get some work done. I only brought my laptop, my phone, and student folders with me to keep things light. After finishing another chunk of grading and lesson planning, I started on some editorial work. Internet still hadn’t been restored at the library, which made it impossible to log my work hours or update my file archive, but I could still work on things that were already downloaded to my Dropbox, and I could clock my time the old fashioned way – with punch cards pen and paper. I could talk with my buddies intermittently through my phone’s sputtering 3G. They tried to help me by looking up a status update on the missing cable TV and internet, but there was very little news coverage about it. I did what little work I could before having to head back into the cold. Leaving the library, I saw Chuck hobbling away from the library, down the sidewalk toward the shopping plaza. It reminded me that I had to stop by Pathmark.

I remembered seeing that the store was open on Tuesday, the morning after the storm. Things were pretty tame when I got there. After hearing from my friend earlier that he was running low on food because the grocery stores were still without power in his area, I half expected my Pathmark to be at the mercy of a mob, like the gas stations were. It was the opposite – a vacant parking lot. It was pretty clear that the entire strip was without power, but Pathmark was running on generators. A lot of the fresh produce – fish, meat, dairy, and bread – were gone. The entire refrigerated section was sealed off, but I just stopped by to pick up some mouth wash and cough drops, which were still in ample supply. Afterwards, I went home to prepare the rest of my lessons for the weekend.

Not having to go out to Barnards today was a relief; it probably would have taken up the rest of my fuel. Tomorrow, I’ll have to drive the manageable distance to New Brunswick. Not having internet has limited my ability to reach my vocabulary lists on Quizlet.com, but I otherwise haven’t had problems getting the teaching materials locally off my computer.

Later in the evening, tried my 3G again, and was able to bring up some web pages, though very slowly. I Googled for an update on the internet situation. Nothing. Cablevision/Optimum Online is just keeping us in the dark for now.

11/3 – 11/4/12 (Days 5&6)

The Governor imposed gas rationing over the weekend. Cars with plates ending in an even number can visit gas stations on even number days, and odd numbers on odd days. I decided to wait it out with a quarter tank left, hoping things would clear up with the start of a new week.

All my Saturday students were set for tutoring, though half of them came to the library with their laptops hoping for a working internet signal. No such luck. The only luxuries there were heat, power, and an unflooded bathroom. One of them had emailed me an essay to review on the day of the hurricane, but all I had for them was a sheepish apology.

Note to self: download that essay.

My 4:30 was down in New Brunswick, and I was eager to drive down there to see if the gas and internet situations were any better. On the way, I saw the gas rationing in effect. Some gas stations were open in Highland Park (my neighboring town), and the lines looked much more manageable than they did the other day. I felt the urge to stop there later, on my way back, but it would be too late.

The part of New Brunswick where my student was, around Collage Ave and the Rutgers campus, is more urban than my town, and on the surface, it faired the hurricane a little better. There weren’t any dark traffic lights, knocked down traffic lamps, or uprooted trees. Later, my student would regale me with the harrowing tale of how he spent hours at a time scooping water out of his basement with his dad on the night of the storm, and continuing two days afterwards. Unfortunately, the pump in their basement had broken. Somehow he seemed haggard and au fait as he explained it all. He told me that the experience allowed him to get to know his father more, and now he feels closer to him.

Today, I had one student cancel due to being stuck in Brooklyn. From what I hear, those tunnels and bridges have it bad, the bridges more so because of traffic, but the tunnels because they’re flooded. This meant that I had time to head to Barnes & Noble to rummage for NJ ASK books.

I headed out that way in the afternoon, and saw that some gas stations along Route 1 were also open with manageable lines. Not exactly a short wait, but people were no longer queuing across two whole highway lanes. I couldn’t get gas today though – my plates identified me as an “odd person”. This put me at the risk of wasting gas heading down to the mall, because I saw it without power just three days earlier, but it was in the general area of my students for the day and thought it wouldn’t be that much of a loss. Lucky for me, the entire mall was powered and open for business. I had less luck finding the books I wanted; I don’t like the Barron’s series of workbooks. I decided to wait and order some online instead. Not one to waste an opportunity though, I shuffled over to the Fiction/Sci-fi section to see the new arrivals. Bought a hardcover of Romeo Spikes by Joanne Reay, which I am currently using to prop my laptop up as I type this.

I spent a little bit of time at the Metuchen library after I left B&N, stopping by just to check up on the place. The power had been restored there, but the internet was still down. While there, I overheard someone mentioning that Hess has worked out an agreement with the governor in which they would supply as much gas as he wanted to competing gas stations. I wonder what Hess got in return. It wasn’t long until I had to leave to meet with my students a few blocks down. I spent the rest of the afternoon and early evening helping them look up college entrance writing requirements. One of them was applying to Kean, and I had the funny thought of possibly seeing them on campus one evening. (But by then I will have finished my thesis.)

When I got home in the evening, I ate, washed up (still appreciating the hot water), and cradled my new book until I turned in for the night. A gritty story about a washed up prison psychiatrist with some kind of scheme in the making. Why can’t I think up cool story ideas like that?

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