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Good news... humans still live here!

by: Ralph Reardon

It was certainly one of the most miserable days that we've seen here in sunny Charlotte, NC.  Normal December temperatures generally hover in the upper 50's to low 60's and are even occasionally known to be 70 degrees or more. 

With the wind picking up, the temperatures dropping into the 20's and one of those huge weather map green blobs heading right for us, things really don't get a whole lot menacing than they looked on December 4th.  

Admittedly, Charlotte isn't the panic city that it used to be when we moved here in '85.  Back then, we thought it quite comical that schools would close at the threat of snow, bread and milk shelves would clear out at the first flake, and people would close shop and head home to burrow in for a small flurry.  Only the shelves get cleared now.  I've heard it said that the folks at Wonder Bread Company actually begin to salivate upon hearing the word "snow".

Though a long time resident of the area, I've spent many long winters in Wisconsin and some old habits still kick in.  If you live in the land of white and slippery, some things are just taken for granted.  You can depend on the salt and slag trucks to be out preparing for a blast, you plan to get up early to dig out, firewood is brought inside, and you might even think about heading for the gas station, just so that you won't have to do it tomorrow.

Little (or big for that matter) weather blobs don't mean all that much to northern folks.  It's something that you just get used to because you have to.  But to us that reside in the south, it can mean some tough times.  The night of the 4th was the start of just such tough times.  

The story...

Our power went out about 11:30 on Wednesday night and it looked like it could be a long time till we got it back.  The forecast was bad and we'd been 11 days without power after hurricane Hugo hit in 1989.  We learned back then that when the power really goes out, you'd better be prepared for the long haul.

By the time the power went out, we'd done most of those normal things that you are supposed to do if you expect the power to go out and stay out for awhile.  The fridge and freezer temperatures had been lowered substantially, I'd turned the heat up to give us a few more degrees, done the dishes, charged up the cell phones, found the candles and flashlights, taken that last hot shower and filled up the kerosene container earlier in the day.

Still, the completely dark sky let me know that most of Charlotte was in about the same condition that we were.  It can take quite some time to get that much power restored and it's only the luck of the draw as to when you get your power turned back on.  I'm betting that someone at Duke Power company has an ex-wife in this neighborhood because we seem to be the first to go and the last ones to get it back again.

Cutting to the chase, we were one of the lucky ones this time.  We only lost power for about a day.  Others, even in Charlotte, didn't get their power back for nearly 10 days.  

Different people... different reactions

I can imagine that people's actions and reactions in times of horrific challenges will run the available gamut from the horrible to the sublime.  After 9/11/01, I often wondered how people in Charlotte would have reacted in similar circumstances.  Would we have the same kind of heroes, would there be the selfless giving and sacrifice for people that we don't know?  Would we honor or disgrace ourselves through our conduct?  Would we come together as New Yorkers did, or would we let it drive us apart.

I still can't say completely.  I wouldn't dream to compare a few days of power outages and being cold to the terrorist attacks.  Until you go through such an ordeal, you probably don't know about yourself, much less your neighbor.  Perhaps the only thing that can be done is to take a look at how people act in times of trouble and see if it's going in the right direction.

New York probably had its thugs who took advantage of the situation though we didn't hear about them in North Carolina.  We certainly have some.  I was standing outside on my back porch just gazing over the neighborhood only to spot one neighbor quietly back up into my driveway and start loading his trunk with firewood... no lights of course.  But I'll leave it up to mainstream media to spend all day talking about the one deviant instead of the thousands of people who went out of their way to help someone else.

Through my limited vision of Charlotte, what I saw was countless numbers of people helping each other and wherever they could.  Fixing meals, sharing heat sources, giving of their homes and themselves.  I could write volumes about the things that I saw.  Neighbors helped neighbors, phones were busy checking on others.  Afterwards, people helped each other clean up the broken limbs and trees.

I'd like to think that Charlotte residents would help each other in times of real big trouble though proving that point one way or another isn't tops on my priority.  We got a little taste of it here this last week and that's about all my curiosity demands for the time being.  

How about doing it again sometime?

There will probably be more than a few Charlotte residents that will disagree with me on this point, but I don't mind seeing an occasional power outage that wreaks a little bit of havoc.  

It reminds me just a little that our humanity isn't dead, it lets us know and gives us the opportunity to let others know that we're cared for, it helps us meet our neighbors, and it's good training for our kids to see us take care of other people.  

In the offing, it may also just remind us that playing Battleship or rummy with our family and friends is a great alternative to one more rerun episode of MASH.  That's a good thing too!

Going through tough times isn't what we generally choose to do.  But when we do, most of us come out the other side with a new appreciation of what we have and how much we need each other as humans.  Pitch in and you soon know how much good you can do, teaches us to communicate all over again, and trains our children to do the same thing.  Lets do this again sometime real soon.




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