>Ridin’ the Storm Out

by jvaragona

>These are strange times in St. Louis.

On Wednesday, I had finished a 200+ mile route for my new job right before the storm hit. I really just noticed the sky of black moving my way overhead when I made it to the office in West St. Louis County. I still had to finish some paperwork and make copies before I could leave. The only person left in the office was my supervisor, who was staying to collect my work. The strong winds came in pretty fast, but I still thought we had time to get out of there. Not even ten minutes after I arrived, the power shut down. I laughed and paced, because that’s how I cope. We waited for the elecricity to return, so we could finish the work. It did, but just enough to tease us. I kept looking outside at the business park I was in. Parts of trees and random trash were flying by. It was very amusing.

I don’t feel comfortable with severe weather in the county. For some reason, the city avoids serious damage and tornadic activity a lot more than the county around here. Anyway, the building I was in was talking. It was creaking and whistling to the point that I thought there was a good chance of my first tornado. My supervisor gave me a candle that smelled nice. I would have rather been at home though. My dog was there alone in a kennel awaiting my arrival. The supe had to make calls to find out procedure for what to do if the building were to blow away. We were told to go hang out in an office with windows. Seriously. Their reasoning was that the walls of that office were still made of cinder blocks unlike the rest of the building. I didn’t buy it, but I was simply going with the flow. It was only my fourth day on this job, so I wanted to make a good impression.

Then the rains finally came. I watched through the narrow windows at the cloud formations moving by fairly quickly and the sheets of precipitation dumping out. It was obvious the power wouldn’t come back anytime soon. The supe called the higher ups and communicated that we were going to run for it. It takes fine management skills to decide to leave once the rain hits. We did though. The walk to my car 30 feet from the door was enough to soak me.

The drive home was interesting. I had no idea what lay ahead or behind me. The rain in my path though, was enough to cut visibility down considerably. Half of the cars on the highway had their flashers on. Since I don’t trust my own driving, especially in weather such as that, I followed suit. Some of the vehicles swayed in the wind. I could feel the wind pushing my car, but it just added an element of fun to the drive. Most of the cars were keeping a safe speed and distance, so I didn’t have to worry. The shoulder did contain a few results of those that weren’t being so careful.

About halfway through my drive, the rain calmed down a tad. The sky turned a bright orange from the sun setting and the storm exiting. Fittingly, “Ridin’ the Storm Out” by REO Speedwagon came on the radio, so I cranked it up. I am always a fan of mood music, even though I hate REO.

When I got home, the blocks leading up to it were riddled with tree branches and sometimes entire trees. I noticed two streets blocked off entirely by single trees. Of course, considering my luck as of late, our power was out when I reached the homestead, and at this point two nights later, it still is out. Interestingly enough, people three doors down and on somehow have their power. Ameren, the utility company here, gave themselves a 3-5 day window to clean this mess up, but a storm earlier today just added more to their statistics. As I write this, 500,000 homes are without power in this area.

I took Sadie, my boxer, for a walk through the neighborhood since she had been cooped up in the kennel thoughout the madness. Trees blocked our path several times. At the corner of our block, a man’s shed had been torn to pieces and thrown all over the street. This was certainly the worst storm damage I have ever seen first hand. And it is easily the longest I have ever gone without electricity.

The first night, I tried toughing it out with the windows open to the breeze of the 90 degree night air. Sadie and I made it though the night while the wife worked the graveyard shift, but we smelled like blooming onions by daybreak and had a fine layer of greasy sweat on us. My wife made the decision for us to move in with my folks and that’s where I will rest my head again tonight. At least we aren’t camping out on our porch like some people.

Today when I tried venturing out for work, disabled traffic signals made for long waits at intersections. I drove past 4 gas stations before I could find one with power. This is insane. The storm today helped the heat wave dissipate for a bit while we wait on all of these shortages and outages.

The National Guard is in town now to knock on doors to check on folks and give out water and cookies. I guess that beats suicide bombers and living in the deserts of the Mid East. Witnessing giant camoflaged vehicles parading through the city was a strange sight for me. I saw two caravans as I drove around today. The boys were decked out in full uniform. That makes this official disaster control. It makes me feel special. I only wish we were staying in our darkened apartment so the Guard would offer us goodies and a chance to stay in an air conditioned building that they refer to as “cooling centers” in these parts.

So the question of choice in St. Louis has gone from “Where did you go to High School?” to “Do you have power?”

Strange times indeed.

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