Welcome to the book of the month club. It is not called that because there is a book coming every month, it is called that because it is how long it took me to write it. It took me two weeks to live it and two and a half to write it. Once I started writing it, I could not stop until I completed it. Be warned that it is long, you are unlikely to finish in one sitting. I’ll try not to do this again 🙂
The following is based on actual events,
Blackout: A Diary of Disaster
9pm- Sunday October 6
It is 9 pm and my phone rings. Actually, phones don’t ring anymore they “go off”, and if they are anything like mine the ringtone is some obnoxious sound combination that cannot be mistaken for any anything else but my phone “going off”. I look at the call display and it is my boss. My boss? On a Sunday night?? That does not happen… ever. My ‘spider-sense’ is tingling but I answer anyway.
“Hi, thanks for answering,” she says, “there’s been an incident.” She explains, I listen. I ask questions, she answers. Long story short… Another ‘sales monkey’ like myself, has sustained an injury (ISM), and my boss has no ‘relief monkeys’ (RM) to cover the ISM’s territory for the next week. Also, the truck that said ISM (injured sales monkey) uses to deliver his packaged goods, is 150km from where she needs it. She needs me, and my assistant sales monkey (ASM), to help her out if we can.
Why is this my problem you ask? Because my territory and ISM’s overlap. We are both centered out of a tumble-weed town in the Canadian prairies of 12,000 people. Our territories branch out from there into farm country, where there are smaller towns of fewer than a 1000 people speckled around the region. We also travel to the big city, to our product supply center (PSC) to fill our trucks, ISM twice a week and me three times a week. Between the two of us, we cover a lot of miles every week.
I also have some experience working these two territories at once. A decade ago, ISM fell out of a tree… 22 feet to the ground! Broke his leg! Crawled back to his vehicle through a ditch full of poison ivy and drove to the hospital!! I’m not making this up!!! ISM has a history of hurting himself. Not little hurts either but things that require stitches! I’ve been down this road before. I figure ASM and I can work out something.
I tell the boss I’ll get something figured out and call her in the morning. No day off for me.
It’s Honey’s birthday. I get out of bed, make coffee, put out her gift and head to the den. I contact the PSC and speak to the Ops boss (OB). I explain what has happened and that I will be coming in to get ISM’s orders and ask if his guys could also get my orders together a day early. I would put them both on one truck and save myself a trip the next day. I had scheduled maintenance for my truck the next two days and doing this would help my time crunch. “For you, no problem”, I am told. OB is solid.
I have a rough plan of what I want to accomplish over the next 6 days, and how I will go about it. My experience is a major help in planning, I don’t share the same sense of panic that my boss does. It makes it easier.
I ordered dinner (online) to be picked up between 4:30 and 5pm. Going out to dinner as I had planned, had gone out the window the night before. I then sent ASM a message.
“Have a problem. Will need you to work Wednesday. Will explain later.” In hindsight, I should have explained. ASM took this message wrong and instead of hurrying through his day, he took extra care and arrived at my home 90 minutes later than usual. It’s hard to run the world in 144 characters or less.
2:30pm- Monday October 7
ASM finally arrives. This is a regular occurrence every Monday. The customers in my territory get 7-day a week service. This is why there are two of us covering the area. We each get two days off. Mine are Sunday and Monday, his are Tuesday and Wednesday. It’s a simple schedule with one small hitch, we live 30kms apart and there is only one truck. Monday’s are truck switch-up day. ASM comes to my house and I drive him home. The truck is then in my driveway and ready to go for Tuesday.
I phoned the restaurant directly and changed the pick-up time to 6pm. Even this was wishful thinking. I explain to ASM what is happening as we set off to ISM’s home to get his truck. I tell him that he has Tuesday off, but I need him back Wednesday. Our truck will be out of commission for two half days to get a windshield replaced and its annual provincial safety inspection. This I had planned for weeks ago, adding an extra territory was a wrench in my plan but having a second truck at my disposal was a plus. I planned to take advantage of it. ASM agrees to be a willing participant in my planned mayhem.
Finally reach ISM’s home. Could this guy live any further away??? I have driven backroads travelling northwest, away from the PSC!! He lives in the woods near the lake, in amongst the trees. He takes being a monkey seriously!!
I send ASM on his way home with our truck and spend the next half hour listening to the sad story of how ISM got injured, and receiving information about his territory. I’m on the road to the PSC before 4pm. It took 40 minutes to get from ISM’s house to the Trans-Canada highway!! I’m still an hour away from the PSC!! This monkey lives further away from the office than I do!!!
I stop at the restaurant. I pay for the meal and tell them I should be back for 7pm. I hop back in ISM’s truck and head for the PSC.
5:20pm- Monday October 7
They are ready for me at the PSC. Like I say… OB is solid. Loading the truck though is a little slow since it must be organized to separate the two territories. By 6pm I must bite the bullet, and send Honey a message. I tell her I’m sorry but I won’t have dinner there until 8pm and if she wanted to eat, we could have the dinner as left-overs the next day. “WTF?? Fine!” is her reply. She barely speaks to me for the next two days.
This is not the first-time work has ruined an occasion, but with 19 months left on the calendar, I hope it is the last.
Executing the Plan
3am- Tuesday October 8
I arise to what should have been the start of my regular work week. I am tired before I start, 5 hours of sleep is not enough. I drive to ASM’s home in Tumbleweed and park ISM’s truck in front of his house and jump into my truck. My Tuesday work is still on this truck so it will be quicker for me to work with it. I head to the Big Box store and get to it.
10am- Tuesday October 8
I have finished my territory. Yes, maybe the work was a little sloppier than it should have been, but at least my customers have been taken care of. On most weeks I would have driven to the PSC, instead I return to ASM’s house and transfer my orders for Wednesday deliveries which I had left on ISM’s truck the day before, then get into ISM’s truck to start his territory a day and a half later than scheduled. ASM has agreed to take our truck to have its windshield replaced. The auto-glass repair shop is close to his home. ASM is also solid.
I have finally finished the majority of ISM’s territory. There are many differences between our customers. The best way to explain it, is by saying that ISM has twice the number of customers in his territory that I do in mine, but I sell twice as much to my customers as he does to his.
I have gone to 8 customers on ISM’s schedule for Monday and Tuesday. I’ve stayed in Tumbleweed, the remaining customers on the list are in small towns that will require more driving than I can reasonably do, in the limited day I have remaining. My plan is to send ASM that direction tomorrow.
The job takes longer because I am forced to stop and explain about ISM’s injury to every human being I encounter. Tumbleweed is small enough that most of ISM’s customers are aware of his injury, but they want the gory details. They simply stand and shake their heads at the tale, then feel compelled to tell me about the time ISM fell out of the tree, or the time he had a tree branch puncture his cheek and had half his face gauzed for a month (Really, I’m not making this up… he has the dimpled scar to prove it). They all had an anecdote they were compelled to share with me about ISM and injuries.
I’m polite and listen but the whole time I am screaming inside… I know all this! I’ve been around for all of his injuries!! Leave me alone and let me get his work done!!! I get home just after 4pm. I’m exhausted and feel like I have already worked a week.
4:30pm- Tuesday October 8
I contact ASM to see the status of our truck. Glass replacement is a tedious affair. Removing a broken windshield and replacing it takes maybe half an hour at best, but the vehicle cannot be used for an additional 5 hours while the glue sets. I have no idea how companies can advertise that they will replace a windshield wherever you are. At work, at yoga class, at wherever you want them, and they will save you the hassle of coming to their shop. They don’t tell you that you can’t drive your car for 5 hours after they do the job! If you do, the glue might not hold and the whole damn thing might slip off while you’re moving!! They skip that part in their ads!!!
“Do you have the truck yet?” I message ASM.
“No, they ordered the wrong windshield,” is his reply.
What??? How is that possible?!! I took the truck to them last week so they could order the right one!! They took the information right off the actual vehicle!! Windshields are far from standard. They come in varying sizes and have an assortment of features. The one on my truck for example has a camera hidden in the glass. I know that the auto-glass replacement center in Tumbleweed is small and does not stock every kind of glass. It’s why I bring the truck to them! A week in advance!! I don’t want to be responsible for giving incorrect information to the glass company!!! But you can see where that got me!!!
This is a problem. I’m on a tight timeline. The glass needs to be replaced in order for my truck to pass its provincial safety inspection, the one I have scheduled for Wednesday afternoon. No glass… no pass. This will effectively keep my truck off the road for two days. Two days that I can’t afford.
I contact the glass installer, he informs me that it is “okay”, I hear the sound of “No hay problema” echo in his tone. They have the glass. He proceeds to tell me about his heroic effort to secure it. How the supplier sent the wrong glass to them and how he had met a courier half-way to the big city, and how they had transferred the glass right on the Trans-Canada highway, and because of these heroics… the job would be finished today, as promised. I can have the truck at 8pm but it can’t be driven at highway speed until midnight. He’s really proud of himself! Never once saying that he had any part in the mistake that was made.
I brought him the truck a week ago to avoid this!!!
8pm- Tuesday October 8
“I have the truck at my house.” ASM to me.
“Thanks. I’ll meet you in the morning.” Me to ASM.
I go to bed.
3am- Wednesday October 9
I will my eyes open. I’m not sure what day it is. My brain slowly starts to grind forward when it realizes I’m not going back to bed. I drive ISM’s truck to Tumbleweed and ASM’s house to get my own. His house is still dark, so I put ISM’s truck keys in the mailbox and get in my truck to start the day. ASM doesn’t need to get moving for another 90 minutes, he’ll need the sleep.
We meet up around 6am and I explain to ASM what he will need to do that day. He needs to drive into the country side, making stops at all of ISM’s Monday and Tuesday customers. He then must drive 2 hours to the PSC and pick up the orders for Thursday to be delivered on our territory.
Unlike me, ASM has no knowledge of the area he has to travel into. Before ISM came along this had all been my territory, that was 15 years ago but time moves slower in the prairies, little had changed. I give ASM what information I have, pat him on the back, as part of my “Go get’em, you can do it” pep talk, then I send him on his way.
12:30 pm- Wednesday October 9
I finish my day as planned and drop my truck off at my local service provider for its annual inspection. With the new glass installed I do not perceive any problems. They give me a loaner vehicle so I can go home and return the next morning to retrieve my truck. It is a standard practice we have developed over the years, a perk you wouldn’t get in the big city. It saves me wasting half a day sitting in their waiting room and annoying them. It’s a win-win.
4:30pm- Wednesday October 9
ASM sends me a message that he is home. He has our orders for Thursday on ISM’s truck. Even though it has been a long day, it has gone according to plan. We are now just a half-a-day behind on ISM’s territory and ours is up-to-date. The plan for the next day should get us caught up on both and set up both territories for a strong finish to the week.
Sometimes the gods smile upon you. Sometimes…
3:30am- Thursday October 10
I knew it was coming. It had been all over the news for the last two days. My favorite goddess (note sarcasm), was cooking up something special for her introduction to winter 2020, an early winter storm was coming my way. The wind was already blowing strong from the north as I drove to Tumbleweed. I returned the ‘loaner’ and hopped in my truck, the one with the shiny new safety sticker on the, yet to get cracked by a stone, windshield. A light snow had started to fall.
The forecast said that the big storm was not due to arrive until Friday. Thursday’s snow, they said, was the tail end of a Nor’easter that was affecting the east coast of the country. The snowfall would be minimal from this front and would end by evening. The impression was that this would be nothing compared to what was right behind the Nor’easter. Mother Nature had a fast-moving Colorado Low headed in from the southwest that was going to collide with the Nor’easter, right over my head!
Truthfully, I had no reason to doubt the ferocity of Mother Nature’s menopause. So, believing the forecasters when they said that the storm will be bad was not a problem. My problem was and always is, their estimates. How much snow, how much wind and exactly where and when it will hit my area are estimates that have a lot of grey area. Many times, I hear a forecast of impending weather doom, and never see anything at the times I am out. So, trusting the predicted severity as being gospel, is something I just don’t do. Their science is not that precise.
5:00am Thursday October 10
ASM and I meet in the parking lot of the Big Box store. We back the trucks up and separate the orders. ASM will work in our territory and I will work in Tumbleweed for a few hours to finish up with the last of ISM’s customers there, then go into the country-side and take care of the rest. This will take me the direction of the PSC, which I need travel too, to re-supply ISM’s truck. The plan was for ASM to work what would be his regular Thursday, so he too was destined for the PSC.
The snow has continued to fall as I leave Tumbleweed and head out on the Trans-Canada highway. The temperature has stayed above freezing by a couple of degrees, which means the precipitation is a mix of rain and snow. It hasn’t been a heavy snowfall but it has been going on for many hours, so there is accumulation on the highway. Wet, slushy accumulation.
The wind had been blowing all day but when you are in amongst buildings it doesn’t seem so bad. On the open prairie it is a different matter. The wind was blowing from the northeast at a steady 45kph with the occasion gust to 60kph. I drive a truck with a very broad side and not very much weight. It’s like driving with a sail attached to your ass. A steady 40kph wind is hard enough to deal with but throw some slushy snow under the tires and you work hard to stay between the lines. With a strong wind and even a light snow, visibility can also be a problem but at that moment I had no worries.
I have five stops to make before I can head to the PSC, load-up and head home. By the time I finish with the second of ISM’s customers, I decide to change the plan. I send a message to ASM. “Stay home. Roads this way suck. I will pick up everything.” He replies with a thumb’s up.
I contact OB and ask him if he could get his guys to prepare all the Friday orders for both territories, so I could load them on one truck asap and get the hell out of Dodge. I tell him I should get there around noon. Three stops and 40km to travel should be no problem I figure. He says he will do his best to have it ready when I arrive.
I have one stop left. I’ve already sent a message to OB to tell him I will be later than expected. Not a problem he tells me, the load is ready for my arrival. The storm has increased and the wind has kept pace. The precipitation mix is sticking to everything, and every road, not called the Trans-Canada highway, has a layer of snow covering what is now icy slush. My feet are soaked and I am in a state of miserable. I hate her! I hate her!! I HATE HER!!!
I start to drive around the tiny town I’m in. I’m looking for the name of a store I don’t recognize. Finding anything in a town this size is pretty simple. Most towns like this have three small shops, a restaurant and a gas station, and they are pretty much always on one main street. Occasionally, there will be some convenience store stuck in the residential area but that does not appear to be the case here. I stop and look at the list that ISM has written down for me. It’s just names of the stores with no addresses.
I stare at the name but it brings back no memory from a decade ago, which is the last time I was in this town. I get out ISM’s computer and pull up the information on their charge account. Oh… I see the problem… I’m in the wrong town!!! I need to be 8kms north of my present position. That’s just perfect!
I put ISM’s truck in gear and head north. I cross over the Trans-Canada and head down the road towards my target. This road has not been travelled much today and there is a layer of solid white on its surface and down into the ditches on either side. It doesn’t take long until it just looks solid white to me. The wind is whipping the falling icy wet snow into my windshield, adding to the weather mayhem going on in front of me. I have no clue where I am, no clue where the town is and no clue where the sides of the road end and the ditches begin!!
I move slowly and navigate using the road signs, that I know are planted along the road just before the fall-off point into the ditch. I make sure they stay on my right. As luck would have it, I don’t have far to go in these conditions. It isn’t long before I see the sign for my destination. The town is maybe 200 people, if that. But it has what every small town has, just on a smaller scale. I pull into the lot of the grocery store/post office/restaurant/ gas station and if I’m not mistaken, /hair salon, and get out their order. Ten minutes! It’s all it took!! 30 minutes of driving… for 10 minutes of actual work!!! I am having absolutely no fun!!
2:00pm Thursday October 10
I finally reach the PSC. My feet make squishing sounds when I walk. I talk to the loader monkey’s (LM) that will be loading the truck and give them their special loading instructions. This is not uncommon with me. When the LM’s fill my truck, it is usually packed and since I am the one that must unload it, I want it a certain way. My way! The LM’s know that it is best to comply because I am a legend when it comes to expressing my displeasure.
It’s a legend created by the Ops monkey’s (OM), and passed down over the years. Like any tale it has a certain amount of truth but over time has taken on a life of its own. Not once have I ever berated an Ops monkey; they work hard. I always thank them for their work each time I leave the PSC. I have even brought them hot chocolate on a cold day and had OB call an impromptu meeting so they could warm themselves. They like me… but they are afraid of me.
The incident that caused this legend involved a disagreement with the Ops Monkey Supervisor (OSM) and myself. Our disagreement took place on the loading dock and escalated to the point that all the Ops monkeys had stopped to watch and listen in. OSM realizing that things were not going his way, left the dock area to get re-enforcements. Growling at the OM’s and LM’s as he went to get back to work.
I left the Ops area and went into the ‘monkey cage’, a large room with a lunch table and small kitchen for the OM’s and mailboxes and countertop where the Sales Monkeys (SM) can do paperwork. As I enter, I am confronted by OSM and one of the District Sales Monkey’s, not my DSM but my department. The disagreement escalated to the point that I was accusing both of them of gross-misconduct and they were in my opinion perpetrating a fraud against the company. That was a bit of a stretch, but they were definitely teetering on the edge of grey and no-no land.
“You can’t talk to me that way,” the DSM had yelled at me, “I’m a manager!”
“If that’s the case,” I said as I looked him in the eye, “I guess this conversation is over.” I left the room and went out for a smoke.
I don’t know who witnessed the whole event, I was too caught up in it to notice, but from that day forward, when it comes to my truck, it has been done my way. Now even if I forget to tell a LM how I want my orders handled when I arrive at the PSC, they will come and find me to be sure I have no special requests. OM’s come and go and it has been more than a decade since this event took place, but the tale is repeated between the vets and the newbies with the cautionary moral… don’t piss me off!
4:00pm Thursday October 10
I’m back in Tumbleweed at ASM’s home. I transfer my territory’s orders to my truck, leaving ISM’s truck with ASM. The plan is for him to work on ISM’s territory on Friday and we were getting some help from the office in the way of a part-time monkey (PTM). The PTM was due in Tumbleweed at 6am on Friday to help me at the Big Box store. I have one more trip to the PSC to make tomorrow.
As I’m about to leave ASM’s home, I receive a message from my boss. It is actually a copy of a message from the PTM to my boss. He doesn’t think he can go to Tumbleweed in the morning. Forecast says blah, blah… my car doesn’t have winter tires on… might be icy… wouldn’t be safe… It’s not even Friday an he’s already making excuses! I’ve dealt with this PTM before, in fact you might know him too, he’s the “got an excuse for everything” guy. Yeah that’s right!! Him!!! There’ll be no help tomorrow.
5:15pm Thursday October 10
Home at last. The drive west on the Trans-Canada had been easier than travel east. This is frequently the case when there is a strong northern wind. The wind seems to shoot across the west-bound lanes and into the ditch that divides it from the east-bound. The wind gets slowed enough that it is able to deposit snow and ice onto the east-bound lanes where it sticks and accumulates. The temperature has stayed above freezing so all I had to deal with was wet roads and stupid drivers.
The Nor’easter had pretty much stopped by the time I was half-way home. The wind too had subsided down to a much more manageable 30-40kph and was now coming from the northwest. Vehicles were in ditches along the route, the result of high speeds and less than perfect road conditions, aka stupid drivers.
The easiest way to combat high winds and poor conditions is to slow down! I don’t care if your driving with a sail on your ass or in a cigar-shaped rocket. If you want to have control in a wind, slow down!! You don’t have to put your foot on the brake, just take it off the gas!! Of the ten plus vehicles I saw in ditches only two were semi-trailers. The rest were cars and SUV’s with drivers that figured that the road was only wet, and ignored the real danger. Big wind equals slow down!!!
3:40 am- Friday October 11
I live 30kms west of Tumbleweed, right on the Trans-Canada highway. The highway is normally deserted at this hour of the day but today there was no-one but me. The wind had started to increase and was easily broad-siding my vehicle at 60kph. I drove slowly and was in Tumbleweed shortly after 4am.
As I sat outside the coffee shop I checked the highway conditions. It turns out that the highway I had been travelling on was closed. Oh! Oh! My bad!! The highway east to the big city and the PSC, that I needed to get to today, was still open. Everything to the west was closed, but aside from the wind, I had not thought that the road was in bad condition, it was not snowing yet. So, my assumption is that it is far worse west of where I started, and they had closed my stretch of road to Tumbleweed as a precaution.
Regardless of the reason, it was closed and since the plan was for ASM to travel that way to finish up the last day of ISM’s territory, the plan would have to change. I know I am fighting a clock when it comes to Mother Nature. She will frequently take her sweet time to get good and worked-up before she releases her pent-up menopausal rage all over me. If I am quick, I might just get to the PSC and back to at least Tumbleweed, before all hell breaks loose.
I send ASM a message and we each start by working in different territories, with a plan to meet up by 7am at the Big Box store.
7am- Friday October 11
The plan is simple. I will deliver the orders in Tumbleweed for both territories and ASM will go to each customer and be sure our products get to the shelf. Once I make all the deliveries I will head to the big city and the PSC. Just before 6am I had received a message from PTM, he won’t be making it. Part of the highway is closed he tells me. I know! I’ve already been on it!! Better this way, I won’t have to keep an eye on an extra monkey.
My last delivery is a few kms west of Tumbleweed, but when I head to the edge of the town there is a barricade with red flashing lights and a sign saying “ROAD CLOSED”. The barricade had not been there at 4am but is was now. The last of my Friday work will have to stay on the truck. I turn around and head to the east of the town. I am not optimistic but to my surprise the Trans-Canada highway is open heading east. I exit Tumbleweed and head away from home and to the PSC.
My feet are soaked again. I don’t think they were actually dry to start with. My shoes had not had nearly enough time to dry from yesterday’s soaking. Why didn’t I put on a dry pair before I left home you ask? Because my company requires that I wear safety shoes with steel toes when I am on the job, sneakers and sandals won’t cut it. I did quickly stop at the Big Box store and purchase a 3-pack of socks, I was already on the second pair! It feels like I’m wearing sponges! I should have bought a 12-pack!
It is snowing now as I start my trek on the highway. Even though the temperature has stayed a degree or two above freezing, this is snow. Big wet flakes, that splatter on the windshield like moths. The wind has also increased to 70kph with gusts to 85kph… of course it has! If I were in Brisbane, this would be classified as a Category 1 Cyclone and in Manilla it would be in a Severe Tropical Storm, but this is the furthest thing from tropical. In my part of Canada, it is simply winter.
11:15am- Friday October 11
I finally reach the PSC. The whole trip from Tumbleweed had been done at an average speed of 60kph (limit is 110kph). The snow and wind were making visibility rather limited, and with the sail attached to my butt, 60 was my top speed. Slower equals control. Cars and trucks littered the ditches all along the Trans-Canada, most had lost control and slid there but a few were collisions.
When I entered the Big City, there were barricades stopping all west-bound traffic from heading onto the Trans-Canada that direction. I learned that the highway had been closed 20 minutes after I got on it. Oh! Oh! My bad again!!
The only person in the office portion of the PSC was our Office Administration Monkey (OAM). In fact, every person in management had taken the day off. Not because of the storm, but because it was Thanksgiving weekend and taking Friday off gave them all an extra long-weekend. This is a perk to being a manager monkey, all the worker monkeys were expected to be on the job. OAM is a worker monkey; someone has to answer the phones.
“OMG!” she exclaimed when she saw me. “What are you doing here?”
“My job,” I reply. I’m sullen and my mood doesn’t improve when I look down the hallway and see all the darkened offices. “No one at all?” I ask OAM.
“No,” she replies, “they all took the extra day off for the holiday.”
I curse them all and turn to return to the monkey cage at the other end of the building.
“The highway is closed,” OAM says to me as I’m leaving, “Do you want me to book you a hotel room?”
OAM is a saint. We’ve known each other for almost 3 decades and she is the one person I can count on to show some humanity.
“Thanks,” I reply, “maybe later. Let’s see how this thing play out.” She gives me a thumbs-up as I leave the office.
My truck has been ready to go for over two hours but I am waiting to hear that the highway is open. The storm is pounding the city and the roads are treacherous just going to get OAM and myself coffee. I already knew in my heart I was not going anywhere today, and this was confirmed when ASM sent me a post from the Department of Transportation (DOT). “The Trans-Canada highway will remain closed until Saturday,” it read.
“You better book me a hotel,” I say to OAM.
Even though the forecast had called for an intense storm to pass through my part of the world, I have learned to be patient. Unlike PTM, who bailed at the first sign of bad weather, I have seen these things before. More times than not, they are far less severe than predicted and they last half as long. Weather moves fast in this area and what looked like Armageddon at noon, can look rather tame by evening. This was obviously not going to be the case with this storm. Mother Nature was having a serious hissy!!
Circumventing the barricades would not be a problem for me if I chose to venture out, in an effort to get home. I know all the backroads required to travel to do this. The problem is that when the highways are closed there is no snow-clearing taking place. The Trans-Canada was a mess coming in, I could only imagine what the side roads, I would need to travel on to avoid the barricades, looked like. My best plan would be to hunker down until the storm ends.
I contact Honey and tell her I won’t be home. “I figured,” she replies. “You know you’re an idiot, right?”
“It looks like we’re all staying home,” Honey had said to me the night before. The first real words she had spoken to me since Monday. “All,” meaning her and I as well as GenCo. The four of us were all scheduled to work in Tumbleweed on Friday.
“Maybe you three but not me,” I had said to her defiantly. I had too much to try and accomplish the next day to let a weather prediction stop me from doing my job.
“You’re an idiot,” she had said. At least she had started talking to me again.
“Did you pack a bag?” she messaged me, while I stood in the PSC, contemplating my soggy feet.
“No,” I answered, “I bought socks at the Big Box store.”
“You’re an idiot.”
I’m holed up in the hotel. I have the hotel blow-dryer stuffed in my shoe, set on high. It’s not doing much good and the high-pitched whining is driving me crazy. My shoes are going to require days of drying to make them even remotely comfortable.
I stopped at one of the Big Box stores in the Big City before going to the hotel and purchased a change of clothes. Just something I could wear around the hotel room. My work clothes were hung to dry and would be going back on in the morning. I still had one pair of dry socks, along with three pairs of slightly damp ones.
I’m on an upper floor and as I look out the window all I see is a wall of blowing snow. The snow has remained constant. It is a wet snow, not the type of snow we usually see. Our regular snow is usually dryer and far more crystallized. What I’m seeing isn’t that. The higher temperatures combined with the moisture brought in by the Colorado Low has made this snow heavy. I saw on television that 60cm (4-5 ft) of this kind of snow accumulating on your house, was the equivalent weight of parking six cars on your roof! This was real heart-attack snow!!
I’m near the airport. Maybe I should just go catch a flight right now and come back in the spring. First one south! Get on and be gone!! I hate winter!!!
3:15am- Saturday October 12
Even though I went to bed a few hours later than normal, my internal clock does what it does, and I get out of bed. I look out the window and see that the wind has decreased and the snow is starting to thin. The streets below are a slushy mess and the curbs have at least two feet of snow on them. I open my laptop and go to the DOT website and chose ‘road conditions’. The map that appears is covered in red lines. Every road in and out of the Big City is closed. Every direction. There is no announcement as to when that may change.
I have a full day’s work in front of me. My truck is loaded to the point of bursting with products for the Thanksgiving long weekend that need to get delivered to my customers in Tumbleweed. I was still holding out hope that ASM would be able to get to ISM’s customers that were inaccessible because of yesterday’s highway closure. It’s too early to say that won’t happen but I’ve got a bad feeling.
I’m not that surprised to see everything closed. It is common that the highways remain closed for a few hours after a storm ends. This allows the DOT to get its snow clearing equipment out and make the highway safer for all the waiting traffic. I decide to head to the highway and join the queue of trucks that no doubt have spent the night there.
When I arrive, with coffee in hand, I am stopped about a half-mile from the barricade by the line of semi-trailers stopped on the road. Not nearly as long a line as I had imagined, but it is early.
9:30am- Saturday October 12
I get a message from Rock. He’d seen the news and was checking to see if Honey and I were safe. I tell him of my woes in 144 characters or less. He makes fun of me… I deserve it… at least he didn’t call me an idiot.
My sister-in-law also sent me an e-mail, checking on our welfare. I never hear from her! Hell, I never hear from my brother! I haven’t seen the news broadcasts, but I can only imagine it has got to be bad for people from opposite ends of a very large country, to reach out to check on me and mine.
Friends and Family, people you can count on. I was truly touched.
The line of traffic is now 2 miles long, double lane. I am boxed in by vehicles and I’m dying for another cup of coffee and have no way to escape the line to go get one. I have been listening to the local news station on the radio. Even though the storm has stopped in the Big City, they say it is still raging to the west. I have talked to ASM and he tells me he has had no power since 9:30pm last night. PTM has also phoned me to tell me the highway is closed and he will not make it to Tumbleweed today either. Tell me something I don’t know!
The radio is saying that there has been a massive amount of destruction throughout the Big City. Power lines and trees have fallen from the weight of the snow. It seems that since the trees have not yet lost their leaves, that the heavy snow has stuck to them and the limbs have not been able to handle the weight. They continue to tell me about how bad it is in the Big City and it will take days to clean up. What about outside the Big City??? All they keep saying is that no matter how bad it is in the Big City; it is worse outside its limits. A little more detail would be nice!
I talk to Honey. She tells me she lost power for a few hours the day before but that was all. She also says that the storm is still raging outside her windows. She then tells me that “I’m glad your safe but you’re still an idiot.” I think she has finally started to thaw towards me!
The car beside me finally gives up waiting and pulls a U-turn and leaves the line. I expect the vehicle behind it to move forward and fill the gap but it seems the driver has fallen asleep. I seize the opportunity and pull out of the line and head back into the Big City. Freed at last I head directly to the nearby coffeeshop. It’s doing a booming business, the lines at both the order counter and the bathrooms are really long.
I am back in the line, but now I am 3 miles from the barricade. At this place in the line people don’t stay long. They stop for a few minutes then decide it is not worth the wait and return to the city. I had sat at the coffeeshop for the better part of an hour, using the free wifi. There was very little reporting about the storm except the aftermath taking place in the Big City. The only mention of the outer reaches was to say that many people in the ‘Big City and in the rural area were without power, but after that it was just about the center of the universe, the Big City.
I had to pack-up my laptop, the power would be red-lining soon. My phone was shut off already, with just enough battery in case of emergency. Yes, I know I’m an idiot! I didn’t have any car chargers with me!! Honey will have a field day with this!!!
As I sit waiting, I look over at my work equipment in the seat beside me and realize that it has not been charged since 3am Friday. I remove the computer and push the ON button. Nothing happens. The thing is stone-cold. This is a problem since my last communication with ASM had him sitting in darkness in Tumbleweed. He had the closest charger and he had no power. I turn on my phone and send him a message.
“Do you have power yet?”
“No,” he replies. “No-one does.”
“Ok, thx.” I turn off my phone.
ASM is prone to a certain amount of exaggeration, so I tend to take what he tells me with a grain of salt. What I can take to the bank is that the equipment at his home, won’t be charging anything. I get out of line and head back into the city. Two stops and $100 later I am back at the PSC and I’ve got every piece of electronics in my procession, hooked up and charging.
I’m back at the barricade. I have cheated and am sitting on a side road at the closest intersection to the weigh station and the barricade. The part of the highway I had been on was lined up as far as I could see. It was late and getting dark. The odds on the DOT opening the highway anytime soon was getting less likely by the minute. The weather had improved in the Big City drastically throughout the day. I had even seen the sun peak out for a few minutes around 3pm.
Usually the DOT will open the Trans-Canada as quickly as possible. It is the major transportation route for all of the Canadian prairies. The economy of the west flows down that road. They are usually quick about clearing it. Not just of snow, but of stranded vehicles. There are always a few people that think they can beat Mother Nature at her game, most spend the night in a ditch for their troubles. How bad could it be out there that it was causing this kind of delay?
I’m trying to decide whether I need to go get another hotel room or not. I contact Honey and she tells me that the snow had stopped two-hours ago and that the wind was dying down. I decide to stick it out awhile longer. It’s too late to get any work done today but I want to get home… I’m out of dry socks.
6:20pm- Saturday October 12
It’s moving! It’s not moving fast but the line of traffic is moving. I leave my side road and go to the intersection that has a traffic light. When it turns green, I jump into line. No. I do not feel guilty! I was here sitting in line 14 hours ago! I get onto the Trans-Canada and head west.
The highway is great. The snow has been cleared from both lanes and the majority of vehicles have been removed from the ditches. The signs of their mishap remain carved in the snow, so I know at least a few people had spent the previous night marooned on the highway. The auto-club doesn’t send help out onto a closed highway during a storm.
It is slow going at first as cars and big trucks jockey for position. These people are all impatient to get moving and there is frequent congestion as slower moving semi-trailers pass even slower moving semi-trailers, effectively making the faster moving cars slow down. It’s a log-jam every time one truck starts to pass another. The speed limit on the Trans-Canada is 110kph, the speed limit of my truck is 105kph. So, I don’t pass anyone. I get in the driving lane (right-hand) and settle back for the drive.
I’ve reached the last town in ISM’s territory. The one I had been to on Thursday, during the Nor’easter. There is a traffic intersection on the Trans-Canada right beside the local gas station, both have no power. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) have a cruiser in the middle of the intersection directing traffic. It is kind of pointless because I can see in the fading light that the north-south roads are currently impassable.
It gets dark a few minutes later. It’s not a problem. The roads are good and the wind has died down to a modest 20kph. The snow that is piled along the road is too heavy and compressed to be affected by the breeze. The snow is staying right where it has been put.
7:20pm- October 12
I see the red flashing lights of a barricade as I get close to Tumbleweed. The bypass around Tumbleweed is closed and all traffic must travel through the town. The barricades flashing red lights seem awfully bright as I pass them taking the route into Tumbleweed and it takes my brain a few seconds longer to register why. It’s dark, it is really, really dark! I can’t see Tumbleweed! There is not one light on in any building! Nothing!! Nada!!! There are no straight lights or traffic lights. There is no glow from the inside of stores. There is nothing but the eerie illumination created by car head-lights as they pass a building. This is seriously creepy!! It’s like the whole place is dead!!
I have to leave the main road and go to ASM’s house. The truck I am in needs to stay with ASM in Tumbleweed, I will take ISM’s truck home. I’ve never seen anything like this! There is always some kind of light! Even if it is in the distance, there is always something! But there is nothing! I must drive around three fallen trees before I reach ASM’s block.
A crew of workers with chainsaws are chopping up a fallen tree ahead. They are using the headlights from their truck to give them light. ASM’s street has two-feet of slushy snow on it. Cars are parked on both sides and I drive slowly down the middle of the street. I am now seeing the faint glimmer of candles and lanterns coming from inside the homes on the street. I pull up behind ISM’s truck.
ASM comes out and we reposition the trucks. It has now started to rain. That’s just perfect! Rain at this temperature means the possibility of ice on the highway. I don’t have much time but ASM needs to fill me in on what has happened to Tumbleweed in more than 144 characters.
“There’s been no power since Friday around 6pm,” he says
“At your house?” I ask.
“Anywhere,” he says
“The whole town?” I’m amazed that a whole town of this size could be without power for more than a day.
“Not just Tumbleweed, but the entire area I’m being told,” ASM says. Grain of salt, grain of salt, grain of salt.
He tells me that one of the major electrical towers collapsed and took the trunk-line with it. The trunk-line is the line that carries high voltage electricity into the local transformer station, where it is ‘stepped down’ to a usable current. These lines are on monster metal towers, collapsing one of them must have taken quite the effort on MN’s part.
“…There’s no water and we’ve been told not to flush the toilet because the pumps aren’t working at the sewage plant.” ASM finishes up. We’re both wet from the rain and standing in 2 feet of slush. I need to go home.
I’m not sure I know what to make of all this. Early in the day I had heard that there were more than a 100,000 people without power in the province. That number had dwindled to under 30,000 by early afternoon when a spokesperson from the Provincial Electrical Utility (PEU) held a press conference.
“If you are in the Big City and you do not have power at this moment,” he had announced, “you will be without power for 4 more days. If you are outside the Big City and have no power as of this moment, it will be 7-10 days.”
The spokesperson hadn’t said where outside the Big City. I realize that Tumbleweed is not the center of the universe, but it is big enough to rate a mention! 12,000 people in one spot not being able to flush a toilet, should have been worth noting!! Seven to ten days of shut down would be a disaster of biblical proportion!! That’s a lot of unflushed sewage!!!
I have reached home. There is 3 feet of snow in the drive where I normally park the truck. I know I can probably get the truck in there through the snow but I also know that if I go into that wet snow… I am never getting out. They have plowed the street or I should say that a plow has made a quick pass down my street. I park as close to the snow bank the plow has created as I trust, and I judge there should be just enough space for another vehicle to pass. I turn off the truck, grab the bags of crap I have accumulated over the last 36 hours and go into the house.
Shoes off, and socks right behind them. My pants are wet too but IT Genie’s car was parked behind Honey’s in the driveway, so I knew we had visitors. Keeping my pants on was best for all concerned. I toss all the wet socks I have to the bottom of the stairs; they’re going right to the laundry on my next trip that way.
“Hi, Honey! I’m home!” I announce walking towards the living room. I’m sure I heard the word “idiot” and then the sound of laughter. Mother and son sharing a private joke at my expense. Oh well, I had earned it. All that mattered was I was home at last and we had power.
I wasn’t certain we would have power, when I had left the Trans-Canada and entered the town. The gas station on the corner was dark and so were the houses on the outskirts. But when I turned onto the main street there were street lights, much to my relief.
IT Genie, Honey and I sat for awhile discussing what I had witnessed in Tumbleweed. Neither of them had left our small town since the storm had begun. They had had some contact with people they knew there but like me, had assumed that the “we have no power” meant it was just small and localized. They knew the store that they both worked at had been closed Saturday, but neither really knew the scope of the devastation.
Having power and as a result heat was a bonus. We had no phone services and therefore no internet but I have satellite television and we were able to watch the news broadcasts. These were worse than the radio. All they said was that X number of people were without power in the province and they showed pictures of the damage in the Big City. There was no mention of which areas were being affected by the power outages, supporting my opinion of local news media. If it wasn’t about the Big City, it did not matter.
I went to bed with the knowledge that there was less than a fifty percent chance I would need to head to Tumbleweed to work in the morning.
A Spark of Light
7:00am- Sunday October 13
His reply is negative but he informs me that one of our customers had a large generator shipped out of the Big City the night before. He tells me that they had power shortly after midnight and planned to open for business that day. He says that he is heading there now.
I offer to come in and help him but he says not to bother. It is the only business that will be opening that day. He can handle it. I’m more than happy not to leave the warmth of my home. My day is already busy with planned snow shovelling.
9:30am- Sunday October 13
Honey had been out the day before and had cleared a narrow path from the driveway to the backdoor, as well as around her car. She had told me a neighbour on an ATV with a plow attachment had cleared behind her car. Small town neighbours are the best!
The temperature has stayed a few degrees above zero and already a foot of snow from the night before has melted away. I shovel snow from in front of the garage door and take out my snowblower. After only a few swipes I know that the machine will not work in this wet snow. It’s going to have to be old-school shovelling, if I hope to clear enough space to get ISM’s truck in the drive.
I don’t bother to try and clear it all, just enough to fit the two vehicles. The forecast is telling me that it will be warm all week and that this snow will melt. By noon I have cleared enough space and I spend the rest of the day watching NFL football and surfing channels looking for storm related news. There isn’t any, because the Big City is almost back to normal and that is all that really matters, right?!!!
ASM and I have kept in touch throughout the day. He has gone to our customer twice that day and tells me that the place is a madhouse. He says that everything that was delivered that day has sold-out. This is good news because the truck is still packed with all the other deliveries.
I am told that aside from our one customer, the only other place with any power was one gas station that had been given a generator by the PEU to power-up their pumps, allowing the PEU to get fuel for their fleet.
The word has spread through Tumbleweed that it was expected to be a week before power would be restored and that one store and one gas station were open. This created havoc at both. Some people lined up at the grocery store to stock up on supplies, and the rest created a five-block long lineup at the gas station to fuel up to leave town.
9:30pm- Sunday October 13
The message from ASM reads, “I have power at home, I still can’t flush my toilet!” Well that has got to suck! Heats back on and as the house warms so will they contents of his toilet.
“Keep the lid down,” I tell him. I get a thumbs-up back.
He also tells me that at least half of Tumbleweed has power including most of our customers. I tell him I will be in first thing in the morning and I head to bed.
3:40am- Monday October 14
It’s Thanksgiving Monday. Day 3 of the long-weekend for most of Canadians. I’m on the road to Tumbleweed, another day-off shot. I approach an intersection where the Trans-Canada meets another major highway that leads to the north, I can see that the signal lights are still not working and the small gas station on the corner is still in darkness. Tumbleweed is 9km from the intersection, but in the distance, I do see the familiar glow of light in the sky above it.
As I enter the town, I can tell right away that not everyone has power. The most western businesses in the town remain in powerless dark. These are the Agricultural outlets that sell equipment and supplies. I finally reach the first sign of light and to my general delight it is the coffee shop. My day is brightening as I pull into its parking lot, only to have it crushed by the sign on the door.
“Open at 9am”. What do you mean 9am??? You’re a 24-hour business!! It’s 4am!! You had power last night!! I need coffee!!! I always have my first cup of coffee of the day at this coffee shop!
I stay parked anyway and open up my laptop. I have had no internet access since Saturday when I left the Big City, my only form of communication has been through text messaging. I am desperate to check my email. For all I know, there could have been 10 reservations for the Playa, all for the same cabana on the same day. I needed to check. There was a wifi signal coming from the coffee shop but when I logged onto it, it was only a signal from the shop and they had no internet connection. I drive away feeling dejected.
That’s when I saw it. Actually, it is not what I saw, it was what I didn’t see. I didn’t see any light coming from where the Big Box store was supposed to be. The Big Box store is set back from the main road behind its massive parking lot, all of which I could not see in the darkness. It is normally well-lit at all times, but with the lack of any surrounding light and obviously no internal power, it was all but invisible from the road. This does not bode well for the day that is in front of me. The largest order still on my truck is for the Big Box store and I haven’t had any coffee!!!
9:00am- Monday October 14
You know where I am. There is still no internet connection, but the coffee tastes great.
ASM and I had met up earlier, and I was now in my own truck. I was delivering to the customers that had power and he was travelling behind me in ISM’s truck filling the shelves as best he could. When I asked him how the stores looked inside, he told me… “Like time stood still.”
I was getting a look at Tumbleweed in the daylight for the first time. The damage to trees and powerlines was extensive. It was not only the main trunk supports that had collapsed but almost every wooden electrical pole was damaged to some extent. Many lay on the ground, snapped by the weight of the snow and the force of the wind. I’m not talking a single pole! I’m talking rows of them!!
The parking lots were full of PEU trucks and equipment, and I was told every hotel and B&B in town were housing their employees. A ‘state of emergency’ had been declared for Tumbleweed on Sunday by the provincial government, and all available resources had been sent to the area. The state of emergency also opened up the coffers, to aid in bringing in outside help from other provinces and from the neighbouring U.S. states. Once the storm had ended Saturday, there had been a steady parade of people and equipment arriving in Tumbleweed.
They had worked relentlessly. Starting with constructing new towers so they main trunk line could be powered up. You couldn’t just leave the line lying on the ground, could you. It would be a big electrified speed bump! It took 30 hours from the storms end, to resurrect the towers and repair enough lines to power-up 80% of Tumbleweed. This may seem like a long time but considering the amount of destruction, it was pretty damn good!
9:30am- Monday October 14
I had been able to make 4 of the 6 deliveries on my truck. The Big Box store was not expected to get power back today, and the delivery from Friday, for my customer west of Tumbleweed, was destined to stay there for the foreseeable future. They were in the “7-10 days” area that the PEU spokesperson had mentioned.
Every public toilet in Tumbleweed is closed, which for me is a problem. I’m on the road all day. For a person my age, that guzzles coffee the way I do, public facilities are crucial to my existence. Having had only one cup of coffee (XL) so far today had helped, but eventually it would pose a problem.
The last thing I had to do was head to the Big City and deliver ISM’s truck to the PSC. That’s right… I’m headed back to the city! In the last 4 days I have spent more time there than at home! I buy myself another coffee for the trip, there’s a bush somewhere on the highway in my future. ASM will follow me in ISM’s truck and we will return together to Tumbleweed. We had done all we could do under the circumstances to cover the two territories during the past week. ISM’s territory was someone else’s problem starting tomorrow.
The PSC is deserted. That’s because it’s a long-weekend for everyone but a handful of OM’s. Even OAM had the day off. It was at that moment, as I was standing in this virtually empty building, that I realized I had not heard word-one from my boss. I know it was a long-weekend, but even a text inquiring as to my welfare would have been nice.
The Big City looked fine, the only signs of the storm they had experienced Friday were the piles of snow left on the corners by the plows. It was business as usual. I had stopped at a coffee shop before heading to the office and got myself online. I should have an hour on ASM. He didn’t have much work but he would be delayed by every person he encountered as he attempted to do his job. Each one would need to tell their tale of the past 3 days. Of course, ASM would also need to tell his. I probably had 90 minutes on him.
My email was full of spam and a few messages. There were no reservations pending approval for The Playa and thankfully there were no messages from Wendy or the guest that was staying there that weekend. The guest had booked the entire place and was holding her wedding there. This is a story unto itself, but I finally understand the term ’bridezilla’.
Aside from the aforementioned message from my sister-in-law, I had received a message from Uncle Jeremiah. He had been trying since Friday night to reach me, but with the phone lines down, he had been unsuccessful. He had finally been forced to try the internet, which unbeknownst to him, was also not working for me. He had spoken with Honey early on Friday afternoon before the phone service collapsed and knew I was in the Big City. He had been trying to reach me to learn of my fate since then and was getting a bit concerned. Honey had told me to contact him Saturday when I arrived home and I had tried to on my cell phone but the only thing working was text-messaging. There is no cell service at the ‘end of the road’… ever! Sending a text to him would have been useless. I replied to his email and told him all was well and explained about the lack of service and said I would call as soon as the phones were up and working. Within an hour of arriving home that afternoon, I had service and I did just that.
ASM sends me a message shortly after I drop him at home. “I can flush!!!” followed by a string of happy emojis. I laugh at the message, such joy simply flushing a toilet.
7:40pm- Monday October 14
I finally receive a message from my boss. She needs to know where ISM’s truck is.
“At the PSC,” I reply, “right where I told you it would be.”
“Ok. Great.” She replies. Then she proceeds to tell me there is a problem with the RM that was scheduled to take over ISM’s territory that week. He was out at some remote fly-in bush camp hunting, and the plane that was supposed to pick them up on the previous Friday was unable to do so, for obvious reasons. The RM was still out in the middle of nowhere, waiting for a pick-up. My boss was in a bind.
You can’t be serious!!! This is not my problem!!! She hasn’t even asked me how I am!!
“Too bad the truck is in the wrong place.” I write to her.
“I know,” she replies with a sad emoji at the end of the statement.
I do not reply further. She doesn’t need to be told what I am thinking.
Doing the After Math
4:10am- Tuesday October 15
The coffee shop is open when I arrive in Tumbleweed and thank the good lord, so are the toilets. Like the day before, the shop was not offering any cooked items. All the ingredients required to do this had been without refrigeration for the better part off 3 days and by law, they had to throw it out. This was the same for every restaurant and store in Tumbleweed. Hundreds of thousands of dollars in perishable and frozen foods were thrown out. The stores had entire aisles of freezers and coolers sitting empty. You were not able to purchase a carton of milk in Tumbleweed until Wednesday. Even with rush orders being shipped, the long-weekend had already put the suppliers a delivery day behind. But none of this impacted my daily start, I just wanted coffee.
I had calmed down from the night before and had decided to extend my boss an olive branch of assistance. I composed a message to send her later, once again offering the services of ASM and myself in her moment of need. Something I was not willing to do the night before. ASM’s going to hate me when I tell him, he has already agreed to help me today with a promise of Wednesday off. I will send my boss the message around 7am, a reasonable time I think for someone working an office job to be up.
The time has come to find out if my day will go as I plan. I leave the parking lot of the coffee shop and drive to the Big Box store. “…and there was light.” Thank you! Thank you!! Thank you!!! The message I send to ASM I send immediately, “BB has power. See you there at 6:30.” I receive what is no doubt a groggy thumbs-up emoji in response.
7:00am- Tuesday October 15
I am finally pulling into the loading dock of the Big Box store. There was a line of other delivery vehicles waiting when I had arrived, with deliveries that should have there on Friday and Saturday. All of these deliveries were massive, they were meant to keep shelves full through what should have been three days of shopping mayhem. I was no different, I had a massive order to deliver, one that truthfully, the Big Box store no longer required. Thanksgiving was over, the long weekend done. Life would pick up from this moment and continue on.
In my mind, I was already adjusting to how the week would go with all my customers over-stocked, and what I would need to do to hit the weeks targets. Both ASM and I needed to earn a reasonable paycheck that week, especially considering what we have been going through.
Before exiting my truck to unload, I send my boss the message I had prepared. She replied within moments but I didn’t bother to look. There was a job at hand to get completed, anything she had to say could wait.
It took 40 minutes to make the delivery. The backroom at the Big Box store was jammed full of deliveries that had been arriving throughout the night. The worker monkeys at the Big Box store (BBWM), were working feverishly to clear the dock area, to make room for monkeys like me to deliver. Once my order was off the truck, I moved my truck to make room for the next company to deliver. I could see another four trucks were still waiting to get in. Each one I knew had stock that was meant to refill, what other SM’s from different companies, had assumed would be empty shelves. Wrong-O!!!
There was no way anyone could have predicted that the Big Box store would be closed for four days. I had been shocked that they had been closed yesterday! This is the biggest retailer in Tumbleweed. You would think they would have at least procured a generator like my other customer had. But they had chosen to remain in darkness, even while all their competitors opened their doors.
The logic behind this is simple. As the largest retail employer in Tumbleweed and having the largest structure to power up, they have the largest cost just to open the doors. Contacting employees, that were still digging themselves out, in the quantity required to staff the Big Box store, was impossible. Add to that the aisles of empty of what would be in the greatest demand, and it made more sense to stay closed and let the insurance company eat the loss. Big Business never losses track of the bottom line, no matter the situation.
I stop in the lot and check the message from my boss. It seems that my unwillingness to step-up the night before, had caused her to find an alternative. She was sending out the PTM that had bailed out on me Friday to work in ISM’s territory. She needed to know what he should be doing because it was a short week and there would be an alternate schedule.
Really??? How about start by reading the notes I left behind!!! There is too much to tell her in 144 characters or less, so I tell her to have him call me.
“Thanks,” she replies with a smiley-faced emoji.
I’ve done all I can do in Tumbleweed and I am headed back to the PSC. There continues to be a large armada of PEU trucks travelling west to Tumbleweed. Amongst the fleet of service trucks are at least two or more large flat-beds carrying poles. The initial estimate is that the PEU must replace more than 3000 poles just in the area to get everyone back on line and powered up. It’s hard to believe that they have that many on hand for emergencies, but I never hear that they are having a supply issue. The original estimate of damage from the storm has topped 100 million dollars. Guess whose electrical bill is going up next year.
I arrive at the PSC. It is my sixth trip there in the last seven days. I still have the one delivery from the previous Friday on my truck. I was able to reach the store manager and was told they still had no power, maybe tomorrow. I tell the LM to leave the order where it is and add the new orders around it, then make my way to the monkey cage.
Life is back to normal at the PSC, the weekend is over and there is work to be done. I encounter my boss finally when she wanders back to the cage.
“There you are,” she says. “Thanks for helping out with PTM today. I hear you got slammed pretty hard out there.”
“Yes, we did,” I reply and before I can expand on that statement, she launches in to her trials and tribulations over the past weekend.
She tells me how she had been late getting to the airport to pick-up a friend on the Thursday because of the Nor’easter. Then when the Colorado Low had hit, all they had been able to do was sit in her house and drink wine. Never lost power but there had been some flickers. Plans for the Saturday had been changed because moving around the Big City had been impossible while the clean-up was taking place. All they had been able to do was make it to the wine store and replenish their supply. Then the whole thing with RM not being able to gat a plane had popped up on Monday, just as she was taking her friend back to the airport. “It was terrible,” she finishes, and then she is gone back to get her ‘boss’ work done.
I stand there dumbfounded. What was she babbling about?? You almost ran out of wine?? I’ve been working amongst people that can’t flush their toilets!! People whose biggest moment in the last three days, was taking a hot shower when the power came back on! She had been oblivious to what had been happening just a 100kms away! The more I thought about it, the more I came to realize that none of the people I was encountering in the Big City knew. They figured that when it ended for them, it had ended for everyone and what happened to them had been the same for everyone else. Center of the universe!
The Path Back to Normal
5:00am- Wednesday October 16
My work day is back to normal, in that I will visit all the customers that day and go directly home. No extra trip to the Big City, no ISM territory and ASM finally has a day off. The PTM had reported to me the day before that he had been able to make all the deliveries on ISM’s truck and it was “all good” and he had done as I instructed and placed future orders for end-of-week delivery.
What he did not mention, was that most of the places he had visited were without power and he had been fortunate because someone was at each location to accept delivery. None of them were open for business!! Why would you order more when they weren’t open to sell what you had just brought them?!!! I would not find out about this until I met up with the RM, who had finally been recused from the wilderness on Tuesday, the next week.
“Why would a person order something for a store that was closed?” The RM had complained to me.
“He’s a PTM,” I said to him. “He only uses his brain part-time.
I too am planning to make a delivery to a customer that is still without power. The store manager agreed to meet me at his powerless store today and take Friday’s order off my hands. The difference is I will not be placing a future order until I know he is back in business! This is what I have done for today at all my accounts. No one has orders for delivery, I am simply filling shelves with products that are already in backrooms.
My deduction of the day before is confirmed when I receive a message from the boss. “How were your sales over the weekend with the storm/highways and everything?” There is no emoji attached to the question. She seriously has no idea what has transpired!! Doesn’t she watch any news!!! Even the fake news had talked about it!!!
I finish up in my account, get in my truck and call my boss.
“Are you asking me a serious question?” I ask, referring to her message.
“Yes,” she replies honestly.
“There were no sales,” I say to her. “Closed! Everything within 200kms of the Big City limits was closed!” I then give her the abbreviated version of events (one you probably wished I had given you, right about now).
“Wow,” she says after I finish my narrative. “I honestly didn’t know. No one here did. We got a call from HR asking if everyone there was okay. We said there was no problem, everything was good. We really had no idea.” I could rage at this point, but you can guess what I have to say on the matter.
10:45am- Wednesday October 16
I arrive to meet the manager of the store with his Friday order. He his outside cleaning up the patio area. There is a half-dozen barbecues scattered around the patio area. He tells me that they had been cooking up hot meals every afternoon since Saturday, for those in the community that had stayed behind in their homes. The majority of the community had left after the storm when they were informed about “7 to 10 days”.
They are in the process of hooking up a generator to their gas kiosk. This is where I unload, and I have to navigate a slew of wires to get inside. Already people are lining up to get fuel, so they can head to the stores in Tumbleweed. They heard there was milk there.
12:30pm- Wednesday October 15
I’m home at a decent hour. The temperature, even over the course of the storm, has stayed fairly constant around freezing. The sun even came out on Tuesday and by the time I arrived home from work on Wednesday, the snow I had left un-shoveled in the drive, had melted down from 3 feet to 4 inches in depth. Little enough, that I was able to park my truck where it belonged, with no fear of future problems.
I have had no time to survey the damage on my own property. I know I have downed trees but I keep getting home late and have not wanted to trudge through 3 feet of snow for a close-up and personal look. I get into snow boots and go to the front of the house, which has the most obvious damage.
There are two 25’ spruces at the front of the lawn, flanked by mountain ashes on either side. The spruces must by 70-years old and are massive. She tore the tops off them and threw them on my lawn! Half-way down the trunk, she had just split them off and launched them into the ground below! They were imbedded 10 inches into my lawn!! What??? Am I supposed to be thankful that she didn’t knock it completely over so it would have landed on my house??? She left a divot the size of a crater!! What is this deity’s problem!!!
In the process of falling, the spruces had broken off two massive limbs of the ashes as well. These limbs are the ones made of iron, that have given me more than one bruise when I have cut the grass. The limbs were shattered near the trunk but the tree had refused to allow them to completely separate. This is going to be a big job for my little chainsaw.
The forecast for the rest of the week is good and I decide I will leave the job until Saturday. This mess wasn’t going anywhere.
Maybe I’m Not Mother Natures Problem
Ginger would love this. I am dressed like a lumberjack, my trusty chainsaw in hand. A mass of interwoven tree limbs in front of me. The job is one of precision cutting. One small piece at a time. I am stacking the cuttings under the trees; I really have no other place to put them. These are not dead limbs, so they are still covered in needles and leaves, which makes it a bigger mess to clean up versus the dead branches MN usually throws on my lawn.
The whole mess started at about six feet high, eight feet wide and 12 feet long. The treetops were laying on their sides. She took the top 12 feet off!! This woman is cruel!!! I diligently carve away, from one branch to the next, stacking the pieces under the trees that they came from. It will take years for this heap to turn to mulch, but I figure let the tree feed the tree.
After an hour of cutting and piling I am down to just the Spruce tops, the very peak. The branches are buried in a four-foot snowball. The snow, that the boughs had caught and stored during the storm and whose weight had been its demise, was still there in one big frozen pile on my lawn. It had the top of the tree in a death grip.
I cut a branch, then shake and pull on it until it becomes free, then I cut that and pile it. After two branches I realize that this was going to take forever. I go and get my ice chipper from the garage and whack away at the snowball. Whack and shake… whack and shake. This is becoming far too much work. I loosen as many limbs as possible. They all have icy-snow attached to the needles but getting them away from the main trunk will help it melt. I’ll be back.
10:00am- Sunday October 19
It didn’t work nearly as well as I had hoped. The snowball was still there, in all its massive glory. Doesn’t matter. The job gets finished here and now.
“You should cut them down,” a voice from behind me says. I turn and there is my neighbour, standing on her driveway looking at the trees. “I’ll give you $200 if you cut them down.”
My neighbour is a kind soul but she is a cross between Esther Kravitz and Estelle Getty’s character in ‘Golden Girls’. Got an opinion on everything and is not afraid to speak it.
“I know that,” she replies as if I’m an idiot. “I’ll give you two hundred towards getting rid of them. They’re old, ugly and they’re dying. If it were me, I would get rid of them.”
First of all, I am not you… and getting rid of something because it is no longer as magnificent as it was in its prime seems a bit harsh, don’t you think? These trees also still serve a purpose at 70! Which is more than I can say about some people Mrs. Kravitz!! It’s a good thing for you, we don’t treat people that way when they get old and ugly!
“I’ll speak to Honey about it,” I say in my most neighbourly voice, “but it’s not happening this year.”
She returns to her house in a huff. I look up at the old trees. I had had to cut away lower limbs that were damaged but alive and, in the process, had exposed the dead branches that were hidden underneath. With the top missing it resembled a half-eaten green popsicle. I must admit it looked pretty bad, and I had thought about getting out the ladder and cutting them away before my encounter with Mrs. Kravitz. But since the dead limbs faced Mrs. Kravitz’s house, I’ve decided they should stay until spring.
I finished up the front and looked at the lawn, it was going to require a good raking in the spring. I still have an elm in the far back of the house to chop up but it will have to wait. What started as a simple sunny week at work had somehow turned into two solid weeks of craziness. It had to end. I was done with Mother Nature and I was done with work. The plan now, is to put it all behind me and to continue on from this point forward.
Let’s not forget… winter is just starting.