Tripping the Lights, FRANtastic!

This piece was written in the aftermath of Hurricane Fran, in 1996, in Raleigh, NC. It was KD's first paid non-technical writing, published on AOL.

With a hurricane headed for the coast, can windblown reporters be far behind?

That's what hurricanes are to most of us, stop signs all aquiver in the rain, and then on to a story about the latest poison announced by the Center for Signs of Public Interest.

That's the way it was for me anyway, until Hurricane Fran rearranged the neighborhood.

The experience taught me a lot, namely:
Twister is for wimps.
You heard me, wimperinos.
La wimpas maximus.

Fran tripped through Raleigh in the wee hours of the morning. Making a grand entrance, she cut off the electricity three hours before she even set her eye on us. Geeks that WE were, the only light in the neighborhood came from our his-n-her portable computers, humming LCD lanterns for a dark and silent house. Let this be a lesson to us all. Television may offer companionship from time zone to time zone, radio may be your car washing entertainment, but when the going gets tough, and the power lines get going, you learn who your REAL plug-in Friends are.

Now this far inland, hurricanes, even hurricanes predicted to hit our coast, are something meteorology amateurs track on charts. They're basically windy thunderstorms, with the possibility of a tornado spinning off into the night. To prepare, REALLY cautious people, the kind who finish their income taxes in January, will pull in the trash cans. Most just order their pizza as usual and listen to news bulletins between Seinfeld and whatever's on next.

For some mysterious reason, (completely UNRELATED to the fact that it meant taking off from work), we spent the afternoon battening down the hatches. (Although not without debating if under the deck was a "safe" enough place to stow the lawn furniture... It's trimmed with something Home Repot calls "lattice". This is not Juliet-Climbs-Down-to-Elope lattice, but Can-you-install-it-before-it-splinters? lattice. Like San Francisco, it's pretty, and looks a lot more stable than it is.)

I'm playing it cool, listening to the radio and losing at Backgammon, until the house tremored beneath us. THAT did it. I had to see what was going on. Actually, not much. Some wind, some rain. (OK, very IMPRESSIVE wind and rain.) We noticed cars turning around and doubling back, so kollidge graduates that we are, we went out and discovered the street was blocked by a fallen maple. Back in the garage, we heard a curious howling in the wind.

"Hmmm, is that a train sound?"
"Naaaah. More like the whine of aircraft engines."
"Oh. Well. THAT'S O.K..." (Did I mention it was a Korrespondence Kollidge?)

Seconds later, a large pine started falling toward the house. It's a strange feeling, watching a tree head for your attic, like knowing Hillary's gonna get another shot at the healthcare system, and not knowing if she sold short on pharmaceuticals again.

"Hey look! The tree!"

Yes, there ARE hundreds of trees... But OF COURSE Keith would know WHICH tree....)

"The tree! It's going to hit our house!" ---This is what I said.

I'm thinking: "Oh, -expletive deleted-! I'm gonna watch this tree go right through our bedroom!"

And gently, silently, thar she went...

We ventured back out to check the damage.

Good news... Didn't hit our house.

Bad news.... Hit neighbor's house.

Good news.... Another tree ripped the trunk halfway down its middle, as if a giant logger had second thoughts about splitting firewood... Her roof was undamaged.
(By the way, if a tree falls in the middle of a hurricane, it doesn't make a sound.)

That was then. The daily search for ice is almost forgotten. Chain saws are back on the shelves. Blue tarps that once covered smashed roofs drape an abundant supply of firewood. Interstates and hotels have resurfaced from swollen rivers and gas stations are pumping. Thousands of piles of brush and debris that once lined the streets have been loaded into a week after week convoy of dump trucks... And I'm taking the light in the bathroom for granted again.

But Fran's still here, especially when another storm looms in the Atlantic.

And I wonder if people on the Mississippi run their fingers on muddy watermarks faded by months of sun and rain-

If people in Topanga Canyon smell smoke in their dreams-

If someone in Kansas catches their breath every time the 8:05 freight rumbles by the kitchen window.

And how many backup batteries DOES it take to keep the portable up for a week?