By Arthur H. Gunther III
I went to Louisiana, Connecticut, Georgia and all the way to Texas during Hurricane Sandy’s recent rude visit to the Northeast, and I barely left home. It wasn’t time travel that did the trick but the goodness of humanity. And a bit of financial incentive.
Utility crews from as far away as the Lone Star State were on hand in my area north of New York City to restore service in the electrical and communication devastation. These people are the best. The ones I saw and met were as neighborly as if I sat daily on a front porch in their communities. They smiled though most were on 12-hour or more shifts handling dangerous repair and unaccustomed to the quicker ways of the north.
Ways that include heavy traffic, impatience, sometime rudeness and attitude. But I also saw - I am sure you did as well - little of that behavior on area roads while these called-in utility workers did their job. Some people brought them coffee and food, and one fellow walking by a lineman from Texas patted his back, not saying a word where none was needed. The Texan showed fatigue, but the pat, the silent thank you, gave him a burst of new energy.
One morning at 1 a.m., in blowing wind, a Louisiana crew worked by whatever light they could provide to temporarily connect main feeder lines so that 1,000 people without electricity for eight days could see light and have that all important heat in their homes. A week later the same crew returned and made permanent their work.
In such disasters as Sandy, many of us slow down a bit. We are forced to do without power and thus have time on our hands. We can’t just reconnect to the Internet and check email. We walk to the local library and sit with strangers, some of whom might could live just five houses away in suburbia, and huddle in warmth, using computers, reading the paper. We return home to cook simple meals with natural gas. We sit by candlelight. We go to sleep early, covered by quilts in houses below 50 degrees, just like our great-grandparents did.
And we see, perhaps for the first time in a long while, how little we need to keep going. And how awesome it is to observe a kind gesture, such as the neighbor who ran an extension cord from his generator to the people next door; the convenience store owner who gave out free coffee; the police officer who reported to work without asking for overtime; the volunteer firefighters, first aiders, auxiliary police and others who gave to the point of exhaustion.
And the out-of-area utility workers who worked with their local Orange and Rockland, Con Edison, Verizon, Optimum and other utility brothers to get the job done. While there will be argument and investigation about utility preparedness and response, as there must be if only to be better prepared for the next storm in the “new normal,” none of those words will delete the two we use best to describe those professionals and others who helped in the disaster: good people.
Does humanity need any more than that?
The writer is a retired newspaperman.