You could virtually hear the reaction across two-thirds of Maine yesterday morning when the citizenry got a gander at Page One of this newspaper. There, in four columns of full color was Vice President Al Gore handling a downed power line in a misguided Auburn photo op designed to signal that the federal government had finally taken official notice of Maine’s Ice Storm Of The Millenium.
“Whoa. What is wrong with this picture?” was the first thought that most readers over the age of six undoubtedly had. That shopworn Central Maine Power Co. mantra cautioning Mainers, in faux Yankee-speak, to “Remembah: No downed power line is safe to touch. Evah.” had been pretty much shot to hell with one click of BDN photographer Bob Delong’s Nikon on Thursday afternoon. CMP, stuck with the arduous task of rebuilding customer safety consciousness even as it rebuilds its battered power grid, will soon begin running advertisements featuring DeLong’s photo of Al Gore as CMP lineman over the caption, “Kids: Do Not Try This At Home…”
Meanwhile, as we make book on how long it will be before the first letter to the editor comes in from some do-gooder admonishing the paper for immortalizing the innovative Gore safety procedure, a final post-mortem on the storm.
During the early days of the ordeal, when many were without electrical power and slowly slipping into a deep purple funk of semi-despair, it was well worth the effort to run up to the new Home Depot outlet at the Bangor Mall to observe the Chinese fire drill in progress. Your basic Filene’s bargain basement hand-to-hand combat operation paled in comparison to this lashup.
As fast as the Home Depot staff could wheel its supply of portable generators and other heat-producing devices in through the back door hordes of desperate homeowners hauled them out the front door to their vehicles for a quick getaway. From my vantage point near the store’s checkout aisles, watching wave after wave of generator-laden shopping carts pass by and seeing the mind-boggling sales figures come up on the computer screens of the cash registers, two things became quickly evident.
The first one was the realization that most of us missed the boat, big-time, when we failed to buy stock in the portable generator business. With a little foresight we could have been lounging poolside in Tahiti, living the life of Reilly off the interest on our investment, rather than pacing around back home awaiting the inevitable moment when the plumbing would finally give up the ghost and freeze solid.
The second self-evident truth was that, with all of the privately owned generators that came on line this week, the next such massive power failure in this great state should be but a minor irritant to the body politic. Add to the great American ideal of a chicken in every pot and a car in every garage a generator in every basement, and the coming deregulation of the state’s public utilities takes on new meaning. Rather than a half dozen major power companies and cooperatives servicing the state, come deregulation in March of the year 2000 there will be half a million little ones serving individual homes. With our newly acquired 5,000 watts of double-shot Briggs and Stratton power we stand, like revolution-fomenting flower children of the 60’s shouting “Power to the people,” ready to take matters into our own hands. Let the guy in charge of unleashing future killer storms give us his best shot, for we are pumped.
But until then let us pause to appreciate the fact that this elongated frigid nightmare — this “ice event,” as weather forecasters insist on calling it — has succeeded at nothing so much as reminding us that a little adversity can do wonders for the soul. Other recent disasters throughout the country have shown that Americans can be counted on to pull together when times are bleak; that the frontier spirit of make-do and help thy neighbor in his hour of need is alive and well throughout this relatively young republic. Still, no one rises to the occasion more magnificently than a Mainer properly challenged. And why not? Practice makes perfect, and when it comes to looking out for each other we’ve been there, done that, it seems, forever.
Anyone who has listened to a radio for the past 10 days — especially to the herculean effort made by Bangor station WVOM in serving as the conduit between Those In Charge and Those In The Dark — has been reminded once again that we are truly blessed with a wonderfully resilient citizenry in this great state. Those who remain without electricity, as well as those good Samaritans who continue to assist them in their hour of need, are the cream of the crop. The absolute all-time battler, the world title holder worthy of survivor-emeritus status in perpetuity and the one before whom we should all bow in submission will be The Last Person To Get Power.
The real heroes in the ordeal, though, have been the line crews working ungodly hours handling a lethal product through sub-zero misery to get our lives back to normal even as their own homes and families remain in the dark. Surely, these stalwarts shall get their reward in heaven.
In the meantime, this Bud’s for them.
NEWS columnist Kent Ward lives in Winterport.