Monday, December 15, 2008

A bad-hair, ice storm kind of day

Women understand that while it’s OK to delay some appointments, a date with the hairdresser isn’t one of them.

When I awoke last Friday to a frigid house surrounded by large trees downed in the worst ice storm in New Hampshire history, there was no heat, electricity or phone service. But I still intended to keep my 12:30 p.m. salon appointment.

Scheduled for color “enhancement,” there was no need to wash my hair – leaving precious gallons of hot water in the tank for others. It was my day off and the lights were out. Who’d care that my hair wasn’t squeaky clean?

Heading out in search of caffeine, I found restaurants and coffee shops as dark as their coffee. With no working traffic signals to impede my progress, I quickly reached downtown and spotted a coffee oasis beckoning from the darkness. The shivering masses seeking comfort inside included two colleagues. I confided to one that I’d dressed without light and probably looked terrible. He seemed too preoccupied with scoring hot coffee to care. Later I discovered he’d also been too preoccupied to notice the large, red Velcro hair curler stuck to my black shirt – or was too nice to say anything.

“You wear such weird jewelry he probably thought it was supposed to be there,” observed No. 1 son.

With daylight now filtering into the cold, quiet house, I caught a glimpse of my hair in the mirror. Comparing it to a bird’s nest would have been a compliment.

My cell phone rang. “How are you?” my boss asked politely. “Cold,” I replied. “It’s warm at City Hall. Why don’t you come down and help with the media?” he said.

I looked at my watch. There was enough time to write news releases and still be in Sheila's chair on schedule. Everyone would be too busy answering the calls coming into the Emergency Operations Center to notice my hair. I forced a brush through it anyway.

Dodging fallen tree branches along the route, I spotted a downed tree and power lines in the street near my hairdresser’s home. My mind raced. In just a few days I was scheduled to receive a municipal award that would be televised on the local cable channel. My hair required “enhancement” and soon. Surely the debris could be cleared in time for my appointment.

The Emergency Operations Center was humming with lights, heat, coffee and working phones, courtesy of a big, honking generator. Hours later, it set the roof on fire, forcing its own "emergency operations."

We were evacuated and I panicked -- not because of the fire, but because my work wasn’t done, I had no idea when we’d be allowed back inside and “Hair Time” was imminent. Yes, 75 percent of my city and half of the residents of New Hampshire lacked power, but I had an appointment to keep. From the look on his face, I suspect the Fire Chief realized my repeated inquiries about his firefighters’ progress went beyond simple curiosity – or he was mesmerized by my stringy hairdo.

It was looking bad for keeping my sacrosanct meeting with the one person who could cure what ailed my hair. I visit Sheila more frequently than my personal physician. We know a delay in treatment can widen a thin line of gray hair roots into a boulevard.

I telephoned the salon. No response. I telephoned Sheila’s home. Miraculously, there was an answer, but it wasn’t good. Her route remained blocked and even if she could get to the salon, it had no power. I wouldn't be able to even try to bribe her to walk to City Hall to do my hair in a bathroom. My hair would not be rescued that day.

It wouldn’t be easy to get another appointment during her busiest season. But finding a big, fancy hat to hide my gray would be impossible in the aftermath of an ice storm. I began to hope that the fire knocked out the TV cameras scheduled to record my award a few nights later.

Partial salvation came with the news the power was back on at home and at least I could wash my hair. Hundreds of thousands of others weren’t so lucky. My neighbors went without power for over 63 hours. Even with fireplaces, temperatures dropped to 39 degrees inside their homes. Basements flooded without electricity to power sump pumps. Roofs and vehicles were impaled by pine trees. Yards resembled war zones.

There was no TV or Internet to get weather updates. Phone service was intermittent. Area hotels were full. The unlucky became so desperate to shower that they paid rare visits to fitness center locker rooms or the bathrooms of neighbors with heat. Some drove around in their cars to keep warm and recharge cell phones. Others cursed themselves for not buying generators months earlier. Thousands are still in the dark today.

Some say this experience has given them new sympathy for the homeless. And there's been little talk about the inconvenience of a devastating ice storm so close to holidays. I no longer care about advancing lines of gray roots. Like so many others, I’m just grateful to be safe and warm.


Candy said...

Pat--I like a woman with her priorities straight. Coffee and hair color! My kind of gal (but where's chocolate?) Here's a good tip: Clairol Nice n Easy Root Touch-up. Keep a box in with your emergency supplies. My stylist says that's exactly for it's good for--times of crisis.

Anonymous said...

It's criminal that power companies aren't REQUIRED to put their infrastructure (the wires) underground. Surely all these ice storms are costing them more money than investing in a few backhoes and plastic pipe.

Think about it; it's the 21st century and we're still using 19th century technology when it comes to delivering electricity.

The last time our power went off during an ice storm, it got down to 44 inside the house. When the power came on four days later, we were overjoyed. (This was in April--and no one expected a storm like that in April.)

Pat said...

Love the addition to the emergency kit, Candy, and you are so right Lorraine.
Some people around here without power are so upset that they've had to bring in the police to protect the power company folks -- maybe someone will finally get the idea that there's got to be a better way!
I still can't figure out how 20 out of 100 houses in the same neighborhood can have power while the others are dark for almost 4 days.....

Candy said...

Pat--You might also consider doing what we did this winter: buy a portable generator. It can power the microwave and the curling iron. We also bought a snow blower (to insure that we never have more than a dusting.)