Imagine walking out of your front door and seeing this! This was the scene facing neighbors at the end of West Mt. Airy Avenue last week. They could hot use their cars because of this gigantic roadblock and all of the downed electrical wires. (Photo by Len Lear)

by Len Lear

During Hurricane Sandy last week we were without heat and electricity for 50 hours. It seemed like 50 days. To make matters worse, a gigantic tree (I think it was a redwood) on our next door neighbor’s property fell down and filled up our West Mt. Airy street like a lifeless Titanic, making it impassable. We could not drive our cars, nor could those living past us since the street is a cul de sac. And if the tree was not bad enough, there were live electrical wires all around like snakes pulled down by the monster tree.

I was only able to get to and from work because of the meter-less taxi service provided by the Local’s associate publisher, Larry Hochberger. When I called PECO to tell them about the fallen tree and ubiquitous live electrical wires, I told the woman at PECO that we lived on Mt. Airy Avenue. She said, “Where is that?” I said, “Near the intersection with Wissahickon Avenue.” She said, “Where is that?”

I said, “Don’t you know where West Mt. Airy is?” She said, “No. They brought us in from our of town.” I thought to myself, “Wow; we not get our electricity and heat back until 2013. The call reminded me of when I called AT&T to complain about a phone bill and wound up talking to a guy in India. He did not know where West Mt. Airy was, either. I felt like telling the PECO immigrant lady that Mt. Airy Avenue was in New Delhi, between Gandhi and Mumbai Avenues.

On the other hand, we discovered after a few days that those poor PECO guys who restored power for us and so many others are the real heroes of this saga. They were working 16-hour days, many of those hours in the dark and cold up in a tree, not something you really see yourself doing as a career when you are 10 years old. I asked one of them working near our house on Wednesday if his own home had suffered any damage, and he said, “I have no idea. I have not been there since Monday morning.” He said he lived in Pottstown by himself and under normal circumstances worked not too far from his home.

However, under these very abnormal circumstances he was working all over creation, and since he was working 16-hour days, he was too tired to then make the long ride home. I was about to offer him our living room couch, but he said he was staying with a co-worker in Northeast Philly, although he had no time to do anything there but sleep.

Imagine if these industrious heroes were Philadelphia trade union guys instead of guys who work for an actual free enterprise business. If these were the trade union guys who have ruined the Pennsylvania Convention Center, for example, they would have picked up a fallen branch of a tree and then demanded an hour to recover. And they would definitely have threatened, intimidated or even attacked any non-union guy who stepped in to actually remove a fallen tree.

And if city workers had been responsible for the recovery from Hurricane Sandy, the Philadelphia Parking Authority would have been ticketing all the cars (like ours) that had been completely blocked in by fallen trees. Of course you could get the ticket taken care of if you knew the brother-in-law of a City Council member, but then you’d have to let the Councilmanic relative move into your guest room for two months.
By the way, although I did not appreciate the cold and dark and fallen trees and electrical wires, I must admit that I liked opening the back door and feeling the 80-mile-an-hour winds throughout my body. That was thrilling, exhilarating.

During our power outage, we enjoyed the three major food groups: crackers (appetizer), peanut butter (main course) and Doritos (dessert). Now I think peanut butter is fine as a snack, but as a main course for every meal, it does get old quickly. I don’t want to sound like a chronic complainer, but a nice apple or tangerine would have been a pleasant change of pace.?

If we have many more of these weather “events” (as the TV weatherpeople call them), I think some smart entrepreneur should open a bottled water and peanut butter factory in an abandoned warehouse in Kensington. It would certainly provide jobs and do an unbelievable business during these storms. Enough with the new restaurants in Philadelphia already! You can’t even get to them in a horrific storm. The peanut butter and bottled water factory is much more practical.

Of course we formerly ink-stained newspaper types know there are two sides to every story. On the plus side of Sandy, I was able get a lot of work done in the office. That’s because I was not able to take a shower or bath at home, of course, so there were no interruptions at work, as there normally are, because no one wanted to get near me. I always like to look at the plus side. We also did not have to worry about providing candy for trick or treaters on Halloween night since we had huge tree limbs and live electrical wires around the darkened house.

Even Snickers bars, as great as they are, are not worth the risk.

I guess I am spoiled. I don’t know how people lived in the dark and cold for thousands of years. And they did not even have peanut butter!!! When you are used to having a zillion modern conveniences and suddenly they are all worthless and you are living in the cold and dark, you can’t help but ponder certain questions:

I normally go to bed at about 2 a.m. after watching Charlie Rose on Channel 12 until 1 a.m. and then reading the Inquirer and maybe a book chapter or magazine article for another hour. But when we were in the cold and dark, we were getting into bed, shivering under a pile of covers, at about 10 p.m.

When I tried to read by candlelight, I began to get a headache after a while. So my question is this: How on earth did Mozart, Shakespeare, Sophocles, John Milton, Renoir, John Locke, Leonardo da Vinci, Immanuel Kant, Plato, Bach, Herodotus, Edward Gibbon, Adam Smith, David Hume, Verdi and the tens of thousands of other geniuses create all of their extraordinary works of art, music and literature on days that were cloudy or rainy or nights that were cold and dark?

All I could do by candlelight was eat crackers and shiver; how did Dr. Samuel Johnson write an entire dictionary, and a brilliant one at that, by candlelight? How did Denis Diderot write an entire encyclopedia — and in French, no less, by candlelight (and with no Google)? Where did the warmth and the lights come from? With just candles and a fire in the fireplace, I could barely do anything but rub my hands together to keep them from freezing.

These are not rhetorical questions. I honestly have no answer for them, and I wonder if anyone else can explain it. One thing I do know for sure, though: Mozart, Shakespeare, Sophocles and all the rest of the creative geniuses who lived before Thomas Edison’s light bulbs could not possibly have been members of any of Philadelphia’s trade unions. To create works of genius, I have been told by experts that one actually has to work hard.

P.S.: In my next life I’m going into the tree removal business.