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Sitting alone in the dark (with you)

This is a post for all our friends who are hunkered down in their dark and flickering houses tonight.  We are thinking of you and wishing we were there to keep your spirits up.

Picture Riverdaughter & Brooke, headlamps strapped to their heads, listening to WNYC and working puzzles with Will Shortz while the house shakes, rattles and rolls with the wind.

Scenes like this are happening up and down the coast tonight.

Let’s hope that power (through wire, battery or generator) holds, roofs stay where roofs are meant to be, that everyone we know made it home safely before this dastardly storm swept through and that things don’t look as bad as we fear they might in the morning.

This is a post for sharing our stories.

Here’s a link to WNYC’s Special Hurricane Sandy Coverage — they’re taking calls from all over the region.

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Hurricane Sandy: Go with throttle up

Tropical Storm winds- probability. This looks pretty accurate.

Update: We’re still doing ok with the lights although they are flickering and the wind sounds like a freight train when it starts gusting. I have some short iphone video clips from about an hour ago but I turned on two step verification on my google account and it’s giving me fits.
Brooke is taking her online AP History class at Stanford right now. So far, the wifi is holding up. Maybe the state learned something from Irene.

But would that be a good or bad thing for Christie?  If he proactively mitigated the effects of Sandy, wouldn’t that imply that government works after all?

Would he be a pariah at the next CPAC meeting?  Inquiring minds want to know.  In any case, it is gratifying to see my tax dollars at work.

About an hour ago, the lights started to flicker.  It was right after I got the sump pump reconnected.  It works.  In fact, it worked almost too well.  The minute I plugged it in, one of the connections came loose and the pump sprayed water all over the inside of the sump closet. That was fun. (um, someone remind me to return the check valve I accidentally liberated from the store).  The wind is picking up significantly out there but I have the generator!  Yes!  It’s sitting in my garage right now.  I’m just catching my breath from having to drag it in out of the car.  It is really heavy.  I’ve located one 2.5 gallon gas can so this will require several trips to the gas station, provided any stay open.  Almost everything around here is closed.  The grocery store is closed, not that they’d have anything to sell anyway.

I got down to Princeton and back just in time.  Driving conditions weren’t bad but I forgot that between my town and Princeton there is a depression in the topography caused by a retreating glacier a long time ago.  Even during regular rainstorms, the area floods and roads are impassable from Lawrenceville to South Brunswick.  In my case, it would have been a nightmare getting back because all roads leading to my town encounter a river or canal somewhere along the way.  We’re an island surrounded by flood prone areas.

As you can see from the picture above, the plumbing supply company rented the biggest U-Haul they could find and drove down to Philly for the generators.  They loaded about half of them into their own vehicles for distribution, the rest of us lucky bastards lined up our cars and they loaded them up.  Getting it *out* of the car was a bigger problem since neither Brooke nor I are the heavy lifting types.  We tried a dolly but just ended up pinned between the box and the car on the sloping driveway.  It was hillarious- from a distance.

When I went to pay for the generator, the service rep handed me a mandatory safety bulletin from Governor Christie.  There must have been a lot of accidents after Irene especially when people plugged the generator into their electrical panel in some way.  Apparently, that’s not a good idea unless the panel has been specifically adapted for this purpose.  It turns out that when the utility power comes on when the generator is running, there is too much current flowing through the system at the junction, resulting in bad things happening.  They didn’t go into details but the word “fatalities” caught my eye.  So, those of you who are considering doing that, don’t.  Get an orange indoor/outdoor power cord and run this directly to the appliance you are trying to run.  Don’t overload your circuits and try to keep the generator dry.  That’s going to be tricky.  Ideally, the generator should be in the driveway 15 feet from the house but to keep it dry, it’s going to have to be in the garage.  I don’t know how I’m going to rig this but I’m sure Brooke and I will get our McGuiver on.

Now, I just need to get some gas.  The wind is starting to howl.  Don’t know when the lights will go out.  Could be any time now.

Hurricane Sandy: Here she comes!

So, to recap the weekend, I tested my sump pump as instructed and found it wanting.  After checking the electrical and dumping several gallons of water into the hole, the pump just sat there.  It made no pumping sounds, the water didn’t tremble as it was sucked up the pipe and out of the house.  “Hmmm, that’s sub-optimal”, I thought, remaining as calm as possible.  I went on what I knew would be a fruitless search for a new sump pump, stopping at Lowes first to get some advice. You know, your typical home improvement questions like, how do I rebuild my sump pump in less than 24 hours with electrical and mechanical skills far beyond my current capabilities and could someone take a look at this picture of my sump pump hole and tell me what’s what?

The plumber guy at Lowes, who I will call J, was overwhelmed with people.  It was kind of sad, actually, because there’s nothing left on the shelves.  The whole town of —ville, NJ is busily hacking away with any structural material they can get to save their houses.  J took a look at my pictures and said there was not a lot he could diagnose from them.  He’d have to see it in person.  He said he is a part time plumber when he’s not a Lowes so I begged him to come and look at the sump pump and he said he would after work. J showed up a little after 6pm last night and declared the sump pump dead.  There are no replacements- anywhere.  But he did tell me that the store he worked at had secret information that he was going to pass on to me- they expected a truck this morning with 40-50 sump pumps on them.  Shhhhh.  Nobody else in —ville knows.  Ahhh, that would mean I would have to wake the adolescent creature up before dawn and station her at the store so we could snag one when the truck arrived.  I considered whether the whining would be worth the effort.  In the meantime, I had asked my sister in Harrisburg to keep her eyes open for s sump pump and she was able to find one for me.  My mom had an extra.  Thanks Ma!

Then came the Price is Right dilemma: Do I go for the sure thing in PA or stay in NJ and hope to get a new one this morning?  I asked J.  He said go for the sure thing.  You can’t count on the truck, he told me.  Remember those people who were lined up on Friday to put their names on a waiting list for a generator?  Well, the generators were supposed to arrive on Saturday evening but the truck never showed up.  Then they were supposed to come Sunday morning.  Again, no truck.  Finally, late Sunday afternoon, the whereabouts of the truck were discovered.  The truck had a flat tire on the way to NJ and the driver rolled into Trenton last night.  But because of interstate trucking regulations, the driver had exceeded the amount of time he was allowed to spend on the road.  Trenton is about 45 minutes from here but the truck wasn’t moving.  J was pissed.  He couldn’t understand why the company or state couldn’t bend the rules for the emergency.

My suspicion is that those generators will never make it here from Trenton.  Somehow, they will be repurposed somewhere else.  Just a feeling.  This is New Jersey after all.  By the way, my generator is supposed to be coming from another source.  Annnnd any minute now, I expect them to contact me to tell me when I can pick it up.  Hurry, hurry!

Anyway, back to last night.  My sister said there was a narrow window of opportunity for me to make a decision about the sump pump she had because she wasn’t going to drive all night no matter how precious my basement was.  So, I paid the plumber for disconnecting the old pump and showing me where I needed to connect the new one and jumped in the car to meet her halfway between my house and hers.  It was an hour and a half both ways.  We got home shortly before midnight last night in possession of a new sump pump and two bottles of homebrew.  Yes!

The drive wasn’t too bad last night.  The wind was just picking up and precipitation was only drizzling.  But this morning, it’s a different story.  It started to rain over night but it’s not steady yet.  The retention basin that’s about 40 feet from my house isn’t anywhere near retaining anything yet but that will change.  I expect a lake back there by tomorrow morning. The wind is picking up outside.  It’s coming from the southeast, which means the tree will fall into the street but, er, maybe I should move the car.

So, I’m going to make myself a pot of coffee and head down to the basement to hook this sucker up.  If I get stuck, there’s a handyman in the neighborhood and J the plumber on call to help me remotely. Wish me luck!  I’ll be documenting the storm for as long as I can.  I have a 3G iPad and 4G iPhone.  The cable wifi will be the first thing to go.

Thanks very much to all of you who contributed to the Save the Basement fund.  As of this morning, there is $633 in the fund.  You will be hearing from me in the next couple of days with my personal thanks.  You are all incredibly generous. Receipts will be provided upon request, though the balance of the cost of the generator will be paid later today when I pick it up.

In the meantime, you can follow the storm on YouTube here.  The Weather Channel confirmed that the cherry pickers are being sent in from other states.  That must have been what I saw on Saturday night when I saw the cherry picker convoy on Rt. 206 South on the way towards Princeton/Trenton.  (Christie lives in a mansion on Rt. 206 in Princeton called Drumthhhhhwackit.  Not so many H’s in the name but it sounds funnier if you add them)  They must be coming from the midwest because everything from here to Ohio is in the storm’s path.  We are still in the strike zone even though the worst of Sandy will pass slightly south of us. Heavy rain is predicted for our area as well as high winds.  Check Atrios at Eschaton and Susie Madrak at Suburban Guerrilla for more storm tracking.  They’re located in Philly and it’s looking pretty grim for them as well.

Update: The plumbing supply store just called to tell me that the generator should be here by noon!!  I’m all a-tingle.  Coming up later: after I prepare the generator, I shall climb to the top of the water tower with a bucket of paint to defend Matt Stoller’s honor.