My St. Louis

The following is a recant of the past few days and my experiences in our City as they relate to the recent storms. I apologize for its length, but I think the stories contained need be told about the great brotherhood contained in the hearts of St. Louisans.

Wednesday

When the storms first hit, I was having dinner at Grbic, a Bosnian restaurant on Meramec, with two others. We had just come from the Downtown Dutchtown (DT2) Business Association Afterhours, at which the winners of the DT2 “A Day in the Life of Downtown Dutchtown” photo contest were announced. Shortly after being seated, I noticed the clouds darkening, and the winds picking up, as evidenced by the trees swaying heavily. During our meal, the driving rain began to fall. The front and side doors to the restaurant were opened by the wind a few times, and the power flickered, but nothing gave an impression of what the rest of the City was going through.

Since the three of us had driven together to the restaurant from the DT2 event, after dinner, our driver had to take the two of us back to our cars, which were parked in the NationalCity Bank lot on Grand near Meramec. On our trip back to our cars, the three of us noticed quite a few trees down, still not knowing the full extent of the storm’s wrath. We briefly tried to figure out which ward we were in so that we could tell the right people of the damage, that we still thought was localized. Once we approached Grand we became more aware of the extent of the problems – there was not a light on along Grand.

Once the three of us said our good-byes, I began to drive home along Grand and then Meramec, all the while thinking to myself, “Please let me have electricity,” knowing that I most likely wouldn’t. And, I didn’t. But, in addition to not having electricity because the grid was down for the several blocks around my house, I also didn’t have electricity because my neighbor’s gigantic tree had fallen in my tiny back yard and had taken out my cable, telephone, and electrical lines. I was more upset that my once full shade backyard had instantly become a full sun backyard and this would likely kill my hostas.

While taking an assessment of my home, I noticed that someone was flashing a flashlight in my front door, which is largely a pane of glass. Not knowing who it was, nor what they wanted, I hid and called 911 on my cell phone. Without a wait, I received a 911 civilian employee who took my information. After the call I noticed that there was no longer light coming in through the front door, so I went to investigate. After inching toward the door hiding behind couches, bookshelves, and various other object on my trip, I reached the door and found no one there, so I went outside. I saw no one on the street.

At this point, I decided to call one of my neighbors to let them know someone was going around looking in people’s houses. I had found the culprit – my neighbor. He had been calling me from a number I didn’t have programmed in my phone, and consequently didn’t answer during dinner. Then after he saw my car was in front of my house, he came to check on me. I have great neighbors. (This won’t be the last time I say that.)

Harry, my neighbor, and his partner Ted had been at dinner during the storm, but arrived home before I did. They had seen the damage caused by our mutual neighbor’s tree. When asked by Harry if I had seen the damage, I obviously didn’t respond as expected, because he asked again. I really wasn’t worried about the tree, the electricity, or the damage because it hadn’t hurt the fence or the house.

So I asked Harry if he had seen or spoken with our mutual neighbor to whom the tree belonged. Michael W., the tree owner, had fled after his car, along with two others on the street had windows shattered by the slate roof tiles that had flown off from St. Anthony of Padua’s old highschool, which is our neighbor across the street.

While Harry and I surveyed the damage from the tree in my backyard, the downed power lines in our street, and the various other trees around our block, the police arrived from my call. This was about 15 minutes or so after I called, which I consider to be good response time based on the number of calls I am sure they had and the difficulties navigating the City due to non-functional traffic lights. I told them that everything was ok, and they drove off, but quickly found that there was now only one way to get off my street due to a huge tree blocking the other direction and crushing a van.

Shortly later my tenant arrived and we filled her in on what had happened. She decided to stay the night in her unit, at which point we all parted ways. I was somehow able to sleep that evening.

Thursday

After I woke, got cleaned-up and dressed I headed out to conduct some personal business downtown, which I found to be fully powered and clear of any debris. I took this as a good sign of things to come for the rest of the City. I also stopped by my local Walgreen’s for ice and an ice chest, of which they only had the latter. I asked and was told they were being fed off city power, which I took as a good sign of things to come for my neighborhood.

I decided at that point to check on a friend in another part of town who is a little bit older and might not be suffering the heat as well as I. He, too, was without power, but in his typical fashion was taking it in stride sitting on his back porch. I didn’t think the heat was good for him. So, I took him to lunch.

I figured that the shops along Grand would be open because the traffic lights had been working there when I drove through on my way to downtown earlier that morning. I was wrong. The only restaurant open was Sekisui, which I happen to enjoy. So, we had lunch there. We decided to linger at lunch because we were in the air conditioning and didn’t otherwise have any plans.

After lunch, I wanted to show my friend, Michael R., the damage caused by the tree. Very curiously, the gate from my back yard to the gangway was open, my garden hose was drawn out, and some of the tree had been sawed. I was perplexed by this until, looking through my gangway, I saw on the street my neighbor, Michael C., pulled up. This neighbor is on my west, and is not the tree owner. I then saw Michael W., my neighbor on the east and the tree owner, approach Michael C. So, I quickly went out to meet them. I had left Michael W. a note to call me so we could discuss removing his tree from my yard.

When I reached the Michaels, Michael C. told me that he had been cutting the tree, but that his chainsaw had died, and so he went to buy another. I have great neighbors.

Michael C. (neighbor on the west), Michael R. (friend), and I spent the better part of 3 hours cutting the tree in to small pieces and piling them for later removal. Michael W. joined in occasionally, but left several times. Toward the end of the tree removal efforts neighbor Harry also joined in, as did Michael C.’s partner. By the way, Michael C., who took the initiative to cut this tree, and his partner have lived in Jefferson County for nearly the entire time I’ve lived at this house. They’ve been trying to sell their house, to no avail, and the downed tree wasn’t on their property at all. All I can say is that I have great neighbors, and life seemed a bit normal.

After we removed as much of the tree as I thought we safely could and many thank-yous from me to them, we all dispersed and went our own ways. I also had the opportunity to meet my neighbors behind me, who own the van that was crushed by that tree blocking the street.

That evening my friend Michael R. opened his home to me, as mine was over 80 degrees, and although he also did not have electricity, his basement was a relatively cool 75 degrees. Somehow I was able to sleep that night.

Friday

With the heat continuing, I decided to get a haircut, which was about the most eventful part of Friday. Everyone at the Fantastic Sam’s was, of course, discussing the storm, whether they had electricity or not, and the normal gossip that goes on in that type of establishment. Life seemed normal.

Saturday

Saturday returned life a little bit to normalcy when Michael R.’s electricity returned, and when I check Ameren’s website it estimated my return to service for that evening. That morning also marked the City’s clean-up of Hancock Ave., which is where Michael R.’s home is. The Streets Division, along with Forestry, removed all the limps that the neighbors had collected to the curb, and then swept the street with a street cleaner.

After we assisted the city employees in cleaning-up the block, I went on with my planned schedule. I had planned to visit the International Institute’s Festival of Nations, and dragged Michael R. along with me.

This was the first Festival of Nations that I attended and found it to be great fun. Even though the City was still mostly out of power, everyone at the festival seemed happy. There was great food, good music, face painting, and generally a good time for everyone. I would have expected that without power and with the heat that tempers would have flared and people would have been cross with each other, but that was not the case.

That night I joined friends at a 20th anniversary. At that backyard event, with the bartender and DJ, you never would have known that most of the City, including my home, was still without electricity. Life seemed normal.

Sunday

So, here it is Sunday. I spent the night in the air conditioning at my friend Michael R.’s. This morning I checked the Ameren website, which states that electricity was restored to my home at 11:30 PM last night, but I have yet to verify that. So, shortly I will survey the scene at my home and discover whether or not I have electricity and what fate has befallen the tree in my backyard.

My Saint Louis

Looking back over the last few days, I am drawn to the fact that although my schedule has been anything but normal, life seemed normal. There were no riots, no looting of which I am aware, and in fact, people went out of their way to be pleasant and helpful – sharing inside information where to find ice. We all shared in our experiences of being without electricity and empathized with those that were without it longer. Unlike Katrina, which ripped New Orleans apart and divided the city, we St. Louisans came together. And, although this event is not yet over, we will make it through together, stronger. This is my Saint Louis.

[update]

I’ve returned home, to find electricity functioning, cable functioning, and my food spoiled, as was expected. Even though the cable and electricity are working, the lines are both still on the ground. I called Ameren and they said another crew would be out to rehang the line once power is restored to the rest of the City, which it understandable.

The porttion of the tree that took down my lines has also been totally cut down. I have been unable to reach my neighbor to discover when the removal of the debris will begin, but that can be a project for tomorrow.

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