You're Stuck Here? Make The Best Of It


January 23, 1994|By KEVIN THOMAS

By Monday evening of last week, before the glaciers broke loose at the North Pole and crept over land right into my backyard, I had pretty much resigned myself to my fate.

The weekend was cold enough, but by Monday it was pretty clear that it was a mistake to have canceled the Come-to-the-Bahamas cruise plans.

Fool that I am, winter in Howard County never seemed to warrant the necessity of an escape route to warmer environs.

I've lived in Hartford, Conn., a city where the natives taunt Old Man Winter for sport and declare the arrival of summer the first time they catch sight of pavement below the ice.

Still, the idea of a wind-chill factor of minus-20 degrees is difficult to wrap the old noggin around.

But I'm resourceful. Not knowing what to expect, I sent the family dog, Bubba, outside to get a measure of the situation.

All of 12 inches tall and eight pounds of tenacity, Bubba hesitated for a moment, took the challenge . . . and returned 12 seconds later, clutching kindling and giving me a mean look.

Taking the matter in hand, I decided to explore the situation myself, promptly sliding down the driveway with all the grace of Tonya Harding wielding a black baton.

Speaking of Tonya Harding, could this whole Skate-gate imbroglio have happened at a better time? I haven't had this much fun since Bill Clinton whupped George Bush and the Bobbitt trial started getting stale.

Tuning in to the off-ice shenanigans of Ms. Harding and her on-again, off-again husband -- who, by the way, have certainly put the "dys" in front of "functional" -- has "The Young and the Restless" beat by a long shot.

I was considering legal action when the television cable company went on the blink and I was suddenly reduced to watching Disney's "Aladdin" on the VCR.

Somehow, seeing young lovers cavorting in the balmy desert just rubbed me the wrong way.

Alas, my problems turned out to be trivial.

The award for the worst job in any category has to go to Jim Irvin, director of public works for Howard County.

Mr. Irvin has had to deal with the deployment of close to 50 trucks, cracked water mains and power outages.

But try to imagine how the poor guy felt when he realized the temperatures were so low that the salt normally used on county roads wouldn't have its usual impact.

The public works director turned to cinders as a substitute, quickly depleting the county's supply and making it necessary to seek replenishments.

All in all, the department was $100,000 over its snow-removal budget by late Wednesday, with the end still not in sight.

"I've not seen this bad of an ice storm in quite a while," Mr. Irvin said.

By Wednesday, he declared all county roads passable. But most people apparently thought he meant passable as long as you were traveling on skis.

Meanwhile, County Executive Charles I. Ecker took to the telephones last week, manning a line in the county's emergency center. He was helping out during a staff shortage.

Mr. Ecker said most of the callers were wonderful. However, he added, "Some were pretty demanding."

Even though it is not the county's responsibility, Mr. Ecker said, he did send a county employee out to the mobile home of an elderly woman whose front door was frozen shut.

But the best call that Mr. Ecker said he has ever received on the emergency beat occurred last year, when he was reached by a man who wanted the county to send someone out to shovel his driveway.

When Mr. Ecker said no, the man threatened to call the county executive.

"I am the county executive," Mr. Ecker replied.

Power is wonderful, ain't it?

Power of another kind was in short supply last week. Baltimore Gas & Electric got a little stingy with the juice -- actually they were just conserving energy -- and was randomly turning off the electricity all over the region.

This caused a logistical nightmare for Howard County because these various outages affected water and sewer treatment facilities and traffic lights.

County police were handling a lot of the emergencies, including accidents and traffic control on major roads.

On Tuesday alone, the police responded to 21 calls about automobile accidents and 17 calls about traffic hazards, including everything from broken-down cars to fallen tree limbs.

But for me, the best stories are the personal ones.

County Councilwoman Shane Pendergrass reported that her quick-thinking children heard about a possible power outage and quickly emptied the family freezer.

All the food went outside: The only ice box that doesn't plug into the wall.

And they say nothing comes cheap anymore.

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