If you’re like me, in the days leading up to Hurricane Sandy you took all of those ominous-sounding warnings seriously. After all, last year’s Hurricane Irene was pretty darn bad. Last year in my area of northern New Jersey, we got soaked with nine inches of water thanks to the low water table. I spent a few days and nights after Irene in my basement bailing out water with buckets and two shop vacs I converted into proton packs you might have seen the Ghostbusters use. We had power, but we didn’t have a sump pump, so I went to Home Depot and bought a bunch of PVC pipes; I attached them to the shop vac, reversed the switch in the front and splattered the water out a tiny window.
This year in the area rain wasn’t the main issue; it was trees and power lines that did us in. So before the storm I had the sense to pick up a few extra AAA and AA and C and D batteries — and a couple of bags of chips just in case. I powered up all portable radio devices, plugged in all the cell phones and laptops in the house.
Just out of curiosity, I went to my local supermarket, where I saw people stocking up on bottled water and non-perishable items like they were going out of style. The gas lines started to look lonely, and I decided to fill up all the tanks in our cars. I fell for the early hysteria a bit, not because the media over-hyped the severe weather events to boost ratings or anything, but in case we needed to go somewhere.
To be on the safe side, I started thinking of every way to defend my home, where I have two kids under the age of five, and a wife who started getting out those large candles that smell kind of funny. I gathered up all the toys outside, threw a bunch of stuff into a shed and rigged the garbage cans so they wouldn’t blow away. That was outside. Inside the basement I lifted everything off the floor, pulled plugs on appliances and hooked up those trusty shop vacs once again. This time, however, we had a new member of the basement patrol: the sump pump we paid a grand for last year after the hurricane.
By six or seven Monday night there was a bit of wind. We actually couldn’t wait to see if the storm was even going to happen or if the predictions were off. Well, it was a terrific lightning storm from what I recall, and the night sky was lit up like a light show you’d see in a screen saver on your old PC.
Then darkness came. The power suddenly went off. We put on the gas stovetop to keep warm and lit candles everywhere, even near our cat and fish. In the silence, I had some time to think about what was going on at work. We were about to blow out a press release for a client launching their flagship app.
First, I expected the power to only be out for a few hours, then perhaps a day at most. I never expected that we’d be without power for an entire week. Second we weren’t sure if there was power where the kids went to school, so we hooked up the old rotary phone in the old non-digital phone jack. The phone rang but just as we were listening to the borough’s announcement, poof, the landline phone signal went dead.
Then back to the outside. We didn’t suffer any property damage. We just were without power and heat. So the first night was rough, and then we had to think about what to do with our food in the refrigerator and freezer. It was a little too late for most of it as the soggy food boxes and milk started to go sour.
We saw lights on just a block away, but there weren’t great accommodations for a family of four, and a mother-in-law in tow, as she had lost power in her home. We found a family in town that had power, three beds in one room and a pull-out couch in another. We set up Schranz camp there for the nights. For the days, the kids had to do something or they would tear apart the hosts’ home in no time. I called a few places of interest to kids and, lo and behold, Chuck-e-Cheese on Route 4 in Paramus had power. That place has enough activities to occupy a full day. It’s like an arcade and an indoor amusement park for little kids, and you always wind up with tickets that add up to some sort of toy at the end of the day when you tally things up. Love that place.
So, my wife stayed at the guest house to study for a test at the guest house (along with her mom) and I took the kids to Chuck-E-Cheese. They could play and I could power up my iPhone and laptop. Only thing I needed was WiFi access, since I had to use Excel and other programs to get my work done. So, I begged the manager to lend me the Wi-Fi access and I’d keep buying tokens for my kids. They didn’t mind. They had power and the place didn’t look busy at first. Then after a few hours the place started to really get busy, not only with kids but with adults too. While most of them were watching their kids or trying to score points and tickets by mastering the easy kiddie games, I powered up and got press releases out, pitches for another client of ours that coincidentally dealt with inclement weather issues and insurance. I scored a Bloomberg radio piece live on the air in middle of the storm, and somehow the client was able to find enough juice to power his cell phone for the interview. Wild stuff, I tell you. E-mails came in from all over the place, including for another client where I was communicating with a renewable energy contact who was going to meet up with a Dow Jones reporter, so there was still a lot to coordinate even if the Beckerman office was closed for a few days. I did get around to some arcade games, and I did the conga line with my three-year-old, chasing after a guy in a Chuck-E-Cheese outfit throwing free tickets in the air if you followed him and did the Chuck-E dance. I took a few pictures you can see here http://beamr.com/vZj4nF. Hey, did you know that an Atari executive started Chuck-E-Cheese? I noticed a few legacy video games and played some Centipede as well.
While I was pitching one story, I inserted a line something to the tune of “I write to you not from the office but from *another* location and hope you are surviving ‘SandyCane,’” and a reporter from Reuters wrote back he wasn’t interested so much in the pitch I just e-mailed but my personal story on weathering the storm. So, I almost became part of the news but got cut out of the story due to space requirements. How many of us have heard that line before in PR?
I spent two days in Chuck-E-Cheese, where the kids were busy, I was busy (I did a few ski bowl games) and eventually there was even a Halloween party happening there. It was probably the only place they celebrated Halloween at its rightful time, since the governor pushed Halloween to the next week. Scary.
Anyhow, work got done, there was a nice note from management that enforced the work from home policy (or wherever you could be productive and effective), and it turned out to be a pretty successful bunch of days for some of the clients I work with. I can’t recall a time or place I was multitasking and most productive ever before.
I can’t prevent trees from falling or branches from flying, but I could certainly score some media hits (and some tickets) at Chuck-E-Cheese. And who would have thought that a children’s arcade led by a friendly looking rat named Chuck would be the perfect hotspot for me to multitask by working and watching over my kids at the same time.
We patiently waited every day to see if the power would go back on as we could see that we might be overdoing our stay with our gracious hosts on the other side of town, but it was more than a week until that occurred.
Things sure weren’t easy. Being refugees in your own town and chasing after kids all day isn’t all that fun. But there were many acts of kindness and people really caring for one another. Strangers and neighbors you don’t normally see became instant pals, and the only people you’re upset with are the local utility companies who have no way in hell to get any real updates to you. Well, there was Twitter, and I managed to tweet at them and get some tweet backs. It started out positive but became very frustrating when we walked down the streets where trees were down and found no utility vehicles anywhere in sight.
The lack of electricity also provided opportunities for the kids to learn new skills and discover talents they never knew they had. They played board games, did puzzles with my wife, etc. Everyone bonded in some way. We talked about things we normally wouldn’t have time to and of course got homesick as the days grew. Thankfully when we got back home and power went on a week later, things were in good shape. The only tragedy was, we lost a fish. I checked with the cat but in the end I figured it was probably a fight in the tank among the goldfish.
Jerry “JerryCan” Schranz