Riders Of The Storm

By Barney Blakeney

This week has been difficult. My aunt Sarah Lees Cooper, a former Williamsburg County teacher ,used to say “Getting old is a blessing. But it’s so inconvenient.” My personal recovery from Hurricane Dorian again proves how true her assessment is.

I’ve in the past prided myself on riding out hurricanes. Though neither of my parents were Lowcountry natives, I was born here and have spent all my life here. I ain’t fraid o’ no storm! As a little kid I rode out Hurricane Gracie in 1959 and as an adult I rode out Hurricane Hugo in 1989. They were different experiences.

As a six-year-old living in the Cooper River Court housing complex during Hurricane Gracie, all I remember were the lights going out and using kerosene lamps for lighting. After the storm passed we played in the flood waters. During Hugo the lights also went out. The bottle of Scotch I nursed helped me forget some stuff, but as the winds roared I realized I’d do better to pray. Thinking back now, I guess that’s what my parents did during Gracie. But as with Gracie, after Hugo I played. We had hurricane parties in the dark somewhere for the entire two weeks the lights were out.

Thirty years later when Dorian blew into town, age and experience had taught me that a little vodka and a lot of praying – at least for me – were keys to riding out the storm. But 60 years after Gracie and 30 years since Hugo I found it less desirable to play once the storm passed.

Again the lights were out. Blessedly there were no flood waters around me. I wouldn’t play in them had there been – not in the polluted waters our community has produced over the past 60 years! But I had become accustomed to electricity, television and air conditioning. My two days without electrical power were torturous. As Sarah Lees would say, getting’ old ain’t all that convenient.

I made it through. And I’ll tell you what – I make it a point to tell the people working on downed power lines “Thank You!” Those folks do an incredible job. The other day, on my way home I passed a crew.  My electricity had been restored the previous evening. After two nights in the dark with no air conditioning, I was elated to return home to electricity. I turned the corner of my block and saw our building lit up and a smile as broad as the windshield of my car spread across my face! I was as happy as a bug in a pot of rice.

So when I passed those guys the next day I thought of the relief I felt the previous night. And I felt an appreciation for the work they were doing. I turned around, pulled up to the group of six or eight guys, got out of my car and said thanks. They smiled, said “You’re welcome” and continued working. I had to leave before breaking down emotionally. That’s something else old age is doing to me. I get emotional about stuff. But that’s how much their work meant to me. Man, I was tortured in the heat and dark of Friday night. I had dreaded going home Saturday night to that same thing. They spared me!

Power line installers and repairers are a rare breed.  They’re no dummies. Employers prefer candidates with basic knowledge of algebra and trigonometry. In addition, technical knowledge of electricity or electronics obtained through military service, vocational programs, or community colleges can also be helpful. Electrical line installers and repairers often must complete apprenticeships or other employer training programs. These programs, which can last up to 3 years, combine on-the-job training with technical instruction and are sometimes administered jointly by the employer and the union representing the workers.

They must possess qualities such as color vision, mechanical skills, physical strength and stamina, technical skills and teamwork. Their median annual salary ranges from about $59,000 to about $73,000. For all that’s required of them and all they do, they’re worth much more.  Their work is physically demanding. They must be comfortable working in confined spaces at great heights. Despite the help of bucket trucks, all line workers must be able to climb utility poles and transmission towers and balance while working on them. Their work often requires that they travel long distances, and work outdoors. In emergencies or after storms and natural disasters they may have to work long hours for several days in a row.

Recovering from Hurricane Dorian has made me aware of a few things – riding through a storm ain’t what it used to be, what once brought so much fun ain’t so much fun anymore and a lot goes into the recovery. All that considered I’m not so sure I’ll ride out the next one.

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