Mansfield has survived yet another storm before could even become a distant memory. Fortunately (or unfortunately, depending on how you look at it) Irene was the “practice run” for storms, so that the was up and running right away for hot showers and warm shelter and was available for who did not fare as well as we did. It seems Mansfield was a well-oiled respite in the middle of power outage chaos.
When I was out and about during the first few days of the aftermath, the thing that people seemed most concerned about was the ability to charge their electronic devices. At the Barnes & Noble in Manchester, the line for snacks and coffee was fairly long, but the appetite for outlets seemed much greater.
Previously average patrons turned into street corner junkies, sitting cross-legged along the edges of the bookstore floor protecting their territory, caring about nothing but their stash of electronics. Some of them loitered in the bathrooms to do their charging. They became pimps who might sell you a little time with the outlet if the price was right. The ones who hovered over them with draining batteries became fidgety and angry. Gimme some juice, man.
The bookstore staff made repeated announcements to use only one outlet per customer, but they didn’t care. They would have to be handcuffed and dragged away like protestors before they’d give up ground. The Occupy Wall Street group has nothing on twenty-somethings without access to Facebook and Angry Birds. Sure, maybe after the second or third day when their living spaces hit below fifty degrees they’d realize how much they miss their heat, but I think the real blow of not having electricity was the prospect of being mocked by their newly useless gadgets.
Second only to being connected seemed to be the desire for coffee. Did anyone drive past the one in town any morning last week? Or maybe you were one of the people there. The impressive line snaked outside past . I can’t say I blame them. You do need proper sustenance if you’re going to covet an electrical outlet for the rest of the day. Feed one addiction before starting on the next, I always say.
I have a feeling, though, that’s it not solely the desire for a specialty coffee that led people to wait in a Starbucks line for an hour. When everyone’s in the same boat, we can console one another just by acknowledging we’re not alone. For some, the basic necessities might include heat, food and water. For others, it’s specialty coffee and online capabilities. Either way, there’s a modicum of comfort in coming together in our time of need.
I’m reminded of one of my favorite Ray Bradbury stories, Night Call, Collect. It’s about a man who has been stranded alone for over 60 years on a once inhabited Mars and craves human interaction. When he was 20, he devised the technology to start calling himself on the phone when he grew older. Although the calls are cruel for the old man, knowing there’s no real person on the other end, he can’t bring himself not to answer the phone every time it rings.
We all need a connection. So order an extra espresso shot, log on, and let’s commiserate together.