Lineman

Lineman from across the country are in Southwest Louisiana trying to help restore power. 

So here’s my main observation from almost two weeks of multiple trips each and every day, making the rounds to all of the big box hardware stores:
People actually drive better with no traffic lights.
There. I said it.
Certainly, they drive more politely.
Seriously. I think it’s worth trying full-time if we ever get back to the new normal.
 It ought to be tangled mess of a nightmare out there.
Instead, people suddenly know the protocol for a four-way stop, even when there’s not a working light or stop sign for miles
How does this happen?
Sometimes the biggest problem is to get somebody to go when it’s their turn.
The universal one-finger salute has been replaced by a “no-no, you first” wave and smile.
And traffic is smooth as silk.
This is not the Lake Charles traffic I was familiar with.
But I like it.
Esprit de corps in the clogged lane. What a concept.
It spills over.
I don’t know if it’s possible to be too polite, but if we don’t get some traffic lights to try to quick-sneak through with an unwarranted left turn, Lake Charles is about to overdose on civility.
Meanwhile, Vanity evidently is out on furlough. You are what you are, even in public, which is probably dirty and sweaty and unshaven.
So is everybody else.
Who cares if it’s not a national story anymore.
Don’t get me wrong. The outside aid is appreciated. And it has come from all corners. 
Thank you, thank you, thank you.
And thank all of you again, especially the Delgado Junior College baseball team in New Orleans.
But after watching this city since the storm, the one thing we don’t need is anybody’s damn sympathy.
Me, I’m getting a little tired of hearing  the term “hurricane-ravaged Lake Charles.”
Yes, a lot of things here are broken and may take a long time to fix.
But we are fine.
We may all be dirty and sweat-soaked and, yes, often frustrated and sometimes overwhelmed. But common ills and goals are a wonderful unifier.
I lost most of a two-story brick side from my humble abode, but when everybody has a similar tale, you don’t bitch and moan, you grin and bear it and know that by tomorrow it will be a little bit better.
Besides, that left the glass three-quarters full, I figure.
At least there was no flooding
Meanwhile, in the cleanup, we’re meeting good neighbors that before were only vague, nameless faces.
That’s not all bad.
In the end, generators are a wonderful thing, even if it took me and Ray two full days before we  — well, mostly Ray — finally pushed the right do-dads to get mine purring. 
The ordeal --— as God is my witness — is that I will never take air conditioning for granted again, even the little unit that Ray and I force-fed into a window ill-designed for the chore, a marvel of impromptu engineering.
We’re all in this together. Sometimes it actually feels good.
I was driving by the Shop-A-Lot on 18th St. when I noticed them loading bags of ice into the box outside of the store.
Quickly did a U-turn. The place wasn’t open, but I asked the nice lady who seemed to be in charge if I could buy one of those really big bags of ice.
I waved a five-dollar bill for effect.
“It’s $3.30,” she said. “But I can’t make change right now.”
“Fine,” I said. “Take the five.”
“No, no, no” she said. “I don’t want anybody to think I’m gouging.”
I explained that it’s not gouging if I make the offer, and she reluctantly took the fiver and I got my ice.
“But you come back tomorrow,” she said. “And I’ll give you your change.”
Not a chance.
It was my turn at the check-out at a Wal Mart when the cashier noticed that the lady in front of me had left two of her bags of behind.
“Excuse me,” she said, shutting down her register as she took off trying to catch the lady in the parking lot who would be missing some items when she got home.
Good for the cashier, who was on loan from out of town as many big stores need reinforcements.
Better for the long line waiting behind me, none of whom bitched that their wait just got a little longer. Instead they cheered the cashier on in getting the merchandise where it was supposed to be.
  We’ve got a lot of visitors.
The platoons of hard workers who’ve flocked in are a much-welcomed joy. I’ve talked to many of them, particularly Olman, aka “Homie,” and Mateo from Velocity, who got my missing two-story brick wall boarded up in an hour and a half with an amazing display of teamwork and efficiency. Maria held the ladder for the acrobatics above.
So I hate to bring up the exception, but it is too telling not to relate.
Just the second day into the cleanup/recovery — I guess it was the Friday-after, but who in tarnation knows what day of the week it is any more — I noticed only two businesses open. There may have been more.
One was a convenience store, with a very long line for gas. The other was — don’t everybody raise their hands at once — of course it was — wait for it — a Waffle House.
It was the only Waffle House I’ve ever been to with a maître d’ in residence, and he was kept quite busy keeping sweaty customers masked and socially distanced — the pandemic apparently survived the storm better than your roof — with a line out the door, all waiting for him to assign them to one of the well-spaced stations around the counter to order and get something to eat, to-go orders only.
Behind that counter an army of Waffle House’s alpha dogs were at it like worker bees to keep the assembly line going. The usual frantic choreography back there was ratcheded up several notches and it was a sight to behold, scattered, smothered, covered and sometimes diced, without a wasted motion.
The customers, too, were tired, frustrated, unbathed and unkempt, mostly hungry.
But we were all patient and weak-smiling at each other with whatcha-gonna-do shrugs, relieved to wallow in the hint of air conditioning.
But then the exception started mouthing off.
“I’ve been waiting for 20 minutes,” he said in a stage-whisper that grew louder as he continued ... “This is ridiculous. The sign says, ‘Good Food Fast! Yeah, riiiight. I got work to do ...”
He went on for a bit, largely ignored by a more patient clientele and staff.
I may have whispered something like “Can’t you see they’re swamped,” but, finally, it was another obvious local at the next ordering station who interrupted the tirade.
“What are you doing in town?” he asked.
“I’m here to get your electricity turned back on,” the worker replied proudly.
The local: “Really? How come it’s not on yet?”
He had no answer. Stumped.
But eventually they will get the answers. And so will we.
And in the long run we just might be better off for the whole experience.
Grime, sweat and all.

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