Monday, September 05, 2005

The least we can do

A linewoman is in charge of the dozen linemen who skitter up and down our street like angry bald ants. Her name is Cindy. Built like a fireplug with ruddy, unkempt hair he voice caries like thunder off the hot asphalt. She brought a crew down from Duluth, Minnesota. They drove six trucks fourteen hundred miles to our blacked-out and balmy shores. Linewoman Cindy says they left two days before Katrina took us in her arms. Then sat in Memphis, waiting for orders, until Thursday. And they have been in this fresh hell ever since.

Linewoman Cindy spent the last three nights vomiting into a bucket. This crew has repaired the fallout from eight or nine "bad ones," but all the other cleanups paled next to the dance of Lady Katrina. After a 16 hour shift, they sleep (or try to sleep) on hard wooden cots, inside a rotting mildewed tent. There are no separate areas for women. No showers. No phones or lights. What little breeze they get is laden with the scents from row upon row of port-o-lets that flank their make-shift campsite.

Linewoman Cindy says they don't know if they'll get fed today. On Friday, a runner brought a few bags of damp, rotting sandwiches. Saturday there was no runner. And they only ate after they had done their full shift.

I won't let that happen, today.

An hour later I have sixty dollars worth of Domino's pizza and three iced-down cases of bottled water lined up on the bumper of one of the Minnesota Power trucks. I wave down Linewoman Cindy and let her know I've brought lunch.

One by one, the linemen amble over, collect a few pieces, and give nod. Some put fists full of ice down the back of their shirts. Others rub water on their scalps and neck. They usually give me a wet handshake and thank me.

Once everyone else has left, Linewoman Cindy gives me a hug. Her fingers holding onto my back. Both of us perspiring in the late noon sun.

I tell her we don't have any extra beds, but there is plenty of floor space at my parent's house. And we have hot water. They're welcomed to join us tonight. I give her directions to our house. They can take a shower for the first time since they've been in town.

Linewoman Cindy's eyes fill with tears. She says that is the sweetest thing anyone has said to her since they left their homes. Nine days ago. We're rescuing each other, she says.

It's the least we can do, I say.

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