Like many Rhode Islanders, we here at Half Shell World HQ lost power Friday night. Our little frozen cove in West Barrington remains buried in snow. Until the lights and heat came back on at 7:43 last night, we bunkered in our drafty igloos with the geese and ducks of Allins Cove. For entertainment during the day we shoveled out mounds of Everest from our driveways and walkways and watched our breath form cloud animals inside our homes. Candles, battery lanterns, head lamps and solar lights allowed us to function at night. We slept fully clothed, under an avalanche of blankets and comforters. We conversed with neighbors, our frosted eyes peeking out of snowdrifts, trading news the old fashioned way - word of mouth, one shovel at a time. The hours blurred into little trials of survival: digging out, foraging for food, trying not to freeze. A few highlights: Trumpeting mute swans flying through the sideways snow of Winter Storm Nemo on the edge of the cove; afternoon sunshine splashing through windows the next day; a lunch of hot dogs and kielbasa at a neighbor's house; solving puzzles with friends by solar light; drinking cans of Pawtucket-based Foolproof's Backyahd IPA while reading a spy novel by candlelight; and listening to WPRO's Operation Snowball coverage.
The old transistor radio proves handy in times like these. And the callers, Rhode Islanders from all over the state, were so refreshing. Down-to-earth, good-humored, warm-hearted. Offering survival tips. Trading complaints. Giving hyper-local updates. Sharing their storm stories and only in Rhode Island moments: One man said he called the warming center number provided for Exeter. "The lady there said, 'I've lived in Rhode Island all my life, and I've never heard of Exeter,'" he told the show's host. How typically Rhode Island is that? You staff a statewide hot line with citizens of a state who've never been from one county to another. You'd have better luck finding out where the Exeter warming center is located by calling a number in Bangalore.
By Sunday, the situation hadn't improved, so I took a road trip to Whole Foods in Providence to stock up and recharge the batteries. Overheard there: "I went to Dunkin' Donuts," said one guy. "They ran out of donuts." His friend nodded: "Did they run out of Dunkin'?," he asked. WPRO callers continued to say they were getting by, although one woman spoke for many in the Ocean State when she said of her family, "We're kinda getting on each other's nerves." The day turned warm, and the neighborhood turned inside-out. A couple of snowmen waved their stick arms in the direction of Narragansett Bay. Somebody built a snow labyrinth in their yard. Evergreens sparkled, melting the white from their limbs.
As of this posting, there are still 20,000 Rhode Islanders without power. The Pope tried to steal the storm's thundersnow by announcing his resignation - no small headline in the country's most Catholic state. But at the end of the day this is still Rhode Island, where "the politics of snow," to quote a phrase from "The Mayor" Buddy Cianci, trumps everything else. Including the politics of the Vatican. Not for nothin', but we do seem to like a little drama with our weather. Hurricane Bob arrived here on the day of a hardline Kremlin Soviet coup in 1991. (It also happened to be my birthday, but that bit of history was pushed to the back pages.)
Nemo is Latin for "No Man" or "No One," meaning the Blizzard of 2013 will be forever known as "No Man's Storm" or "No One's Storm." It was described by National Grid as "a multi-day event." You know. Like the Olympics. Only most Rhode Islanders aren't willing to hand out many gold medals.
Inevitably, between bouts of figuring out where to put the snow and enduring 9-degree cold, talk turned to the Blizzard of '78. Comparisons were made. Old stories were retold. One thing the old-timers said over and over, all around the neighborhood: "This never woulda happened with Narragansett Electric."
What was your Nemo story?