A big truck and a little gnome with cookies

A friend of mine related these incidents. Then she swore me to silence with regard to names, dates, and places. When I said, “Well, if you’d rather, I can always write about something else,” she responded, “But it’s such a neat story.”

She’s right. It is.

So, clothed in pseudonyms and wreathed behind an absolute shrubbery of obfuscation, this is the marvelous tale of a storm, a big truck, a lot of repair equipment, and …

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Once upon a time in a far off land, there occurred fierce and wicked weather. I won’t say where. I won’t say when. All you have to know is that it was violent. It destroyed homes. It shattered lives.

As in the aftermath of many storms, it also knocked out electricity.

Now I imagine that when you think of utility trucks, you envision anonymous workers wearing complicated leather belts filled with esoteric equipment who climb poles for the purpose of restoring power.

That’s what I used to think. Now, I don’t.

Instead. I see utility trucks as gigantic medieval horses. I see utility workers as Knights in Shining Armor. And I see storms as dragons to be slain.

Here’s how my friend Katie (phony name) slew hers.

Rain pelted. Wind roared. Trees shook in their shoes. Okay. I’m not very good at describing weather conditions, but it was bad out there. Electric poles were being knocked down. Electricity all over of the state was off line. And Katie was on call. For the first two days, she worked forty-eight hours, with only a four-hour break for sleep. During that period, she was sent downstate, where the weather had been more savage, and the devastation more complete.



Floods demolished houses. Wind tore down billboards. Trees slammed like giant fists onto trucks, buses, and cars. Utility poles toppled over and showered hot sparks of electricity into the street.

Katie’s crew consisted of five trucks. The vehicle that she drove was a digger with a pole trailer attached. The poles she carried replaced the ones that were knocked down by the storm.

Her crew – and hundreds of others from as far away as Florida and Canada – sallied forth in trucks and trailers like Knights on a quest. And like King Arthur’s knights, they were long gone from home and hearth, labored tirelessly, lived in crude conditions, foraged for food, and wandered from town to town.

Or, to quote Katie, “It got so bad, I forgot to put on my lipstick.”

We’re talking seriously hellish conditions here.

Except that we’re not. Not really. But the work was unrelenting, the conditions were primitive, and the routine was rigorous. Every morning the crews caravaned to wherever they were needed most. Sixteen hours later, they were transported back to an enormous airplane hangar where they would bed down for seven hours before beginning their next sixteen-hour shift. Folding beds inside that vast open area were laid out, row by row, like headstones in a cemetery. The thin blankets they were given provided little warmth, and the lines of Porta-potties outside seemed to go on forever. They showered in trailers (her first night out, there was no hot water), ate in a mess tent, and grabbed meals on the fly.

But Katie wasn’t complaining. Not once. And when she described what they did and how they lived, there was pride in her voice and gaiety in her eyes.

Her crew consisted a supervisor, ten men and herself. Each was top notch in his area of expertise, and all were committed to just one thing. Bringing power back to the miserably uncomfortable and often distraught residents of the Land of Wicked Weather. Their job was to work hard. And work hard they did.

Three weeks later, they were given the opportunity go home. Many crews did exactly that. But not Katie’s. She and her crew decided to stay on until the end.

Their last task on that last day was to repair a giant transformer behind a house in a cul-de-sac. The job was complicated, and they had to use special equipment to move the trucks into the backyard. But they had all day to do it, and everybody was in a pretty good mood.

Their moods only got better and brighter when Izzy and Bella Moskowitz, residents of the house where they were working, pushed open their back door and popped out, like gnomes in a Walt Disney movie. Bella was carrying a plate of vanilla cookies. Izzy was carrying a camera, a smile, and a happy heart.

Bella cooed. “Oh. Such a cold day. Maybe you’d like to come inside for a little while to get warm? Are you sure you don’t need to use the bathroom? Would anyone like a cup of hot tea?”

Izzy laughed, asked questions, and told jokes. “How many months are there with twenty-eight days? Just February? Wrong. Every month has twenty-eight days!”

“Izzy was so funny,” Katie said, shaking her head in wonderment. “And Bella was as sweet as pie. They were married for over fifty years and they loved us being there. They made us feel so appreciated.”

The hours flew by. The old pole was removed; the new pole was installed; and the transformer was repaired. Then, finally, after three long weeks, it was over. Nothing left to replace. Nothing left to repair.

Time to go home.

Izzy Moskowitz, in the middle of a sentence, suddenly realized that his new friends were stowing their gear. “Wait,” he shouted. “You can’t go yet. I want to get a picture of the crew next to the beautiful truck.”

Katie, as fearless as Sir Galahad but as photo-shy as a fawn, ran around the house and hid. But Izzy found her, coaxed her back to the truck, arranged three burly crewmen on either side, and took the picture. Then, glowing with satisfaction, he kvelled, “What a terrific group … and a great gal named Katie!”

And that’s pretty much the end of the story.

I begged Katie to let me show you the photograph but, ever protective of her privacy, she refused. She did agree, however, to let me tell you about her adventure. About the nice guys she worked with. Their commitment. The mission they accomplished. And the good deeds that they did.

And she particularly wanted me to tell you about her gnomes. The sweet and generous couple who, after weeks of grueling labor, were Katie’s endearing, affectionate, and slightly comical reward.

Shelly Reuben has been nominated for Edgar, Prometheus, and Falcon awards. She is an author, private detective, and fire investigator. For more about her books, visit www.shellyreuben.com.

Copyright © 2012, Shelly Reuben

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