View from the fray

Against the wind

Yellow caution tape blocked off a portion of the Long’s Drugs parking lot. The drugstore’s big sign was two-thirds gone, most of it shattered on the blacktop in front of McDonald’s. But Long’s Christmas tree lot was still open mid-afternoon Saturday, so that needy families like mine could acquire festive dead evergreens.

“OK, guys, no debating this year,” I said as we sat in our van. “We’re just going to grab the first tree that looks about right. One, two, three …”

My kids and I launched from the vehicle and headed up a row of trees.

“This one,” I said, pulling up a bushy pine about five feet tall.

“No, I like the color of this one,” my 15-year-old said.

My $25—my call. I dragged my choice to the guy who was slicing trunks.

“That’s the quickest I’ve ever picked out a tree,” I told the chainsaw-wielder.

“I’m hearing that from everyone,” he said.

The National Weather Service issued high-wind watches a day before the storm and put out a high-wind warning at 3:30 a.m. Saturday, says my husband Dave, a meteorologist employed by said federal agency. The warning came a good 12 hours before the gusts were hitting record-breaking speeds of 80 to 90 miles per hour down here—and over 130 miles an hour up there.

But how does one prepare for wind? Batten down the plastic candy canes? Buy candles? Or go about business as usual?

Like many others, I chose the latter course, preparing for my 20-year-old son’s birthday party and filling my daily quota of chauffeuring.

After the tree was safely installed in the living room, I headed out again. It was a bit before 4 p.m., the height of chaos. After I narrowly escaped a trash can dancing across the road and encountered a dervish of ornamental bark, I should have turned around. Rocks battered my car as I drove down Los Altos Parkway. I evaded a flying shopping cart whizzing across Baring Boulevard. Traffic lights were dead. A metal shed that had landed on McCarran quivered ominously as I breezed past.

Power lines were down on York, and a giant fallen pine blocked a lane of traffic on Greenbrae. Fences were flopping and roofs ripping. The power was out. My cell phone couldn’t locate a signal.

Still, we kept running. As I drove home, a woman on the radio said she was determined to continue her holiday shopping. My friends Jean and Tom arrived at 5:30 p.m. to go with Dave and me for dinner and a movie. Theaters were closed, so the four of us enjoyed pasta and wine at a crowded Luciano’s on South Virginia. Then we went to the Siena and caught some live jazz.

When we returned home, the power was still out in Sparks. My son and his friends were playing guitars, piano and a violin by candlelight in the family room.

Utility workers fixed power lines all night long, and by morning most of Sparks was back in business. (Although, as of Tuesday evening, there were 10,000 area Sierra Pacific customers still without power.) A checker at Target told me that a lack of electricity had been mostly tolerable.

"But being without television really freaked me out," she said.