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Nanya Friend: Seeking the calm after the storm

YOU could call this the tale of two clerks. It was about 7:30 a.m. Saturday, June 30, and I was maybe fifth in line at a local convenience store.

Only 12 hours into the massive power outages, the place already was under siege.

Some customers were after gas, while others sought their morning fix of caffeine, nicotine or both. People seemed dazed and wary.  

My husband and I were hunting and gathering for ourselves and his elderly parents. My panic button had been hit the night before, when I realized the power might be out for days.

We had driven to two Kroger stores and found bewildered employees unsure when they would open.  

So at the convenience store I grabbed the most nutritious food I could find on shelves stuffed with bad carbs. My game bag would be filled with pretzels, chips and bean dip, the closest I could come to protein that wouldn't have to be chilled.

My spouse, hungry after being hustled out the door with no breakfast, went for a Danish.

On pause for a few moments in line, I watched the clerks.

One seemed to be melting down. Her computerized cash register was working slowly, with hiccups and burps. That and the unusual early crowd were unnerving her.  

After a few minutes of glitches, another employee stepped in. She backed away, grabbed her purse and headed outside for a cigarette.

On the other side of the counter was a woman with a friendly expression and air of competence. She was working her line efficiently. She would smile and patiently accept whatever form of payment was extended.

She seemed to will that register to work, and it responded.

Over the next several days I saw other examples of the different ways people react to a crisis.

Some flung a little money at it, buying batteries, ice and peanut butter. Others spent a lot, holing up in hotels or procuring generators.

Some got grumpy and stayed that way. Others found reasons to laugh.  

I was inspired by my in-laws' next-door neighbor. We managed to find our folks a hotel room, but this woman stayed put. She's in her 90s, lives alone and still drives.

On that first Saturday, her cellphone was nearly dead, so I offered to recharge it at the hotel.

When I returned, she invited me in.

She had told us she would be fine, and I quickly realized she was right.

Her living room, immaculate as always, was much cooler than outside despite the lack of air conditioning.

Her windows were shut, and she had closed the curtains to block as much sunlight as possible. For another layer of protection, she had draped towels over the windows with exposure to the late-afternoon sun.

Unlike grubby me, she was well-dressed, with even her hair done nicely. She had put a few items from her fridge in a small cooler and said she planned to eat lightly, probably cereal and milk, because of the heat.

I took a cue from this calm, charming woman with nearly a century of even-keeled perspective on what others saw as calamity.

I began my own ritual of closing and covering windows each morning and draping some with towels. At night, when the air cooled, I would reopen them. I was surprised at the degree of comfort we were able to achieve, even with daily highs in the stratosphere.  

Later in the week, again in a checkout line, was another example of good-humored competence.

The middle-aged woman in front of me was chatting with the clerk about their experiences.  She, too, was groomed beautifully down to hair and jewelry.

She had begun to walk away when she turned back to offer a tip for staying cool.

She said one night her house was hot, she was hot, and her small dogs were hot. Then she remembered something she had read.

She soaked a beach towel and draped it over a leather chair. She and the dogs settled into it for the night.

"I slept like a log, and so did they," she said. "I even had to cover up with a blanket."

Now I didn't act on this tip. I don't have a leather chair, and I guess I wasn't suffering enough to conquer the prospect of waking up damp.

But I loved the spirit of this woman's strategy.

When the next crisis rolls around, I'm going to be better equipped, but not necessarily with alternatively powered gear.

I'll have memories of calm, pleasant people who coped.   


 Friend is editor and publisher of the Daily Mail. She may be reached at 348-5124 or by email at


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