east coast

On January 2, 2014, I placed an order for a 3500 watt generator, a 10 circuit transfer switch kit, (includes the 30amp 240 volt locking cable and power inlet receptacle) and a nice lock and cable so all of it hopefully won’t up and walk away. It was scheduled to arrive on January 6th a Monday. On the 5th, Icemageddon turned into snowmageddon. We got 17” of snow. Turns out it was the 3rd highest snowfall amount in our areas history. Seems like I remember getting more snow than that but I guess it all happening in a short period of time made a difference. In the middle of the afternoon on the 5th, it was snowing so hard I could barely see the big honey Locust tree in our back yard. During the middle of the afternoon I saw our light blink three times. I’m thinking, Oh No; we are so close. IMG_20140106_125726_389 IMG_20140106_125648_653   I figured that UPS wouldn’t be able to deliver my item on the 6th and would have to perhaps wait another day or two. The next day I checked the tracking information and it was listed as out for delivery all day until about 2030, then they called it off due to bad weather. On the 7 th, early, it showed the packages out for delivery but they were cancelled due to the weather at about 0900. Even though my items are only about 5 miles from my home, it looked like old Jack Frost had put a hex on me. I called UPS and requested that I be able to pick up the items from their distribution center. They put in the order and scheduled that I could pick up the items on the 8th. Great now I can look forward to its arrival. I guess I should explain a bit about the problem. I told you about the 17” of snow. That’s a lot, but we’ve handled that before in our area. Not under our current circumstances. Our city, Flint, Michigan, is under state receivership and sadly laid-off a large swath of our work force. In the past if we had a storm of this magnitude, garbage trucks would have been equipped with snow blades and it would be all hands on deck for the sanitation, maintenance and Department of Public Works people. Well there were few hands to put on deck. Our garbage pickup has been outsourced. Many of the other departments were cut down to skeleton crews. There was no where to pull from, so it took forever for the streets to get plowed. For us it was 5 days. That’s five days with one lane ruts in the road from cars driving back and forth, which included many getting stuck. This is why UPS couldn’t chance coming into our subdivision. Heck my wife told me that a FedEx truck came to the house next door and got stuck and it took quite a while to get free. All of this I can understand. I’m just too close to having some peace of mind with this situation to have our items cooling their heels in some warehouse just a few miles from home. So Ashley and I went and made a pickup. As soon as we get there I figured I would give the guy behind the counter my papers with the tracking numbers. He asks, what is the name of the street. I’m thinking how would he know just by the name of the street. As soon as I tell him, he knows. He doesn’t even need to see the tracking numbers. Looking back, I imagine the amount of packages going through their place in the first week of January is significantly less than around Christmas. He’s like…Oh that package. “You got a…”. He’s snapping his fingers trying to remember. I tell him it’s a generator and it’s like a light bulb went off. He tells me to drive around to the front and he’ll bring them out. So we do that and load everything up in the back of the mini van. It’s time to take stuff home and make some room. I won’t bore you with a detailed story of installing the Manual Transfer Switch. It went well. One thing I will speak on is buying the generator. A couple months ago I had every intention of buying a gun safe. I had researched all the models that were in my price range and appeared to satisfy my needs. I’m not sure what I was waiting on— but I’m glad I did. This experience changed my priorities completely. I still plan on getting the safe, but the generator/transfer switch became my new high priority.

Anyway back to buying the generator. As I said before I placed an order with Amazon.com and we picked it up from the UPS distributor. I set it in the garage for a couple days until I would have a chance to look at it on the weekend. It’s Sunday morning and I open the generator box so I can install the wheel kit and put some oil and gas in and get it started. Once I unpacked it, I see a dent on the corner of the frame. The black powder coat finish has separated and is flaking off as well. I can also see that part of the frame is bowed instead of a straight like the other side. DANG. I remember reading that generators can’t be returned to Amazon. Now I’m wondering what to do. I figured at the least I’ve got to send them an email and tell them the issue. I’d hoped maybe they would refund me part of the cost of the generator and save me a few bucks.

So, I take a bunch of pictures and record a bit of video just in case they need me to send that to verify my claim. Email is sent and I continue working on the transfer switch. I come in the house after installing the exterior power inlet receptacle, when my wife tells me I have a phone call. It’s a lady from Amazon. She tells me that she got my email and apologizes for the damage to the unit. She says she will place an order for another generator and have it to me within a couple days. I’m quite pleased as this is much more than I expected. Then she blew me away. As we were finishing up, I realize she hasn’t said anything about the other generator. I assumed she would want me to box it up and perhaps send it when the other one is delivered, but she isn’t saying anything. So I ask her what should I do with the old one. She tells me that since a generator is considered a hazard it can’t be sent back, so I should fix it, sell it or discard it, but they can’t take it back. WHAT!

Now I have two generators. I’ll probably sell one of them on Craigslist. Now that is some customer service from Amazon.com. Let me offer a suggestion to anyone reading these words someday in the future. Don’t try and take advantage of this type of event with Amazon.com. Without her explaining it to me I’m almost certain that she did a little research on my purchase history and saw that I hadn’t done this before. So lets not be ridiculous.

I appreciate them taking care of the customer. I wouldn’t have gotten that response at a local store. Apparently Lowe’s, Home Depot and other big box stores have figured out what people do during natural disasters. They often go out and purchase a generator, “Just in Case”, they need it. Once the disaster is over, droves of people begin returning these machines. Actually I was hoping to get one like that after the storm for half price or so. No luck. All the stores had up signs saying they wouldn’t take them in return. So if I would have bought one in a box and it had the same type of damage; I would have been SOL. I figured if Amazon wouldn’t do anything, I would just deal with it. I would paint the damaged portion of the frame. No big deal as the damage appeared to be all cosmetic. Now I have another problem. But it’s a good problem. If I sell this generator, I could in essence have gotten a generator for free.

The other thing I’m considering is getting a tri-fuel kit so I can use, natural gas, propane or gasoline in the generator. When I first heard of the tri-fuel kits, I thought what difference does it make? As I studied further, it makes a lot of sense. If power is out in my city or area or even the region, gas stations lose power as well. If they aren’t powered the gasoline doesn’t flow. Having an option of natural gas or LP propane gas might make a lot of sense. The other thing that I like about propane is it doesn’t go bad. From what I’ve read it seems to last indefinitely. Even gasoline will only last about a year or so with double the fuel stabilizer added. That seems very appealing. If I’m able to tap into my natural gas line, that could potentially offer an unlimited fuel supply as long as the source isn’t stopped due to contamination or worse.

Until next time Constant Reader…Never Quit Ever.


December 27th, 2013. Each day prior to this day, I would check the power restoration site for a hopeful update. The date didn’t budge an inch. This morning it’s Big Breakfast Platters, from McDonalds. It isn’t gourmet and we don’t eat it often, but it would be good today. After breakfast, I keep researching, generators, transfer switches, everything I could get my hands on. Thankfully there are lots of videos on YouTube of just the things I was researching and I’m a fast learner if I can see someone do something.

I check the power restoration around noon and it shows that there is NO power outage at our house. WHAT!!!! I grab my coat and tell Amy what I saw. She tells me to wait because she is going with me. Once we get to the neighborhood, there isn’t any power at the house. WTF. I drive around the neighborhood and there are power crews everywhere. I recorded some video and I called it the “Bestest Sight Ever”. They’re up on poles, riding around in those big trucks with the cherry pickers and repairing that downed power line at the house I spoke of earlier. It was exciting to see them in the area. My poor wife was so afraid that they were going to leave the neighborhood before all the power was on. I dropped her at home and followed the crews around for awhile. This was the most activity and excitement we’d had in a week so I guess I was a power stalker. I didn’t have anything else to do and what they were doing was interesting. People were coming out and showing them downed power lines in their backyards, telling them how much they were appreciated, it was nice. The crews in our neighborhood were from Wisconsin and Ohio.

We hung around for a few hours but the power didn’t come back on. The restoration website changed the estimate to Noon on the next day.

As I was following them around, I could see that they would repair one part and it would lead them to another part down. Amy called it connecting the dots. I think that is a great analogy. After sometime we went back to the hotel. It didn’t look like they were leaving until the job was done so we left them to their work. When we got back to the hotel, once again, all these open rooms and only one housekeeping lady on our floor. We located her and offered to help a bit. I vacuumed a few rooms and my wife helped her make some beds and other stuff. Unfortunately her equipment was in poor shape as I was thinking about getting our kids and we help her with the whole floor. I knew we couldn’t go in rooms where people had stuff, but the rooms that were going to be vacant we could do. She told us that normally this is their slow season and they only have one or two housekeepers and it is easy to keep up. With the outages and the hotel filled up they were just overwhelmed. I’m glad we were able to do a bit. Either way we offered a hand and later a nice tip.

During dinner, which we pilfered from our refrigerator at home, I tell my family that I have embarked upon a new project. I plan to get a generator, transfer switch or sub-panel and if I have anything to say about it, we’ll never be booted out of our home with similar circumstances. They say little but they are encouraging. I know me, I’ll study everything I have access to and be a temporary expert. I say temporary because I won’t remember everything forever. On this subject I won’t be caught flat footed anymore. This experience was too painful, cold and expensive.

Around 2100 I check the restoration website again. Again it says that there is no outage at our house. Amy and I pack up again and go. We’re a little less excited this time of course. We get to the neighborhood and start creeping around. We think we see houses that didn’t have power before, lit up. We tentatively go to our house. It’s all lit up. When I mean lit up, I mean lit up. We must have turned on every light while we were there days ago. I thought everything was off, but apparently we subconsciously kept flipping switches as we passed them. Amy and I hug tightly. We are so glad.

A few days prior as I was checking posts on Facebook, a guy I used to work with said that his power was restored and the surge fried all his electronics. Furnace, stove, refrigerator, phones, everything. After I saw this, I went home and unplugged all of our stuff, including the furnace. So we had a lot of switches to turn on. The house was of course still freezing so we figured we would come back the next morning to; our house, our place, our home.

Once we got home, we all split up and began the process of getting organized and cleaned up. It’s amazing how hard it is to clean a house when the inside temperature is 35 degrees. This took a few hours. Once we met up again to eat, we had to figure out how to resolve our Christmas. We decided that Sunday the 28th would be ‘our’ Christmas Day. We were going to do a little bit of baking, played some Christmas music that we found on the TV and acted like that frozen week didn’t happen. I told everyone I thought we should leave the Christmas tree and decorations up until either Martin Luther King day or Valentines Day, whichever felt right. Usually I get sick of the Christmas Schtik by the holiday, but not this year. We were already going to have a shorter season by 6 calendar days and without the 6 frozen days, it felt like Thanksgiving was only a week ago.

Do you remember my project? Well I wasn’t kidding you know. Since Icemageddon, I’ve researched and researched and learned everything that I could. My daughter, Ashley was curios of the research I was doing and offered to help me if I needed it. I wasn’t sure if I needed help but I figured that we could both learn the process together.

December 26th, 2013. As I said earlier I usually get up around 0530. But these two nights alone in this cold house, I kept waking up around 0300. I’d look around a bit then sit down and nod off. This made the real wake up more like 0700 or 0730. Also as I said earlier, the cell phone is charging in the truck. The land line phones are upstairs and in the basement. I went out to shovel snow and do all I can to make the house look like someone is coming by and either still living there or is really checking on things. Apparently Amy must have called a couple dozen times on the cell phone and house phone and couldn’t reach me. By chance I went up to our room for something and the phone was ringing so I answered it. It was Alyssia, our oldest, she gave the phone to Amy, who now was completely exasperated. She said she was going to walk home if she had to. I emphatically apologize for scaring her so. That would have frightened me if the tables were turned. I went to the hotel to reassure her that I was ok. It was sweet that she was going to start walking. I would have done the same.

Hanging out at the hotel was non eventful. We left around 1200 so that housekeeping would be able to do the room. We were gone about 3 hours figuring that was enough. It wasn’t. We came back and the room was just as we left it. There were also lots of rooms with their doors open but only one lady cleaning them. Seemed very strange.

This night as we sat around the room Amy took a look at all of us and saw everyone on either a phone or tablet or something and demanded we all put them down to play a game. I wasn’t just searching the net for nothing. I was looking up information on generators. Having a portable generator heat up a house intrigued me and I wanted to know how to do that. Either way she was right. I didn’t want to play but went along with it and had a lot of fun. I’m glad she did it.

We decide to go check on the house then I figured I can bring her back to the hotel. Little did I know after the scare of this morning, she wasn’t letting me stay there alone. She implored me to stay at the room and If I was going back, she was coming with me. Ohh Boy. That changed things. And frankly she was right. The house was too cold. We had done all we could to be in and protect our home. As Amy said, we had to have faith that it would be ok. She was right and I didn’t fight it. Frankly the thought had gone through my mind that morning when I woke up in that cold house.

I slept in the chair. It was warm and I was fine.


Up next Constant Reader…HOPE

December 25th, 2013, Christmas Day. As I said earlier it’s one of our families’ favorite holidays. This year not so much. I go to the hotel room around 0830 and Amy and I go get a little continental breakfast in the lobby. We thought this breakfast goes until 1000 like many other hotels we’ve stayed at. So much for assumptions. We did get a few danishes, fruit and things and took them to the room. When we came back they were closing everything up. We were just going to get some orange juice. A few hotel patrons seemed pissed off. I told the lady thank you for what she was doing. After the morning grub, we go home to check on the house and pick up some things so we can get ready to go visiting for Christmas day. I’m humbled people have offered; but it feels strange to not to be able to bring anything.

We stopped by Amy’s parents home to check on them. Their power is out as well, but they’ve been warming up their house with a gas stove and boiling water. It actually felt normal during the day. The humid air felt warm. Next to my Mom’s house, Cousin Brenda and Jimmy then to Cousin Connie and Eugene. All were gracious and offered food and hospitality. My cousin Eugene called just before we arrived to make sure we weren’t cancelling. We weren’t. It felt good to be wanted. As Connie said if the tables were turned, we would do the same for them. That is so true.

We had a great time of holiday festivities, but I had to get home to batten down the hatches and watch after the homestead. We took the long way home through the city and were amazed at how dark so many parts were. We did see a few power crews in one neighborhood. This apparently restored power to my sisters’ house. Since this was only a mile away from the in-laws we had hope that they would have power real soon.

After dropping off the family at the house, I headed back to the home. This time I took my non-contact thermometer to check temperatures where I would consider sleeping. Upstairs in our bedroom 37 degrees. First floor where I slept last night, 45 degrees. Basement near the phone, 56 degrees. The basement was going to be the place. I had told Amy a couple times that it felt warmer in the basement. This confirmed it. I had to change around the fortification which was harder to do this way. It was easier on the first floor with other locations to go. In the basement, the only benefit was the darkness and knowledge of the where everything was.

Stay tuned for more Constant Reader…see you soon.

December 24th, 2013. Christmas Eve. Already it feels colder than yesterday. I get the kids up at dawn and we do what we can. I stopped going outside to work on the generator as that was becoming a disaster and it is real hard to work in the cold when you have no where to temporarily warm up. The last thing I need is pneumonia.

Amy did something this morning that was phenomenal. The day before, she figured how to make an indoor cooking set up. She had two small aluminum loaf pans, a cooling rack over them and 3 or 4 buffet burners. It was a make shift stove. Now Amy was formerly the makeshift princess, but the following upgraded her to makeshift “Goddess”.

She starts pulling out some food on this “stove” and starts making breakfast. She cuts up smoked sausage, grits, scrambled eggs and butter toasted bread. Looks ambitious. It takes a long time, about 2 hours, since the burners will only heat to what would be a low setting on a regular stove. To my amazement, it’s coming together and smelling good. Wouldn’t you know when all was said and done, she prepares all this stuff and times everything so that it is all warm at the same time when we are ready to eat. It’s hard to cook and have everything warm at the same time under normal circumstances. How she did this, who knows.

While Amy is cooking, I tell her about the room and that I can’t cancel the first day. I suggest she consider her and the kids staying at the hotel and I’ll stay at home and watch the fort. She suggests we discuss it with our kids over breakfast.

We sit down, and eat this wonderful meal and the mood is quite somber. I think the changes to our holiday and the cold are beginning to get to us. We ask the question just as we did the day before about should we stay at home. This time…silence…crickets. As it gets colder it seems less likely that we can stay here. I told everyone that walking around in our darkened, empty house is like watching scenes in the movie Titanic. As the camera passes by each room, rooms that people lived in, you can see that there was a presence of energy there but it has vanished. Left behind is this hulking monolith called a home that isn’t able to take care of us any longer. We make the decision that for the remainder of the afternoon, we’ll get clothes and things together and go to the hotel. For my family I’m relieved. I can stay there, but I’ll have less worry if they are in warmth.

Why would I stay in this frozen home, some might ask? To protect it of course. At least the best I can. We have lived in this home a number of years and I’ve been a police officer even longer. I know that the opportunity of empty dark houses can be tempting to your average thief. I figured I would stay at the house and give any potential intruders something else to think about. I’m no Superman, and material possessions don’t really matter, but after all that’s going on with the power outage, the last thing I want to add on to that plate is coming home to a broken in and ransacked house.

So off to the hotel we go. As we are leaving I grab a small set of Christmas lights that were sitting on a shelf in the garage. They’ve been there for a couple years but for some reason today they caught my eye and seemed like a good idea. Our room wasn’t ready yet so we drive around for a while looking at the beauty that has caused so much damage. There are so many trees and branches down. Beauty and Braun are everywhere.

One thing that was so nice while we were riding was hearing the voicemail messages from three of our family members that heard that we were powerless and they opened their homes to us for food on Christmas. My mother even said that if we couldn’t stay we were welcomed to take some plates and eat them later.

Once we check in and go to our room, we quickly remember the benefit to having a warm place to stay and sleep. Tonight we relax, watch a little TV and eat pizza together. Later on I go home for the next evolution. Before I left for home I take out the string of lights. It looked a bit pitiful, but I’ll have to admit it lifted our spirits about Christmas just a little bit. I’m glad everyone liked it.

The next evolution makes me think about the movie Home Alone, you know the first one, where the kid is rigging his home to fend off the burglars. I wish I could do that but in this day and age, I would get sued 20 times over for half of the stuff he did. I did put together some makeshift weapons; made our bedroom into the “Panic Room” and fortified every entry point I could. I couldn’t do like the movie and actually hurt an intruder with, ornaments, or a barbecue grill heater, but I could make sure they made a hell of a lot of noise.

Up next in the evolution…Christmas Day.

Will it be Merry–come back and see Constant Reader.

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