My father has worked for Central Maine Power his entire 30 some-odd year career. He started out as a meter-reader, a job which barely exists anymore since meters are electronic, but one that I too undertook as summer employment as a youngster.
When I was growing up, winter meant one thing: not seeing very much of Dad. He was a lineworker by the time my brother and I were young, and during most of the year he would come home around 4 pm — I’d run to see him at the back door. During the long months of harsh Maine winters, however, he’d either end up home long after I’d gone to bed, or would be gone for days at a time.
During the Ice Storm of ’98, I didn’t see him for months. Mum looked after my brother and me all alone. We actually stayed in a hotel several towns away — one of the only places that had power and water, because my little brother has special needs. While we had warmth and water, many of our neighbors did not. We would always get asked when they would have their power restored, since they knew my dad worked for CMP. The truth was, we didn’t have a clue either.
Most of the time my dad, and the guys he worked with, would work long shifts only to come home to powerless and cold houses themselves. It wasn’t like they could just go flip a switch that would turn their house on, or their street on. They don’t have magical powers. In fact, the work that they do is not only grueling, but dangerous, especially when it’s frigid temperatures. Thanks to the union, they do have required periods of rest — for their sanity and their safety — but it’s still complicated work and, a lot of times, even if they know where the problem is either unplowed roads, downed trees or other obstacles out of their control is what prevents them from fixing it. You have to remember that the way the grids are set up, especially in the Midcoast, nature tends to get in the way and it often slows the process down. That’s not the fault of the CMP workers, or the road crews — it’s just a geoecological inconvenience.
When my dad was working on the Ice Storm, most Mainers were actually very kind and generous. There were nights when the guys would sleep in their trucks, only to have someone come trudging out with warm coffee or donuts the next morning. Local restaurants would give them free meals. After the worst of it was over, and for weeks after, my dad and his crew had enough thank-you baked goods to last a lifetime.
So, as we approach this Nor’easter this week, please keep these guys in your thoughts and if you see them working outside your house don’t run out and ask them when your power will be back. Don’t bash them on social media. Just offer them something warm, a kind word or even just a simple thank you — and remember that they have families who are cold and miserable just like you to go home to.