Earlier this fall I was with a good number of college friends in Newport, RI. Andy is stationed there with the Navy Supply School. Since none of us had been there before, we decided it was a good spot for what has become our yearly get together.
When predictions of Irene’s path become clear, the question was: “what do we do?” We all had tickets to come in on Thursday night so we knew there would be no trouble getting in, but the track made getting out on Sunday evening dubious.
We decided that even in the worst case scenario we could drive our rental car out on Monday if we needed to and it would be an adventure.
The storm tracked a bit further West and weakened more than expected so the actual storm itself wasn’t much more than an impressively windy rain storm. The rain had largely stopped by 3pm on Sunday. The only lasting effect of the storm for us was the power outage that effected almost all of Rhode Island.
I should pause here to acknowledge that the “hardships” I’m about to describe are nothing compared to the loss of life, livelihood and treasure that others experienced. I am very aware of this reality, and my thoughts and prayers remain with those who’s lives were deeply affected.
We lost power at around 10:00 am Sunday morning. Most of us were up early as the wind whipped Andy’s fourth floor apartment. Unlike the day before when a thick fog set in that prevented us from seeing the harbor only two blocks away, but by the early morning hours of Sunday that fog had blown out and we could clearly see boats bobbing and swaying in the medium chop.
From our perspective no water had risen out of the harbor, but we understood that over on the other side of the island the morning high tide had overtaken Ocean Avenue.
We turned on the local news to see the circus we knew it would be and were not disappointed. A screen cast of a web browser served to give a real time report of the situation on Block Island and a reporter received numerous chat requests as she tried to show pictures of damaged posted to the station’s Facebook page.
I was pleased to see she was using Firefox.
It was reported that 80,000 homes in Rhode Island were already without power and we thought we were safe. I had assumed that we would wake up to find we were without power. But just as the storm began to slow the power flickered once then 1/2 an hour later was gone for good.
We had the time to cook and largely clean up breakfast but the fridge still held our lunch and dinner including mussels and shrimp for pasta that evening. We had considered that Andy’s gas range would allow us to cook up some pasta, but we didn’t consider less perishable proteins to go on our spaghetti.
All morning people were out on Thames Street. If you don’t know Newport, think of the commercial street closest to the water in your favorite beach town. It’s lined with overpriced shops, bars and restaurant. Most had boarded up Saturday – I think as much to deter the odd looter as anything.
As the rain stopped, Jim and Matt wanted to go out and see what was what, but the high winds made Andy, George and I a bit leery. Then began the first of our planned indoor, non-power necessary activities: cards. Andy, George and I started with cut-throat Euchre. An evil variant where two people team up on the third. If Euchre is Pinochle for dummies, cut-throat is Euchre for sadists.
Once they got back Matt needed a shower – the only one to take advantage of that luxury on Sunday. It is important to note that here as you will read later.
Now with all five of us together we had to find the right game. Matt’s brain isn’t wired for cards so choices are limited. Andy introduced us to a game called Cucumber. If you have played the drinking game Asshole it’s like that in reverse but with Hearts like scoring and variable hand sizes. It was good fun for everyone except for Jim who seemed to be getting no luck in the cards.
Of course we all assumed it was because he was no good at the game, but we are an arrogant lot.
After our first game it was time to enter the refrigerator for lunch and beer. In military terms this was an all hands movement to extract all the items in minimal time to assure that thermal integrity was maintained. With two people grabbing all they could and two others on each door of the fridge we were able to extract a cooler full of beer, club soda for Matt’s warm Vodka cocktails and the pizza leftover from two nights before as well as a quart tub of French Onion dip. The Dip was an unintended consequence.
The adult beverages made the second round of Cucumber seem to go much more quickly, but I was playing well so that is also a factor. There is nothing better than being able to play a hand of cards exactly as you imagined. Since I don’t play chess I don’t know, but I imagine the feeling is similar to trapping your opponent in a well planned gambit and taking the piece that you have seen in your mind for the past dozen moves.
With Jim loosing badly again it was decided a new game was necessary: corn hole. For those not near the mid-west this will be foreign. Corn hole is played with corn filled bean-bags (a misnomer of course) and two slightly inclined boards placed around twenty-four feet apart. The boards have a single hole cut about 3 inches from the top. The object is to throw a bag into the hole or at least land it on the board.
When you are playing in a more regulation setting, doing this requires mastering the balance of loft and power to get the bag to the board, but not to run it completely off the board’s upward slanting surface.
In our modified indoor setting loft isn’t as much of an option. Andy’s house rules state that a bag that even grazes the ceiling fan results in a forfeit of all points for your team for that round.
I can not tell you how many games of cornhole we played, but I can tell you we played long enough for Matt to take a run. That’s correct Matt ran through the remnants of a tropical storm.
This resulted in another shower, his second of the day.
We played long enough for Matt to play even after he got back and to need a second, perhaps unwarranted, trip into the fridge to clear out the rest of the beer.
Clouds started to roll in and the room was getting dark quickly. It was around 6pm and sunset was scheduled for 7:45. We knew he had to get dinner started, because cooking shellfish in the dark is a recipe for disaster.
Andy expertly cooked the shrimp and mussels with garlic and onions and added them to jarred tomato sauce for the best meal of the trip.
As the light faded we ate around a fresh cotton scented candle. Five 30 something men mercilessly making fun of each other, laughing with each other and enjoying each others company without checking cell phones or glancing at the TV or listening to music. This is how meals should be eaten.
From there we wanted to experience a post-hurricane bar lit by generator power Christmas lights and candles. One round of six dollar Bud Lites later and we were back in the darkening confines of Andy’s apartment. Sitting beside each other on coaches and sharing secrets like middle school girls while we finished off the last of the beer.
Until around 11:00, tired and pleasantly intoxicated we got ready for bed. If the power had come back on we probably would have stayed up past 2:00 am, but I’m sure we spoke more, listened more, fellowshiped more and learned more laughing by candle light and going to bed early.
On the car ride back to Boston, Matt, George and commented on how powerful it was to have our phones off for most of the day to preserve battery life. Before that there would be stretches of time when all of us would be using our devices to connect with the “world” and in so doing missed the community we were a part of.
It’s like yawning. One person in a group checks there phone quickly another takes that as a social cue to do so. Then by the time the third person does the first person is done but sees 1/2 of the group on their phones – and there is always something else to check.
Before long fifteen minutes of precious time together has been replaced by unnecessary “connections.”
It also forced us into a more productive daily rhythm. We were in bed early because the darkness gave our bodies the cues to being to slow down, hours before we drifted off to sleep, not minutes. Because we went to bed early when the sun woke us we got up. We let God’s alarm clock set our clocks and felt better for it.
Don’t worry folks I’m not going Amish on you. As soon as we stopped for breakfast at a Duncan Doughnuts I was charging up my phone and George was checking email. I spent the afternoon emailing and calling and working in the electronic world that we all inhabit.
What I am going to do is strictly enforce – on myself – a no phone checking policy when I’m around people. That goes for when Erin goes to the bathroom as well so I’m not caught up in something when she gets back and we start the smart phone yawn process.
I do value what folks share from places and will continue to take and share pictures but if I post the photo of the beer I had two hours ago as opposed to the beer I’m having right now – is your life any worse off?
If I share the fact that I had an amazing, engaging conversation with Josh and Kris earlier in the evening is that less meaningful than checking in with them on Facebook?
I firmly believe that we are not physically, emotionally and spiritually equipped to be as connected as technology allows us. We do ourselves and those around us a disservice when we do not give them our full attention, which is impossible if our faces our lit by the blue-grey glow of an electronic device.
So be on notice, I’m not going to reply right away to your text message or call. If you need me urgently, you may have to go old school and call the restaurant I’m at – which of course you won’t know because I haven’t checked in.
So that’s the cost, what’s the benefit? My promise to you that when we are together or on the phone or chatting online that you will have my full attention. If I can’t give you that, then I’ll say so and I will get back in touch with you when I can.
You deserve that from me because we are both incredible creatures endowed with unspeakable gifts marked with the image of God. We are called to be subject to one another and I promise to be attentive to you. It’s the least I can do.