HAZEL SAVED US FROM THE WORST
What a way to celebrate a wedding anniversary! Mary and I will never forget our 52nd. It was the water one.
I used to struggle to remember the symbol for an anniversary. I knew about the golden 50th, but not the rest. Long ago, I found that paper was for the first, and walked across from old City Hall to Eaton's - that vanished gem of a department store- and spent more than half my weekly pay on two Gourmet Magazine cookbooks. Since then we've acquired dozens of cookbooks but I still sample that first costly treasure. Unfortunately, not one cookbook helped me cook a lasagna on the barbecue, which was sort of the water anniversary celebration.
Mary and I never got to celebrate our 50th with the traditional party. I had just come out of hospital and just sitting upright was a struggle. Lurching across a sidewalk to the restaurant from a car for a humble family dinner almost finished me.
We didn't plan much for the 52nd. Number Three son was home from China, which was great, but Number Two son was in Rome with his family and Number One son was in California recuperating from his last visit.
So we were going to a nice Japanese restaurant at the corner for tempura but then the downpour came and the electricity died and the Royal York and Bloor area spun into a sweaty cocoon that lasted for almost two days. And for hundreds, the ordeal stretched longer.
What did we do wrong, I demanded of Doug Holyday, the Tory candidate in Etobicoke-Lakeshore?
After all, I said, we pay more than our share of taxes. We don't riot in the streets. Yet neighbourhoods around us, like, for example, the NOBs (north of Bloor), got electricity back almost a day before we did, and we aren't as mouthy as the Kingsway folk in criticizing government.
Holyday said the party was thinking of demanding compensation for streets like mine that sweltered for 46 hours. I said I think we should elect a Tory government to make Ontario Hydro swelter.
I have never been a fan of Toronto Hydro or Hydro One and their cheating smart meters. I hate the provincial electric boys for screwing us on delivery costs to try to recover some of the billions they wasted through their endless fat-cat years.
I'm still smarting from a system that billed me more for a bunkie that had been used for a week than it did for providing electricity to the main cottage for five months. Obviously a mistake, but not for an outfit that specializes in pretending it has never made a mistake.
Perhaps my Sunnylea neighbours have also yelled as I have whenever the Hydro boys treat our money like, well, water.
Perhaps the Hydro boys use all their ingenuity and equipment that should be used to deliver electricity even in a huge storm to mark the streets of all their critics on a big computerized map and say that now they have had a big rain, that's our excuse to turn their food into smelly garbage in their fridges and freezers and make them sweat in their beds and bang into things when they're hunting for flashlights.
I was out that Friday, Oct. 15, 1954, on the banks of the Humber River that killed 82 people. The rain was drenching but not as hard as the rain Monday that just poured down the brick walls of my house because the down pipes couldn't cope.
I was shovelling rain from a patio on to the lawn because my basement fireplace was flooding. Except the rain just sat on top of the saturated grass.
I have been through a tropical storm in Fiji that shuttered the island for days and killed 10 people. And the rain wasn't as fierce. Nor was the sheets of rain and giant waves when I
rode out a hurricane on the South China Sea. Doctor from Doctors Without Borders and I clung to the deck of a battered fishing boat and wondered how long we would last when we were tossed into the sea that deserves its treacherous rep.
Since Hurricane Hazel, I have sat on the conservation authority and know just how the watersheds feeding into Toronto have been tamed. The Humber can never again turn into the raging monster that killed more than 60 people on just one street, Raymore Dr., across from the Weston area where I lived.
The conservation authority has done solid work. I wish I could say that about the various varieties of Hydro. Just how in God's name can an outfit be so stupid that it can't ensure that vital cogs in its expensive delivery system won't flood?
And the communications afterwards was almost criminal in its stupidity and lack of information.
I could have loaded my Sienna van with the most expensive and delicate food and taken it to the cottage if we had known we would have had to wait into Wednesday afternoon. Except we were told we would have power mid-day Tuesday. Then it was later, Then it was nothing.
On Wednesday, the officials say that only 1,600 people woke without power. Bullshit! Speaking as one of the 1,600, with the loyal support of wife and son, it was patchwork at best. It was like a chess game where you weren't sure there would be power when you landed on a new square. And too often there wasn't.
Only two of the five closest traffic lights to my house were working, and that was seen as progress. I went to a garden centre to buy crushed stone to make wells beside the patio for the new thunderstorm that was said to be coming. It was open but the grocery store beside it wasn' t. Islington was a limp artery.
I wanted to collect a prescription from my Shoppers but it was closed, but the TD bank a block away wasn't. The stretch of Bloor on either side, with dozens of restaurants, shops and medical offices, was dark, with a grocery store trying to get rid of produce outside the gloomy premises.
Urban life as we know it didn't exist. And they pretend that only 1,600 were still affected Wednesday morning. Bullshit, I say again, without fear of contradiction from the officials who really know how to BS. And when they say triumphantly that power was restored mid-afternoon, they forget that for hundreds on that second day, they stayed in the dark.
What bothers me, and makes me wonder how normal people could actually vote Liberal in these byelections, is that it's been obvious for years that the public doesn't think think Hydro is doing a great job. And throw in the Liberal party too. And assessment, and power plant cancellations, and staggering mismanagement in health funds.
If you listened, even Dalton McGuinty could be critical of the obese bureaucracies beneath him.
What happened Monday is that we had a freak weather calamity that dumped more water over us than the killer, Hazel. And it turned out that for the most part, thanks to the lessons of Hazel, we can handle the great torrents in our rivers and creeks but that's about it. Not in our sewers or on our transit or, damn it, our power.
We are supposed to be impressed that workers removed 30 or 300 or a zillion Olympic-sized swimming pools of water from the drowned Manley transmission station. What would have impressed me more is if the same workers were boasting about how planning sensible infrastructure had prevented 300,000 gallons of water from getting into such key equipment in Etobicoke in the first place.
I suspect the Monday deluge not only submerged the tiny bit of confidence the public still had in Hydro One but also opened the flood gates to washing the damn Grits out of power. If that happens, I promise to forget a Monday night shovelling water.
But I'm not sure Mary will. Some celebration!