The photo is from 1978. My son, his truck. Behind him, my truck.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Do You Believe In Miracles?

Friday, February 22, 1980

A tree falls, shutting off electric power for a section of town.  A young man has been waiting for just such an opportunity.

The young man and his family are living - sort of camping out - in the shell of a house that is under construction.  He wants to move incoming electric power lines from a temporary power pole to the new permanent service entrance of the house that is still under construction.  For various tawdry reasons (saving money, avoiding bureaucracy, beating the Man), the young father wants to move the wires himself.   

The young man could rewire a temporary conduit from the temporary power pole to the house - or he could simply move those overhead wires.  A bootleg.  It's sort of a tradition in this town.  And today, he gets his chance.

Climbing a ladder, he attaches rope to the 3 incoming wires and then disconnects them from the temporary weatherhead.  Next, standing on the roof, he pulls the rope and the wires to the new permanent weatherhead.  He's 20 feet above the ground.  Using split-bolt connectors, he attaches 2 of the wires.  It's more difficult than he expected.  Split-bolts aren't the ideal connectors for this situation.  You need 3 hands to do this job: one to hold the wires, one to hold the split-bolt, one to tighten the nut. 

How much time has passed?  He really should have clocked it.  What if the power is restored while he's connecting the final wire?  First a jolt, then he'll fall 20 feet.  He's wearing an old pair of gloves - leather, damp, fingers partly shredded.  Basically useless.

The sun is setting, casting the last dusty shafts of light among the trunks of the redwoods.  He's kneeling on wet shingles.  Inside the house, his wife is lighting lanterns while his kids are playing with the dog. 

His hands are shaking.

PG&E linemen connect live wires all the time.  They have the knowledge, the tools, the experience, the safety equipment.  With damp worn-out gloves, kneeling on wet shingles, the young man is electric bait.  How much time is left?  He could climb down the ladder, bring up a plastic sheet to kneel on, drive a half hour to a store for better gloves - or he could just fucking do it.  Attach the wire and be done with it.

One difference between young people and old people is that young people don't believe they can die.  On this February 22, 1980, the young man is 32 years old.

He just fucking does it. 

As he's wrapping black 3M electrical tape around the final split bolt, he hears a radio.  Lights go on in the house next door.

He beat it by 5 seconds. 

By 5 seconds a stupid young fool avoided a pathetic death.

Now his entire body is shivering.  Cautiously, humbly, he finishes wrapping the connection with tape.  He's just become an old person. 

Indoors after dinner the 1980 Winter Olympics are on television.  Tonight, the USA ice hockey team is playing the USSR.  The Soviets, of course, are expected to win.  They always have; they always will. 

Cuddled on the sofa they watch - dog, kids, wife, and the not-so-young man.  That thrilling hockey game comes to be known as the Miracle on Ice, in which a bunch of USA kids beat a tough and seasoned Soviet team.  But in one man's life, it was the lesser of two miracles that day.

1 comment:

  1. Having dealt with electricity for more than three decades on the job, I still get chills every time I read this post. Wonderful writing, great story.