The Tree Men
I saw them yesterday on I-10 in a long line all headlights turned on like a military convoy racing to war. Truly they were driving a modest 60 MPH in a steady eastward pace to get to the southeast parts of Florida. It was the Tree Men.
A few miles later as I headed west to home going the other way was a long train of utility service trucks, a few of them towing long trailers stacked to the brim with ‘telephone’ poles. As I took my exit to get to my house, I noticed still another utility truck convoy headed to Florida.
I forget the exact number of years the NWS says it’s been since a giant hurricane has hit our mainland maybe 9 or 10; I’m glad to see the utilities have not forgotten the practice of putting resources in place prior to when they’re needed.
And people further east to us over the next couple of days probably in east Alabama and north Florida will begin to see these armies of treemen and linemen huddled in makeshift camps in Walmart and large truckstop parking lots as they wait for the storm to pass and receive directions on exactly where in the hammered state to go fix first.
After Rita and Ike these armies were in our neighborhoods. Our family would gather what refreshments we had (operating on generators and limited power ourselves) sweet iced tea, lemonade or just ice water and take out to these guys while they were in our trees and re-stringing our power and I had the chance to talk to a few of them here and there.
They were from all over the country as far west I remember as Idaho and many from the NE like Delaware, West Virginia, NY and others in their company trucks with their unfamiliar to me utility company names and far off area codes and phone numbers on the doors . Some guys had taken to using duct tape to mark off in stick numbers the days they’d been on hurricane cleanup. At a glance you could see some had been away from home a couple of months. Recall in 2005 the New Orleans storm was just a few weeks before our Rita. These guys and yes, surely they were making a king’s ransom in overtime and per diem, these guys volunteered to join their co-workers and friends and left their own homes and families to cross the country to put people like us back into some semblance of normal life with streets we could easily navigate with no trees laying across them and electricity in our homes at the flick of a switch.
And now they and hundreds maybe a few thousand more and their trucks and equipment and supplies and sleeping bags and tents and snacks and convenience-store food will stream past us for the next few days heading east to clean up after Matthew. Smile at them, wave, honk. Welcome them with a glass of sweet tea if you get a chance while they’re on their journey. The utility men and the Tree men.