A scene from midwinter 1998 after a series of ice storms ravaged a swath of land from eastern Ontario to northern New York. 

Ice glitters on the trees, roads and rooftops, but beyond that, much of Maine is in total darkness. At night, the world crackles with the sounds of tree limbs shivering and snapping under the weight of ice. When they fall, they take down long strings of ice-coated power lines, and the thunderous blast of transformers blowing is like cannon fire.  

In a good-sized chunk of Maine in January 1998, it sounds like wartime.  

Power company trucks rumble from one place to another in their Sisyphean quest to restore electricity to the cold and hungry and unwashed. But it will be days before the lights flicker on again, and for some, it will be weeks. 

Our scene takes place at a mom and pop hardware store where kerosene lamps have been arranged to chase away the shadows and the proprietor uses pad and paper to keep track of the day’s transactions. With the power out for a week now, he could have closed the store and rode out the storm at home, but that notion never crossed his mind. His neighbors are suffering, he knows. They need the supplies he keeps on his shelves to keep them warm and safe and dry. 

In from the icy world walks a sturdy older woman named Mabel. 

“How you holding up, Mabel?” the proprietor asks. 

“Can’t complain, Joe,” she replies. “I’ve got the propane heaters running when I need ’em and the fella next door has been coming by to throw down sand. I traded him some of my canned meat for the sand and he threw in a camp stove so I can keep water boiling. That nice family from up the road has been by to check on me, too. Sweet people. I gave ’em one of my old kerosene heaters, since I prefer propane, and even tossed in some of the oatmeal I keep in the pantry. Them kids need something warm in their bellies. They’re going to send their oldest over to my place to chip ice off m’roof so I don’t get leaks. I’m getting by, Joe. Bless you for asking.” 

Mabel describes a scene that’s been occurring across the icy land for days. Never have people been so neighborly! Stores have been donating supplies to people who need it the most. Families have opened their doors to people they never knew at all before ol’ Mom Nature went crazy and turned Maine into a hockey rink. 

Men rove in pickup trucks heaped high with rock salt, propane canisters, canned food, dry goods, blankets, bottled water, first aid kits, candles and other gear, not because they’re looking to profit off the misery of others but because they genuinely want to help. 

Some folks didn’t know they were nice people until the storm hit, and suddenly they found themselves chipping in and helping out just because. Go figure.

The Great Ice Storm of 1998 put on display the better side of human nature, and true misery was kept at bay because of it. Lives were saved. Food was brought to the hungry and warmth to the shivering. It was a beautiful thing. 

Flash forward 22 years to the Great Spectrum Outage of 2020 when thousands from Maine to Virginia lost their internet connections. Neighbor helping neighbor? Nah, bruh. This was more of an every-man-for-himself scenario and what was put on display was mostly whining. 

“I was right in the middle of “The Outlander” season finale on Starz!” went your typical complaint. “I’m going to SUE SPECTRUM!!!!” 

“My kids can’t play their video games!” shrieked one woman. “I brought up an old box of Clue from the basement, but they don’t know how to use dice! Little Tommy is crying and I think Chantel stuffed the candlestick up her nose! Or maybe it was the lead pipe! I was going to calm the poor children by reading to them, but all of our books are digital! We can’t watch movies because we can’t access Netflix or Prime! Dear God! Why didn’t I keep the VCR? We’re all going to die!” 

Out on the streets, men, women and tweens strolled to perplexed stops in the middle of busy intersections when their devices stopped working. The unfinished text messages, the aborted Instagram uploads, the lack of dopamine-feeding likes on their Facebook posts left them utterly stupefied. 

The world became a roar of honking horns, wailing sirens, screams of rage and howls of cheated pain.  

Share with your neighbor? Not on your life! 

A scene from what used to be a mom and pop hardware store but which is now a Dollar General — one of four on the block. Mabel comes scrambling in with terror in her eyes. 

“Joe!” she cries. “Can you share your Wi-Fi password? I have me a hot prospect on Tinder and I can’t let him go!” 

Joe scowls and reaches beneath the counter where he keeps the shotgun. 

“Get out of here, Mabel. I ain’t letting you hog up all of my bandwidth. I’ve some promising auctions on eBay and I can’t have you slowing me down. Be gone, old woman, or I’ll put the dogs on you!” 

Mabel runs out of the store in tears. Later, when she tries to pilfer a Wi-Fi connection from her neighbor with the sanding truck, he throws a can of Hormel corned beef hash at her and chases her off. I’m pretty sure poor Mabel lost that hunk of man she was just about to swipe on Tinder. A real tragedy. You could donate to her GoFundMe page if it was online. 

It was five hours of pure horror the day that Spectrum went down. And by horror, I mean mainly whimpering and pouting and utter lack of fortitude in the face of what passes as a crisis these days. 

To be fair, I came across several people during the outage who took the opportunity to impart lessons and to teach their kids how to have fun without an internet connection. It was all very inspiring, but not nearly as funny as poor amorous Mabel getting pelted by corned beef hash so . . . 

And I’m not saying that people have become weaker and less resilient as they’ve come to depend more and more on the internet. On the other hand, that’s exactly what I’m saying, so let’s just wrap this up before I make further mistakes and have to start paying closer attention. 

During the Ice Storm of 1998, the stakes were very high indeed. Human lives depended on kindness and fortitude, and kindness and fortitude is exactly what shined through. 

When outsiders ask you about life in Maine, tell them all about that event and let your pride ring out. No need to confuse the matter by describing the later, uglier affair. In fact, what are you even talking about? 

Spectrum Outage of 2020? Nope. Never happened, you lying liar. Get out of here with that nonsense before I put the dogs on you. 


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