Weathering the storm

Posted: Sep 19, 2003 12:00 AM

Over the years, I’ve been told many times that I’m in the dark. But that was never more true than Thursday night.

 Hurricane Isabel swept through the mid-Atlantic region knocking out power, causing flooding and generally adding further insult to a region that’s already been injured by the weather this year.

 Luckily, we had plenty of time to prepare for the storm. By noon, everything in my back yard that could possibly fly was lashed down or moved indoors. I’d even circulated to each tree in the yard, giving it a hug and begging it to remain standing through the night -- or, telling it that if it must fall, to please plunge toward one of my neighbor’s homes, not mine. Maybe there’s something to this tree hugging stuff after all; they all survived Isabel.

 With nothing else to do, we decided to toast the storm correctly: with a hurricane. As anyone who’s ever been to New Orleans knows, the key ingredient in a hurricane is rum and plenty of it. Since the cupboard was bare, it was off to the liquor store, and a lesson in socialism.

 You see, in Virginia, all liquor stores are owned and operated by the Alcoholic Beverage Commission. And, since the state government had shut down, so had the ABC stores. In the strip mall I visited, the beauty of capitalism was on display. Pharmacies, restaurants and even dry cleaners were doing booming business ahead of Isabel. I guess people wanted to stock up on drugs, fill up with food and make sure they looked their best for the storm.

 But the state-run liquor stores were closed and dark. Note to the Old Dominion: Privatize! Right now, the state is paying rent on 274 stores, and employing 1,550 employees to run them. Those employees make an average of $30,000 per year.

 Catherine Giordano, a former head of Virginia’s ABC operation, has conducted six different studies about privatization. “All six proved it was possible to let go of the state stores and actually increase the money coming in,” Giordano told Richmond’s Style Weekly magazine in June.

 Ohio took a similar step back in the 1990s. Since its partial privatization was completed in 1997, the state is taking in 46 percent more money, with no increase in the number of liquor stores.

 Even when we aren’t drinking, hurricanes give journalists the chance to prove we’re not smart enough to come in out of the rain, so while waiting for the power to go out, we gathered around the TV to watch the storm come ashore.

 Sure enough, on the North Carolina coast, drenched reporters stood leaning into the wind, describing the carnage around them and warning that the weather was not fit for man or beast. Not sure just where the reporters fit into that description.

 Growing bored with the coverage (it’s still raining and windy? Who would have guessed?) I decided to get a jump on this column. And while I was smart enough to save early and often, I was dumb enough to save onto the hard drive, rather than a simple floppy disk. So when the power went out at 5 p.m. I didn’t lose any information. But I did have to haul my entire CPU into the office on Friday to finish writing this piece. I hope it was worth it, Dear Reader.

 Dinner in a dark, powerless house is a strange affair. The key thing isn’t to make the various courses go together. It’s to make sure you eat as much of the perishable food as possible, since you’re going to have to toss it out, anyway. Let’s dine on hot dogs, vegetarian ribs, grapes and salad. We’re washing them down with milk and Coors Light (can’t let it skunk, now can we?).

 Along with the flashlights and candles, we hauled out several board games to provide after-dinner entertainment. But eventually we decided to spend the evening reading by candlelight and listening to updates on the radio. Again, journalists out in the storm were busy ignoring the very advice they were giving others: Stay indoors.

As of noon Friday, there was still no power in my neighborhood. When it does come back, we’ll have to clean out the refrigerator and get rid of anything that might have gone bad. So, if you’re daring, swing by for a snack this weekend.