I am retired and, now, a widower also. Jan and I had married when we were young and we had enjoyed our years together until the last one. The cancer had been diagnosed incorrectly and had gone through her body before any operations, chemo, or radiation could be attempted. The last two months of her life were miserable for us and, for her, painful as well. She had died at home with hospice last September a year ago.
The only things that I had was my ham radio and our church. My church friends and my radio friends helped me begin functioning again. My son and his wife cared but they were busy with their children and really didn't have time to be making a trip of three hundred miles each way very often. I didn't blame them. I wasn't very good company when they came though I tried.
It was the middle of July and the wire grass region of Alabama was sticky and very hot. When the forecasters began to talk about a tropical depression that was growing in strength quickly, all I could think of at first was that the rain would cool things off.
I listened to the weather people as they described the path of the tropical storm that began to move north from the Caribbean into the Gulf. The forecasters were cautious but you could see the projected paths. There was plenty of time for it to follow a different path but my town was gradually made the center of the projections. It had been heading west and made a hard right turn north directly toward our county seat just as projected.
It had quickly built into a hurricane and then moved up in strength quickly. My home was older but well-built on fifteen acres south of the county seat and north of the little town that had my postal address. I made sure my backup generator was prepared with extra gas. I checked the guy wires on my tower. I checked on my other antennas which were wire and hung in trees. Most of the land was naturally forested and I had had it thinned six years ago. I had plenty of food and got my water from a well.
The hurricane began to head northerly following the predicted path all too closely. I had two vehicles, Jan's sedan and my old truck. Both were equipped for mobile radio operations. I enjoyed chatting with ham friends all over the country when I was driving as well as when at home. Jan had a Technician license and had been active on two meters herself and, through me, on other bands. Many people had driven a lot of miles to be at our church for her funeral.
The hurricane came closer and then slowed down while still in the Gulf. The weather people explained that this was a bad thing because it was gaining strength from the warm waters of the Gulf. My son called and suggested that I head east and visit them. I declined saying that I had things to do here. I was my club's and the county's EC or emergency coordinator for hams. A good friend, Charles Johnson, was the county Emergency Management Agency Director. We had met for lunch a week ago to go over our plans knowing that we didn't have enough information to make detailed plans yet. On the other hand, there were certain plans and preparations that could be made and we made those plans and preparations.
Our club members started to gather their thinking on our two-meter repeater. One member had it located on his farm. He and a neighbor were tasked with checking the tower and wires along with the generator and battery backup for it to continue to operate through and after the storm. That tower was also an important backup tower for the county. I made sure my old truck was ready "for bear." It was almost twenty years old but had a large V-8 and four wheel drive. The camper shell on the back was tightly bolted down and my garage was an old barn that had weathered bad storms before. I was as ready as I could get all things considered.
Before I retired, I had been involved in politics to some extent. I knew everyone in the county. It helped when I needed anything for emergency work. I talked to my town's police chief who was making his own preparations. He had a couple of the force, an officer and a dispatcher, who were both hams. He was working with them to have radio backup for his force. His force was dependant upon the county system and it worried him.
The new sheriff, on the other hand, didn't have any use for hams or the local EMA. He had no backup plan since the state had certified his systems as "storm-ready." He had also said that if the radios somehow failed, they would use cell phones. I hoped it would not be bad enough that he was forced to eat crow. I had tried it myself. It didn't taste good.
The storm came right off the gulf directly at us up the U. S. highway that went through my town and the county seat. I was at home and felt it including the eye. According to the forecasts, the winds were peaking at one hundred seventy-five miles per hour. My power went out and my generator powered up. I had both radios going the entire time. I caught a few hours sleep late that night. In the morning after the wind died down some a second time, I knew the worst was likely over. In the back of my truck were a chain saw and gas, chains, rope, ponchos, flares and a heavy-duty first aid kit. I tried my phones but both the land line and the cell phone were dead. I contacted Charles over two meters and told him I was ready to go. He asked me to head for the county seat advising of road conditions as I went. Charles admitted that my convincing him to get his license was paying off since land line telephones, power, and cell phones were all gone. He said the Sheriff's Office was out of touch with the EMA and with its own cars.
I had an old magnetic yellow light that I used when I had my tractor on the road. I had mounted it on the roof of the truck. I pulled out of my barn and started up the drive to the main road. I had to hook a chain to a downed tree and pull it out of the way before I could get to the highway. It was still raining and the wind was gusting to around thirty or forty miles an hour. It made for lousy driving conditions but I could handle that and didn't really care about any potential danger.
My son wasn't happy with that but understood that I wanted to be with his mother. That feeling didn't make me careless or stupid but it meant that I wouldn't shy away from risks either.
I reached the main highway and slowly headed north with the emergency beacon and hazards on as well as my lights. I think most people had listened because the roads were empty. To my right, I could see that one of the main power towers was a twisted wreck. I reported that fact to Charles. He said that he would pass it on to the power company.
Then I saw it. It was a Cadillac SUV up ahead of me on its side with the front badly crumpled. One of the big transmission wires went under it but it appeared to be without power. I bumped over the wire and pulled forward about thirty feet or so. I reported in to Charles and police department what I saw. I added that I was stopping to check on people in the SUV. Chief Greg acknowledged my call.
I got out and threw a flare beyond the Cadillac as I walked to the wreck. The front windshield was gone and the driver was very dead. Apparently a branch came through and hit him hard. His head was almost removed. I heard a moan and saw legs hanging down from the passenger side which was above. I looked upward some and saw a female body hanging from the seat belt. I said, "Just a moment, I'm going to get you out." I went back to the truck for some heavy gloves and heavy duty pruning shears called lopers.
I began loping off branches to clear a path to her body so I could extract her from pieces of tree and automobile. It took a while. Half way through, she began to gripe at me because it was taking a long time. She was not hurt but was hanging from her seat belt which I'm sure was uncomfortable. I let her go on for a while but finally said, "Lady, I'm a volunteer doing you a favor. You might cool it or I'll just leave and let you wait for the next person passing by." That shut her up and I finished getting enough tree loose to get to her. I could now see her more clearly. She was a little over forty and slim. Without the attitude, she would be attractive. She had never asked about the driver. I wondered about that but let it go while I concentrated upon getting her extricated from her vehicle.
I finally got the last branch removed and said, "I'm going to slip in and let you lie on me while I lift you a bit and release the safety belt. Other than general bumps and bruises, does everything seem to work, no bones broken?"
She was sullen. "I'm okay."
"Good." I eased in the front and lifted her a bit. She wasn't heavy. I fumbled with the seat belt and released it. I said, "Pull it away from you as I back out. Stay on my back as I get out." For once, she was quiet and just did what I told her. I slowly pulled back and got her out of the damaged SUV. Once we were far enough back, she quickly scrambled off me and stood up. I got up on my own and stretched a bit.
She was tall. I am about six feet tall and she was only a couple of inches shorter than me. She also had an angry look on her face. She said, "You certainly took your own sweet time. This is inexcusable. Where are the police, the ambulances?"
She got on my last good nerve and I was tired. I walked back to my truck with my lopers and heavy gloves leaving her staring angrily. The rain had stopped. I decided that was fortunate for her because otherwise she might have melted. I had read the "Wizard of Oz." I was grinning when I turned to face her She had followed me and was five or six feet away. Her face was now livid with anger. I don't think my facial expression helped the situation.
I said, "I knew it may come as a surprise to you but a hurricane came off the Gulf and passed through here. Most people who weren't idiots weren't on the road. I'm on my way to the county seat to assist with emergency communications."
She said, "You can take me there so I can get out of here. I have important business in Birmingham this evening."
I hardly ever curse. Even when Jan died, I didn't curse. I was fed up with this. I closed my pickup's rear gate and camper top. I walked to the driver's side and said, "I don't give a damn what you want. I'm leaving you here with your dead driver. You haven't had the common decency to ask about him even once."
I started to get in my truck and she went around to the passenger side and found it still locked. I cranked the engine but she ran in front keeping me from driving off. I turned off the engine and got out. I took the keys and locked it up. I started walking north. She moved into my way. She was mad. "Talk to me! You can't leave me!"
"First, I don't have to talk to you. I have no desire to talk to trash. Second, I can leave you and will. Once I finally reach other people, I will tell them that a mad bitch is waiting by her fancy wrecked car and dead driver and that she cares for neither.
"You may be important to you but you definitely are not important to me. Get out of my way!" I elbowed her out of my path.
She began to follow me. "You are just going to leave your truck?"
"You were blocking it and I wasn't going to run over even your worthless self. I have other cars. I know where they are located."
She jumped in front of me and forced me to stop. "I apologize. I'm usually more polite."
I added, "You mean to us 'lower orders.' I'm sure that someone as important as you will find someone to obey you very quickly. I won't nor will I dirty my truck with trash."
I think she finally heard the anger in my voice and realized that she hadn't intimidated me and that she had just perhaps not charmed me into being her willing lackey. I walked back to my truck, got in, and cranked it up. I decided that, if she jumped in front of me this time, I would run her down! She didn't. I did look at her and saw that she was sobbing. I could understand crocodile tears but this looked real. I moved up beside her and rolled the window down, "Now, what?" I was still angry.
"You're just leaving me alone."
"That's true. Do you deserve any consideration since you don't seem to be human."
"Please let me ride into town."
"Who was that poor guy driving?"
"He-he was Richard. He worked for me. I told him that driving would be dangerous."
I said, "At least, he doesn't have to suffer from your tongue any more. You can ride in back on the tailgate. I don't want to have to look at you or listen to you." I rolled the window up and shut the engine down. Taking the keys, I got out and locked the door. I went to the back and locked the top into place after lowering the tail gate. I said, "Sit on the back and hold on there." I pointed.
I said, "So are you. Get on or get left." I walked to my door, unlocked it, and got inside. I cranked and pulled out. I drive gently anyway so had to do nothing special for her being on the back. I drove into the county seat and went to the Sheriff's office. They were still off the air. I had reported in what was going on to Chief Greg as I drove.
I pulled up in front of the Sheriff's Office and stopped. I got out and went to the back. She was still there holding tightly to the limit lever on the driver's side. My real anger was done. I said neutrally, "We're at the Sheriff's Office. Get off. Practice your importance on them." She got off the tailgate and I closed it. I went inside and saw Sheriff Cooley. I said, "Sheriff Jim, how's your communications working? I've been talking to Greg and Charles and they say you're out of touch. Also, I picked up a survivor from a one-car wreck." I pointed.
He shot me an evil look and then saw her. "Miss Baylor! Are you okay? What can we do for you?" I still didn't know who "Miss Baylor" was or is but didn't care. I started out the door. Before I got to my truck, Sheriff Cooley was out and said, "Where do you think you're going?"
"I'm going to the EMA building to work with Charles."
He said, "I'm confiscating your truck and radio equipment for this emergency."
My cellphone didn't have a signal but still could record. I keyed it as I took it from my pocket. "What did you say?"
"I am confiscating your truck and radio equipment for this emergency. You may leave."
I said, "That's illegal."
"Illegal or not, I'm doing it."
"The county and you will get a claim from me and a lawsuit. Have fun." I tossed the keys his way and began to walk off. The EMA office was only a block away. I noticed that "Miss Baylor" had walked out to watch this byplay. She didn't seem to express any emotion over my situation.