A Nightmare Before Halloween
Issue   |   Wed, 11/02/2011 - 02:33

This was supposed to be your typical intro-to-column article. You know, the ones where the author talks for 1,000 words without saying anything, trying to express his general thoughts about general topics?

Of course, the article was also supposed to be submitted on time, rather than 13 hours past due. I’m a former Managing Editor at The Student so I should be more considerate.

However, the reason I’ve decided to make this column introduction have some substance is the same one that allows me to have an excuse for my tardiness; after all, the power did go out in my dorm for most of Saturday night.

Who knew that a few inches of snow could do so much damage? I’m from Iowa, where most in-town school districts wouldn’t have even cancelled class for such little snow accumulation. Then again, Iowa doesn’t typically have snowstorms in October, while the leaves are still on the trees.

It was an interesting evening; I had initially been watching my favorite college football team on its way to getting its first win in five games — and against a top 25 opponent — when the power blinked, and that specific channel went out on the TV. I groaned, and then switched the channel to ESPN, where I could at least track the game on the “Bottom Line.” It was probably around this time that my friends and I started to notice blue flashes coming from somewhere.

Soon, the power blinked again and took the rest of the television channels with it. Then, we were able to see the flashes more distinctly. The blue and white flashes were gigantic, and they seemed to be coming from the roof of the dining hall section of Val. The Val common room offered an ideal place to watch the developments of the damage, letting us see the flashes as well as the collapsing branches from the trees on the quad. We stayed there and played a card game until the lights went out for good.

It’s kind of funny, really; the College braced itself with all its might for Hurricane Irene — the storm that missed us entirely — and then missed the possible havoc of this strange October snowstorm. Granted, I’m not much for plans in certain situations, and it’s been more interesting to see what’s gone right and wrong in the past few days with different people working together to help out in whatever small ways they can, instead of being quarantined to our dorms under the watch of our RCs.

There was a lot of good done by the College and by the students and staff, but I’m going to be “that guy” and mention the few bad things first, to get them out of the way. I can’t speak for what the College authorities were doing on Saturday night, but I know how things unfolded from my perspective in Val. When the power went off, the people in the dorm quickly realized that we wouldn’t be able to open any doors from the outside with our IDs. That was a bit of a problem, but the bigger problem was the large number of people (of lesser intelligence) that were still roaming around outside, like the guys sitting in the snow in shorts.

A lot of people were on their way back from parties but couldn’t get back in their dorms, or even get into the Val atrium and out of the cold. A couple of my friends propped open the inner doors to the atrium so that people could get in, realizing that the alarms wouldn’t go off if there was no power, and we shut them again after most people had returned to their dorms, at about 2 a.m.

The other issue that we had to deal with was the fact that every single emergency light in our dorm went out — and then every exit sign followed suit! I’m not sure, but isn’t that a slight breach of some sort of code? It’s ridiculous that the emergency lights couldn’t last us two hours. Fortunately, one of the guys in the dorm was able to distribute flashlights to a few people for the night.

Having said that, I want to say again that the good responses to the storm were in the overwhelming majority. In addition to dealing with the two aforementioned problems, the people in my dorm ended up hosting a lot of people during the day and night on Sunday, since we had our power restored as part of the dining hall. Most rooms and the common room had at least one person in them that wasn’t from our dorm for all or part of the day. Thanks to everyone who’s a resident in Val or any other dorm that gave people a place to go.

Still, the real heroes of the day were the men and women of Dining Services. They had the dining hall open all day, even without the keycard access, even without providing their usual selection of food, even with a dearth of workers.
What made this even more impressive was the fact that they weren’t just serving the usual number of students, but were also serving professors and people from the town of Amherst. The line was winding out of the server when I went for supper, but people got through that line quicker than during Monday’s lunch. You got your hands dirty, you cleaned up after us and you made sure we had food when most of the rest of town couldn’t serve any; for that, and for all of the other things you do that we overlook, we thank you, dining services.

Then, Monday morning, the RCs led the charge to clean up the fallen branches in the freshman quad, and many students got up before 10 a.m., on a morning when they could sleep in, in order to help. Thanks, all of you; this place will look good for Family Weekend.

And, of course, let’s give credit where credit is due and give a quick shout-out to the administration; thank you, a lot, for cancelling Monday classes.

Now that I’ve said my thank yous, I should probably get on with chattering about what I believe and why other people are wrong … but wait, I’m out of space. Oh well — I can talk about that for the next two-and-a-half years I’ll be here.