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Kind words or an extension cord?

This is about obligations.

You run into a friend you haven't seen in a few days, ask how they're doing, and with a hurricane-sized sigh they tell you they haven't had power since Sunday morning. From the tone of their voice, they sound almost as if they've lost a favorite aunt.

Or worse, what if your house has power and plenty of cool, dry air, but the people next door are still sweating it out by candlelight? Do you approach them and ask if they need help?

If so, what can you be expected to do? Offer to let them stay with you (and secretly hope they say no)? Or do you set the bar lower and offer to fix them a hot meal, or use your shower or washing machine?

Maybe that will ease some of your survivor's guilt.

Progress Energy reported Wednesday that all its customers will have power restored no later than midnight Friday. Tampa Electric Co. is still looking at Sunday for restoring all its customers.

Until that happens, tens of thousands will remain in various stages of misery.

"What you say depends on the depth of the relationship," said Jacqueline Whitmore, founder and director of the Protocol School of Palm Beach. "We went through two hurricanes here and when our neighbors next door lost power, we offered them to plug in to our generator. I wouldn't say we're the best of friends, but I felt it was the neighborly thing to do."

Whitmore said simply telling someone who lost power that you're sorry to hear it and hope the power returns soon is often all that's needed, especially if the person has been dealing with nothing but recorded messages from the power company.

"Offer hope," she said. "And contrary to popular belief, people do feel better if they find out you or someone you know got their power back, because that means that maybe it's not far behind for them."

Not long after Cynthia and David Campbell lost power to their home in St. Petersburg's Shore Acres neighborhood Sunday morning, they ran an extension cord to a neighbor's house. Then the neighbor's generator died. So the Campbells scrounged up a welding generator that uses $40 a day in gas but at least powers the refrigerator and two fans.

Wednesday afternoon, they were still waiting for the lights to come back on.

"Most people say it's too bad that we don't have power and go on about their business," Cynthia Campbell said. "That's not meant to be mean-spirited. I understand. It's nice that they're concerned. But really, what can they do? What really gripes me is the power company.

"So don't feel guilty. If you have power, use it. I actually feel grateful. A lot of people in this state lost a lot more than power."

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