Chapter 2: May 2011
The day we unflipped the Passat
This day was a weird day, because there were some real wins, but also some valuable lessons. It started out decent enough. A lot of people were coming to help today, and I wanted to be ready to get the most out of the assistance. When people showed up, I gave them a few easy things that needed to get done, and went to Home Depot to get some tools – a variety of different sized picks, maddoxes, and diggers we could use to get my car away from it’s precarious perch over the root ball hole, hopefully without causing more damage than had already been done. My plan was to dig the dirt away from the roots little by little, and then carefully use the chainsaw to cut away the roots, until there was a path for the tire to roll down the root ball. I also wanted to salvage some of the boards from the destroyed house behind mine, so I could do a better job of boarding up the windows and improve security for the house in general. I didn’t need too many boards to do this, and really did not have the money to buy them new. The other major thing that needed doing outside, was to move the piles of logs to the road so they could be cleared as soon as possible. My thinking had been that I could get people started doing some of these things, and then do a few other tasks that I needed to do on my own, such as litterbox duty and broken glass removal.
On my way to Home Depot, I saw a massive fleet of trucks from power companies all around the south, stationed behind the mall, ready to get the lights back on in Tuscaloosa.
When I returned to my house, I handed over all the various digging and chopping implements, and told the guys the plan. I marked the spot where the driver’s side of my car touched the ground, and told them that in all cases, should my car move AT ALL from this position, they should STOP IMMEDIATELY and come find me so I could look at it. Then, I picked the biggest guy and asked him to come with me.
We picked our way back to the destroyed house, and I explained that I needed some of the boards.
I told him what kind of boards I was looking for. I showed him how there were some that were easily accessible. I picked a few out, and put them in a pile. Then, he said he didn’t feel comfortable or safe doing this. OK, I understand. I guess this job won’t get done by anybody except me. We went back out to the front. I was starting to get hungry.
One of the logger guys who was in town to help clear some of the big trees came over to talk to me for a bit, and ask me what my plan was. We talked about it for awhile, I told him I was going to try to use a come-along to sneak it down the root ball at an angle to keep it from hitting the house. He told me that under no circumstances should I make any attempt to cut the tree trunk of the root ball, and explained how that was what holds the root ball up vertically, and that if the trunk was cut while my car was still there, the root ball would snap back down into the hole and trap my car in such a way to ruin all chances of recovery. This was very valuable advice. I was really starting to need some breakfast. I went inside to get a bowl of cold ravioli.
When I came back outside, there was about a dozen strangers using their chainsaws on the trees in my yard, including the one that my car was stuck in. I was somewhat unhappy about this, especially since I had just had the talk with the other guy about how this could cause a real problem. I went to talk to them. They were volunteering their time to help, and this is really a very nice thing. However, they should have talked to me. They said that they had talked to someone, and pointed to the big guy who didn’t feel safe getting some boards. Then, I watched one of these fellas cut the branch he was standing on, right out from underneath himself. With my own eyes, I saw this guy go down. I said, I’m sorry guys, but you gotta go. There are a lot of other people who need far more help than I do right now, thanks for your effort, keep up the good work, but someplace other than here. They were disappointed, and I felt bad, but I did have my reasons. I still have not eaten my ravioli. On my way back to get it, I find the big guy, and tell him that if anybody else comes to help, ask them who they are affiliated with, or ask to see a driver license, or something. Don’t just let anybody walk in and start doing something. He didn’t say anything back.
I got my bowl of ravioli, and took it with me to check out the progress with the car. The first thing I noticed was that the car had indeed moved (and quite a bit) from the marker, and was leaning more. I showed this to the guys, and made them stop for a minute, because I really did not want to screw this up. I sat down to look at it and think, while I finally ate my breakfast.
The wife of one of the guys started hovering over me, and would not stop talking about how horrible this was, and how her dad would know just what to do, if only he were here he would take care of this. Would. Not. Stop. I tried to eat, and was thinking about which tree would be the best to hook to, and…she just kept on, and I got madder and madder with every bite, until finally, I had enough. I was maxed out on frustration. Not wanting to throw a tantrum in the yard, I stood up, went into my house, and flung my stupid bowl of cold ravioli as hard as I could against a muck-covered wall. She followed me.
She stood there in my tornadoed house with me, and gave her words of wisdom. She advised me that I should should clean the inside of my house instead of worrying about the outside. That was when I lost my shit. I told her it was time for her to go. Thanks for your help, I’ll keep your advice in mind, have a nice day, goodbye. Then, I went out to my car, and climbed up on the tree, and told everybody else pretty much the same thing. I was really nice about it, I said thank you all for your time, made a little speech, and sent everybody away. End of story.
After everybody left, I finally had some breakfast.
Then, I set about digging my own damn car out the way I wanted it done.
First, I propped it up with a big log, so it wouldn’t shift any more. Then I dug the dirt from around the roots so I could cut the roots out of the way, little by little. I worked at this alone for hours. I had some frustration to work out, so I barely even noticed how hard it was.
The guy from across the street came over and talked to me for awhile. He said he had been watching me work my butt off, and that it was really hard work. He was a teacher, and a nice guy. We talked for a few minutes, then I went back to work. One of the guys that was helping my next door neighbor came over, and he helped me dig, until I decided it was time to try to roll her out.
I enlisted as much help as I could, I figured that with enough guys we could keep my car from bouncing over into the house while we rolled it back. With at least half a dozen guys to help, I climbed up into my car to turn the steering wheel. It was locked so tight from the car being on it’s side, that the key would not even turn. I was not sure what to try next, when one of these guys said he had a 4-wheel drive truck. We cleared a path so he could drive into the yard, hooked up a series of chains to keep the car away from the house, and just like that…my car was rubber-side down.
It was a huge win, and everybody got really pumped about it. This was a real accomplishment. And it made me hungry again. Fortunately, there was a guy just down the street cooking up a feast.
Danny Crenshaw would come to Tuscaloosa and whip up a low country boil for everybody – neighbors, firefighters, volunteers, the National Guard, any-hungry-body – in front of the house where his son rented, 2 houses down from where I lived. What an awesome guy! Super-nice fella. He did this several times.
Getting my car out made me feel bold enough, that I decided to spend the night at home, for the first time since the storm. After curfew, it was eerie being ‘alone’ in the dark. I wasn’t exactly alone, though…I had the military to keep me company.
I was in the back of my house after dark, changing my shirt, and I heard somebody out in the living room. Frankly, it scared the crap out of me. I got my shirt on as I was walking out there, and had my big ol’ maglite in my hand, ready to put the hurt on someone. A couple of armed military dudes greeted me. They wanted to know who I was. Hahaha. We talked for a few minutes, they had seen the door open and decided to check it out, to make sure my house wasn’t being looted. Which was, of course, their job.It hadn’t occurred to me that this could happen, but it probably should have. When they left, I told them to please tell all their friends I am here, and staying. All night I heard patrols and a lot of other very odd sounds. I did not sleep that great, but was glad to be home. The cats were glad to have me around too.