The floor installer was casting covetous eyes on a tiny LED light that clips to the bill of a ball cap.
“That was the last one of those,” he said, nodding at the light in the basket of a shopper in front of me at Walmart last Sunday afternoon.
I was on my bicycle heading home from an interview. I’d swung into the store to pick up sandwich makings for the coming week. Riding to the store, I saw cars standing in Perkins Road waiting their turn at the gas pumps.
Either Jimmy Carter was back in the White House or the storm in the Gulf of Mexico was turning west.
People filling gasoline containers to run generators puts more strain on supply than the mere filling of the family’s escape auto.
I have thus far not felt the need to buy a generator, though I may make a recording of the noise for play back when my neighbors fire up their generators.
After Hurricane Andrew, the last quiet power outage I recall, a neighbor and I took to walking the streets of our neighborhood after dinner.
It was so quiet you could hear cats walking. Human voices murmured in the darkness around the glow of lanterns on tables in yards and driveways.
There must have been a scattering of generators because some of the houses emitted the same ghostly square of blue from front windows as they did nights when television sets had juice.
When we’ve seen to our comforts and gas station attendants have hung their yellow or red hoods on the empty gas pumps, what happens to evacuees traveling through our town?
Years from now, you’ll hear this conversation at tailgating parties: “How did y’all come to live in Baton Rouge?”
“Baton Rouge is where we ran out of gas. The hurricane hit, and it was easier to buy a house than find a station with gasoline.”
I had compiled a biography of the floor installer by the time we’d inched to the cashier. The cashier was in shock. Her normal day of tedium and manufactured cheerfulness had taken a turn for the worse.
Where had ALL these people come from? Did they really not have batteries and flashlights at home or had a voice on the car radio directed them to this line against their will.
The floor installer really wanted that last clip-on LED. The substitute he’d purchased was clearly, in his mind, inferior.
“Were you planning to install flooring tonight?” I asked.
No, he said, and he sure hoped Isaac didn’t bring him a lot of business the way Katrina did. He said this as an expression of bliss slid across his face.
I’d seen that face before but where? Right. Homer Simpson thinking about beer.
I left the store with packages of cheese and lunch meat in my courier bag. I almost went back to see if the shoppers had overlooked a battery, just one.
I wanted a battery really badly at that moment. It would have felt good in my pocket bumping against my leg as I rode home to await the storm.