The rap on the door came fairly late Monday evening, at least late by our standards. We don't just automatically answer the door at that hour. Because we're semi-rural, we really don't expect people stopping by.
I looked out the front window and could immediately see this was a Morris policeman. The calendar hadn't quite reached Halloween so this had to be a real policeman.
My goodness, was there danger out there that we needed to get a heads-up about? Or had I been spotted uptown not wearing my seat belt, and were they coming to get me?
I didn't know the cop's name because with the exception of Chief Beauregard, I don't know any of the policemen anymore. I once read that "you know you're getting old when you ask 'when did they start hiring kids to be policemen?' "
As a rule I don't think people know their local policemen like they used to. Just like they don't know their neighbors as well.
The fact I go to bed early and get up early means I'm not the type of person who crosses paths with law enforcement often. Something about being active at night seems to encourage this affinity.
Why was this policeman outside our door Monday night? Had I written something critical of Alaska Tea Party candidate Joe Miller and he called the police on me?
Maybe there were zombies headed in our direction. There could just as well have been, as we were told to evacuate. I had a baseball bat available to deal with the zombies. But the reality was that there was an ominous cloud heading our way. The courteous policeman told us there had been an anhydrous ammonia leak nearby.
Unfortunately this was one of those times with minimal wind out here on the blustery prairie. Wind would have dispersed the stuff. I guess that cloud was pretty menacing. Our family in its bedtime state, both in appearance and state of mind, got into our Town Car and headed downtown.
Our dog was obviously going to be part of this adventure. Sandy was going to meet some people, like Warrenn and Jeri Anderson, who he otherwise might never meet.
First we stopped at the police headquarters which is temporarily located at a main street office building. It's temporary because our county commissioners are building the Taj Mahal at the regular location.
Chief Beauregard was present and he was just in the process of deciding where the shelter for people (and animals) like us was going to be. He seemed calm and collected and he chose the UMM P.E. Center (with the RFC).
We were the first of a flood of people that would spend part of this memorable night away from their homes. Media estimates had between 250 and 300 people being evacuated. This appeared to be a bigger emergency than when that black bear was loose in town.
I'm not sure what that cloud would do to people. Apparently it's pretty nasty stuff. I often see these anhydrous ammonia tanks being hauled here and there, and I'm embarrassed to say I don't really know what it is or what it does. But if this leak is as serious as what we were told, it's use must be supervised very carefully and there must be serious sanctions for lapses.
We heard a siren but at the time did not distinguish it from any other siren that might wail over town. Later we were told this was a specific "civil defense" siren - the type of thing we were told in the 1960s we'd hear if the Commies started launching missiles over here.
Actually our house was built during that narrow window when "fallout shelters" were recommended in new homes. So we have one, and we still have the manual for it - probably a collector's item. Society eventually realized that if atomic weapons were going to start getting detonated all over the place, life wouldn't be worth living anyway.
That miserable Cold War faded and we realized the Commies probably were never the threat we thought they were. We made a stand in Viet Nam and lost something like 60,000 of our young men in the process. We withdraw in disarray. But Communism unraveled anyway. The boomer generation will never be able to completely "move on" from all that.
It was heartening to see what happened at the P.E. Center/RFC during the emergency. People bonded and helped each other totally. Nobody cared about looking sleepy or disheveled. A member of my family was in his pajamas. Some of the luckier "refugees" had laptops to entertain themselves.
People came with their pets with no hesitation. After the stories we heard about the Hurricane Katrina evacuations, when pets (unbelievably) weren't allowed, I would not have assumed such an open door for our companion animals. I had told Chief Beauregard that I was prepared to stay out in the car with Sandy (half American Eskimo, half poodle).
I don't think anyone would have dared say "no pets." I think we probably would have just defied any such individual. I suppose there are liability concerns in connection with animals. Tough. Risk is a part of life. If you need to be evacuated, you need to accept the risk of being around other people's animals (but maybe not black bears).
The P.E. Center/RFC shelter was used for about three hours. Everyone could not have gotten along better. The emergency personnel who supervised all this get an 'A' grade.
But the local authorities should try to ensure this never happens again. The responsible party should wear a dunce's cap for a while. The police helped us out great, and in the wake of this can go back to their primary mission of issuing seat belt citations and raising revenue. (And once again I'll say no, I haven't received a citation of this type myself.)
The Monday night emergency pulled us away from our routines which can be a healthy thing sometimes.
It gives us perspective. It puts our trivial concerns in the background.
It makes us value what's really important - our lives and each other.
-Brian Williams - morris mn Minnesota - firstname.lastname@example.org