The Night I Met Gwyneth
September 23, 2003
What a week. Thursday night I was frantically
getting ready to drive to New York the next day for a wedding on Long
Island Saturday. My daughter and her children were up from Virginia Beach,
staying at my house to escape Hurricane Isabel. My own home, in Fairfax
County, Virginia, was expected to be spared.
At 10 p.m. I was talking on the
phone to the father of the bride when the lights went out.
So did my computers. So did the
radios. So did the refrigerator. So did the microwave. In the next few
minutes I discovered in just how many ways I depend on electricity. I
groped my way to a flashlight and did a little reading, but no more writing
or packing that night.
Power failures in this area never
last more than a couple of hours. This one did. In the morning my
neighborhood was still powerless. Trees had fallen on every block, one of
them barely missing my second car.
My head was spinning. So many
preparations to make, and I couldnt figure out where to start or
what was feasible. I had to leave without getting my bearings or learning
when wed have power again. I threw a few necessities into my car,
said good-bye to the family, and set off before noon.
First I had to stop at the bank to
get money for the trip. The bank was closed. I had enough cash in my
pocket for gas and a couple of meals. I hoped I could get a little loan from
a friend in New York.
Almost dazed, I turned on the car
radio and finally got the picture. The news was that we might be without
water and electricity for a week. Since my daughter had to leave for home
shortly after my departure, I wouldnt be able to get news at home
all weekend: nobody would be there to answer the phone. My poor dog would
be home alone. I was due to return Sunday evening. Oh, great!
really nothing to worry about, but I did what I always do in these
situations: I worried. The drive went smoothly, but I was exhausted by the
time I reached New York late in the afternoon.
It was a good chance to do a lot
of thinking, if only Id been able to think. Some of my deepest
insights the really seminal ones, the kind that change the world
come to me during a long drive. Usually I cant wait to get
back to my computer and set them down for posterity. Not this time. I was
seized by an irrational fear that Id never use my computers again.
The only profound thought that
occurred to me on this drive was that you never know whats going
to happen next. I tried this idea out on a few friends over the weekend, but
it didnt exactly floor them.
I spent much of the weekend
reading the papers, trying to glean a little information about what Isabel
was doing in my area. I learned only what I already knew: that countless
people here were going to be without basic utilities indefinitely.
Luckily, Isabel was a spent force
by Saturday. The weather on Long Island was heavenly. The wedding was
beautiful. Ive known the bride since she was a toddler, and she was
gorgeous. When her father, one of my dearest friends, escorted her to the
altar, I cried first time a wedding has ever done that to me. I was
so happy I forgot to worry. The groom was a gracious, handsome young
man, grateful to have so lovely a wife.
The reception was gloriously
festive. Gwyneth Paltrow was there an old school chum of the
bride, whose wedding gift was the brilliant band that played. She even
sang with the band, very creditably.
It was a magical evening. All
storms were over. No more worrying. At home Sunday evening, the lights
were back on. The dog was fine. All was well.
Ive been trying to extract
a moral from the whole experience, but the best I can do is this: no use
worrying. If you could see even one hour into the future, you could soon be
a billionaire. But you cant. If youre really lucky, though,
Gwyneth Paltrow may smile at you for a moment.