Local Commentary

Our Man in Arlington


 It took 10 days, till 10:35 a.m. on Sunday, July 8, before the county sent e-mails delivering those heatedly awaited words: “All derecho-related power outages restored in Arlington.”

Those valiant crews of electricity elves performed phased-in rescues of darkened homes comprising two-thirds of Dominion Power’s 96,000 Arlington customers. The week in the heat made us appreciate: the importance of body temperature; the indispensability of a reading light; the expense of throwing out spoiled food; the value of facial expressions in negotiating at dead traffic signals; and our alarming dependency on the Internet.

Damage in Arlington included 96 knocked-out traffic lights. Our 911 phone service became spotty as Verizon reported that the storms hit its facilities. Countless events were cancelled at elementary schools with summer camps and at Long Branch Nature Center. The rough weather took out an historic Arlington tree, the Revolutionary War-era Post Oak, in the Westover area.

I personally felt bad that my dry cleaner lost five days’ worth of business. Our always-there 7-Eleven carried no ice cream. Safeway ran out of ice, and the parking lot of Lee-Harrison shopping center sat atypically empty. The suddenly un-air-conditioned Shirlington movie theater was shuttered—we learned after driving hopefully across the county.

On a brighter note, I’m one of those dinosaurs who still subscribes to print newspapers, so I never did without news.

The county made fire stations available for emergencies 24/7 and activated its Emergency Operations Center. Cooling centers were designated at libraries, community centers, senior centers, the Ballston Common and Pentagon City Malls, and the three high school swimming pools. Even the Artisphere got in the act, extending its evening hours and drawing an uptick in visitation.

Sixty county parks employees worked 12-hour shifts to clear trees from 74 blocked roads. Refuse teams collected 750 tons of debris. Social workers and nurses from the Human Services Department visited vulnerable residents, focusing on the elderly.

Fourth of July events went off undeterred at Long Bridge Park, the Barcroft neighborhood and Washington Golf and Country Club.

County Board Chair Mary Hynes sent out a soothing letter reviewing progress. “Arlington is a strong community with a history of pulling together in emergencies,” she wrote while asking neighbors to check on neighbors.

On our cul-de-sac, we kept tabs on one another as some fled to out-of-town hotels and cool homes of relatives. Those with generators or smartphones stayed on e-mail as neighbors traded thoughts on how to lobby Dominion Power to quit “neglecting” us.

We kept a sense of humor. The oddity on our block is that there are three families named Clark, two with a Charlie Clark and a third with a son named Chris Clark. One misrouted e-mail reached my college roommate in California, also named Chris Clark, who promptly hit reply-all and forwarded links for Arlington emergency websites to all my neighbors etc… 21st-century confusion.

Like you, I’m glad it’s over.

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Last week’s column rounding up pro athletes from Arlington drew a woulda-coulda-shoulda from an old teammate with a good memory but little sympathy for a columnist’s space constraints. But he’s right. Washington-Lee High School’s sports legacy also includes two NFL Super Bowl veterans: Jake Scott (class of ’63) of the Miami Dolphins and Reggie Harrison (class of ’69), who played for the Pittsburgh Steelers. 


Charlie Clark may be e-mailed at cclarkjedd@aol.com