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Waffle House Index
- an informal metric used by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to determine the effect of a storm and the likely scale of assistance required for disaster recovery. The measure is based on the reputation of the Waffle House restaurant chain for staying open during extreme weather and for reopening quickly, albeit sometimes with a limited menu, after very severe weather events such as tornadoes or hurricanes.

The index has three levels, based on the extent of operations and service at the restaurant following a storm:
Green: the restaurant is serving a full menu, indicating the restaurant has power and damage is limited.
Yellow: the restaurant is serving a limited menu, indicating there may be no power or only power from a generator or food supplies may be low.
Red: the restaurant is closed, indicating severe damage.

On that dreadful, dreadful day in American history – 9/11 – most were glued to a television set. The horror and fear and sadness becoming a national and international tidal wave of human emotion as the terrible morning became afternoon. In the small Sierra Mountains village in which I live, fear was the overriding reaction. Residents had begun to gather at the country store, the parking lot overflowing with 4x4 trucks, quads, dirt bikes, and hippie busses. Paranoia and suspicion acting like a pole-mounted siren. The community association board members were being shouted down, the volunteer fire department was told to shut it, the handful of middle-class denizens present pushed to the back of the growing crowd. It was an outraged hillbilly clan that stepped forward and took over. They had dynamite, they had long guns, one had a 50 cal., and they had a plan. To protect us all. They were going to blow up the one-way-in/one-way-out highway and stand guard against a perceived wartime threat.

We were rapidly approaching index level red. Under blue skies.

Someone had the presence of mind to put a call in to the California Highway Patrol, after all it was their highway to protect, and up the hill they came in black Chevy Suburbans, wearing bullet-proof vests and riding running boards. Probably it was the patriotic feeling of the day, but once they got the gist of the situation, the officers were sympathetic and spent a generous amount of time talking down the good old boys and the nervous residents. No one was arrested, no weapons confiscated. But the community association learned a valuable lesson; someone needed to oversee the emergency requirements of the 800 inhabitants of the town.

Thus, was the Emergency Preparedness Committee created.

It’s not actual emergencies that fuel a group such as the EPC, it’s the preparations for the possibility of an emergency. Obviously, to focus on a potential terrorist attack would be ludicrous. We are not survivalists (at least not most of us), nor are we preppers (at least, again, not for the most part), but there are two common scenarios here that qualify in the American Red Cross handbook as emergencies – wildfire and winter power outages. The EPC prepares for both.

This village is a 10-mile-long stretch of road boasting: one country store (which used to house a bar until a man was shot to death there in the 70’s and now has erected a Little Library in the parking lot), a realist Christian Church, a cemetery (with a disproportionate number of veteran boarders), a boarded-up two-room elementary school, the community center, and the metal kit building that houses the California Fire Department. We tore down the Volunteer Fire Department building about ten years ago after a hard-won fight with county and state demanding a year-round fire station, manned by two, but still. The real issue was that no one wanted the vamps showing up at their homes after two fourteen-year-old boys riding one dirt bike ran into a tree off the side of the road and in a gruesome spate of mind-boggling drama, the state-run volunteers required all the personnel working on those two dying boys to take HIV tests. It tore the town up for a long, long time and some never will heal.

The town is on a volcanic ridge thanks to the once-active Mt. Lassen. And it’s a “dead-end ridge” meaning that the state highway stops near to the top and becomes a logging road you can only navigate with a four-wheel drive vehicle. Those residents who routinely use that logging road down to the creek, a 12-mile distance that takes an hour and a half to drive, sleep easier at night knowing they have two ways out if a situation arises. The rest of the residents must lie awake during times of crisis knowing they are wholly dependent on the winding 20 to 30-mile-long road back down into the valley.

We do get quite a bit of stormy snow throughout the winter and oftentimes lose electricity. The EPC is concerned about those times in which remotely located poles snap and can only be replaced by a helicopter crew because that means days and days without power. No lights, no phones, no internet, no water. The committee has been successful in convincing AT&T to bring a generator up during those times. Once they padlock that to the hub the internet is back on! We have a state-donated generator so that the community building can be used as a warming center. We also have a “prep closet” filled with cots and food items, water and clothing. An informal survey process has shown us that the residents taking advantage of our preparations are “flatlanders” who probably shouldn’t be living up here, and some elderly inhabitants. The rest of us know how to survive in our homes for a week or two without electricity.

Wildfire is a completely different emergency. Both valleys that flank the ridge have burned, the valley that the ridge drops down into at its dead-end end has burned. The ridge itself has not burned in recorded history. Most of the current residents have lived through two serious fire scares in which evacuations were mandated. This means loading up cars and trailers with valuables and animals, turning on yard sprinklers, spray-painting phone numbers on the sides of critters that won’t trailer, grabbing bug-out bags, and getting in a line of vehicles trying to outrace each other off the hill.

The EPC holds classes about bug-out bags. These are backpacks filled with vitals: two days’ worth of clothes, toiletries, snacks, medicines, and a folder filled with valuable paperwork. We also hold classes on CPR, first aid, and chainsaw safety. We have visiting speakers who discuss insurance coverage, carrying the correct identification, rescuing domestic animals, and keeping a fire zone cleared around structures. We host workshops on long-term food storage, and survival skills. These are all life lessons that must be learned if one is to have a safe existence on the mountain.

So, with all the dedication put in by the Emergency Preparedness Committee, you might assume that the community center building is our own Waffle House. You would be wrong. Our “waffle house” is more about a hands-on presence; an index measured by the involvement of the hillbillies (Wikipedia - Hillbillies are often considered independent and self-reliant individuals who resist the modernization of society, but at the same time they are also defined as backward and violent.) who have lived here for over a century. These folks represent an extended family which has grown to over a hundred members, give or take. They arrived here from Germany in the late 1800’s to work as loggers, building rough-hewn cabins in the woods for their kin, and putting down tap roots that hold them firmly to this patch of earth. Today, a small handful still work as loggers, others join the military, but most are marijuana farmers. Legal and guerilla.

And as much as some of the newer residents of the village try and try to create a bedroom community in these beautiful woods, the lifestyles of this clan make that impossible. You either accept this reality and learn to co-exist, or you become utterly and angrily miserable and eventually drive yourself off the mountain.

In times of non-emergency, their presence is noticeable. They crawl water-laden semis up the road all day long to irrigate their crops. They have a propane cannon they enjoy shooting off at night. They throw sticks of dynamite out their truck windows while speeding down the road. They run a dog-fighting ring that has proven impossible to break. One autumn they made everyone nervous wrecks by randomly riding a snowmobile on the road, sparks flying. They show up in force to the monthly Pine Cone Opry and clog drunkenly on the picnic table tops. They also park on Schoolmarm Turnout most every evening in the summer and fall, sit on the hoods of their trucks, drink Bud Ice, and watch the sun set over the coastal range.

But their presence has proven indispensable during calamities. They always have a chainsaw or two in the back of their pickup truck beds and can clear downed trees from off the road hours before Caltrans makes it up the hill. Wildlife struck by cars are humanely euthanized with handguns stashed beneath seats, and deer roadkill scooped up while still warm for butchering. When some college co-eds got trapped down at the creek in the middle of a late-spring snowstorm, the locals found them while Search & Rescue looked in vain. (Strangely enough, one of those girls fell hard for one of the mountain boys who rescued them and she has stayed on the hill. It’s been twenty years now for them.) A substitute bus driver attempted a hairpin turn and tipped the bus over in a roadside ditch. Two of the hillbillies herded the kids off the bus, onto the shoulder, and then pulled that 40-foot-long vehicle back up onto the asphalt as the driver protested. But we couldn’t have that piece of road blocked all day waiting for the bus yard tow truck. Two townies set a tremendously frightening fire on their pot farm while making honey oil, burning down the village’s oldest cabin, causing panic in the vicinity with hundreds of residents frantically packing up their vehicles and waiting in line to get off the hill while CalFire dropped retardant from above. A week later, when they returned to the destroyed acreage, a group of men were waiting to inform them they had worn out their welcome. When a youngster camping down at the creek was bit by a rattlesnake and his parents were panicking with no cell reception, a local day-camper, a stranger to them, took the child and his mother out in record time in his modified 4x4.

Index level yellow.

One summer a few years back, a fellow drove his car into a tree on a sharp turn, dying instantly, but also gravely injuring his pregnant wife and killing their unborn child. He was the brother of a resident and had just left her place when the crash occurred. The tree was a black oak that withstood the accident but was deeply gashed with lost swathes of bark where the car had impacted. One morning, a few days after the accident, I was on my way to town when I came upon one of the clan hitchhiking near that tree. He’s a friend and I pulled over to give him a ride the few miles to the store. He had a small roll of baling wire, and tools stuffed into he pockets of his overalls. I asked him what he was up to. He told me he’d spent an hour or so wiring the bark back onto that tree. Totally perplexed I asked him why. He said, “I got to thinking. That gal has to drive past here every morning to go to work and it just can’t be a good way for her to start her day, having to see that tree all scarred up like that.”

Index level green.


( 29 comments — Leave a comment )
Jul. 25th, 2017 09:47 pm (UTC)
When you wrote in your journal that you would be writing non-fiction for a change, I had high hopes (which you exceeded) and I was very curious to read your entry. You managed to weave multiple events, any one of which would have made a fascinating tale, into this great panorama of your area, all centered around responses to real and imagined threats. While they sound like difficult neighbors, I found the hillbillies fascinating, and I wanted to read more about them. It sounds beautiful up there, but dangerous as well. For some reason, I got a kick about imagining animals wandering around with phone numbers painted on them. Really great work, and very bold to be writing fiction this late in the game.
Jul. 26th, 2017 02:23 pm (UTC)
Thanks, G! This turned out to be more difficult to write than fic with the exception that I already had the stories...I'm glad to hear it proved an interesting read for you. This tiny town is pretty unique and I can see novels unfolding...I think there are folks who would get a kick out of reading the hillbilly version of Lake Woebegone. ;) They are not easy neighbours but we've made friends with some and peace with most and it makes our lives interesting and much easier than those who want to make enemies of them.

I, too, love the idea of livestock escaping peril with phone numbers painted on their sides!!
Jul. 26th, 2017 07:05 am (UTC)
Wow, what a fascinating picture of life in your community! I'm not sure I could peacefully cope with the hillbilly clan, though living that remotely would be a strain anyway-- for reasons of stir-craziness!

For all of their hell-bent antics (which sound as if they might be alcohol- or stupidity- inspired), the hillbillies seem a pragmatic bunch when real trouble hits. And in the case of the last story, even thoughtful. What a tragic situation.

Those go-kits are an excellent idea-- especially including the important papers along with basics of physical support. Living in a place with such a high fire risk, they would really come in handy.
Jul. 26th, 2017 02:34 pm (UTC)
Thanks, K! The remote living IS a strain (although I am admittedly a hermit who loves the wild and wonderful woods) and in many ways, the hillbilly presence can be a real help in certain situations. I wanted to get that across. I think there are novels-worth of stories up here.

I should make a post about our bug out bags and document safe! It's pretty comprehensive and something that is always being worked on. We back up all our computers and have portable hard drives in the safe.
Jul. 26th, 2017 01:35 pm (UTC)
I'd have difficulty living with the hillbilly clan. I know how complex it is--I would see them as bullies while they would see themselves as victims--but they'd still make me uneasy. Does that make me a bad person? A little. Do they have their own prejudices that I would find unpleasant? Most certainly.

But I really appreciate the balanced description you made of them.
Jul. 26th, 2017 02:31 pm (UTC)
The majority of folks who try to make a go of it here find that the difficulty of co-existing is too much and they move off the hill. It's totally understandable! They can be bullies, but that wouldn't be the descriptor of them I would use. And they are anything but victims. I think they see this mountain as theirs, they were the first here and they want to be the last. It's more that they put up with us.

A few years back, when I was community association prez, several of them approached me and said flat out that they were being harassed by the sheriff. I have to stay neutral so I said, fine, let's have a Town Hall meeting about it and see what the Sheriff himself has to say. Wowza, that meeting should be a short story. Turns out they were being harassed by one deputy in particular and we made real progress that night.

In truth, the old hippies are probably nastier. Stories! I haz 'em!
Jul. 28th, 2017 08:12 pm (UTC)
So write woman, write! ;-)
Jul. 26th, 2017 08:59 pm (UTC)
You may not be a "survivalist," but you survived THIS STUFF!

It's an interesting mindset that must occur with people in a town like this. I think people become more self-reliant or at least develop that kind of mindset when they move to a tiny place like this, and that inflates their feeling of self-worth to themselves and to their communities. Certainly what people think of as important seems to reflect that.

There is a need to be more self-reliant because there are so very few people around!The one question you didn't answer is: how close is your nearest Waffle House?!
Jul. 27th, 2017 01:11 am (UTC)
Ha! That's a great way to look at it!

I agree with your assessment about small towns! Or even neighborhoods.

I have no idea if there is a Waffle House nearby. I think that's an east coast thing.

Thanks for reading and commenting!
Jul. 26th, 2017 11:28 pm (UTC)
People like that are why I live in the mountains. They're wild, reckless, and more than a little crazy but they're also the best people in the world to have on your side when something needs doing. I aspire to be a real hillbilly one day.
Jul. 27th, 2017 01:21 am (UTC)
*nods vehemently* There's a lot of truth to this. Well...the dog fighting is a SERIOUS issue...

I can see you as an old grizzled hillbilly! Pursue this goal!
Jul. 27th, 2017 08:16 pm (UTC)

This is a wonderful portrait of your community!

Jul. 28th, 2017 01:45 pm (UTC)
Thanks for reading and commenting! I'm glad you enjoyed it!
Jul. 27th, 2017 10:04 pm (UTC)
Great stories! I especially like the one about reattaching the bark. The town I grew up in had some very similar characters.
Jul. 28th, 2017 01:46 pm (UTC)
Thanks, A! That bark story really touched me. "Characters" is the perfect descriptor!
Jul. 28th, 2017 05:19 am (UTC)
Such vivid memories you paint! I like how you apply the index here.
Jul. 28th, 2017 01:46 pm (UTC)
Thank you! I really appreciate you saying so!
Jul. 28th, 2017 09:03 am (UTC)
Thank you for sharing this fascinating and amazing insight into your village and its inhabitants.
Jul. 28th, 2017 01:47 pm (UTC)
Non-stop crazytown, J. You can come visit!
Jul. 28th, 2017 01:51 pm (UTC)
Jul. 28th, 2017 03:30 pm (UTC)
This reminds me I should re-create a go bag, I had one built in Northern CA but in the move it got broken down to parts and I haven't put it back together.

I really enjoyed this, it's a fascinating look at your community and living in a more isolated situation than most of us are accustomed to anymore. I miss the "everyone pitches in" aspects of small town life sometimes, even if you might not always choose the how or why of the help being offered.

The snowmobile on dry road made me cringe, but I bet if I ever stopped at the turnout at sunset I'd get offered a beer. Your hillbillies remind me of the Yuppers (Michigan's UP and NE Wisconsin) where my parents grew up, sometimes frustratingly impossible and sometimes capable of grace that takes your breath away.
Jul. 28th, 2017 11:35 pm (UTC)
Thanks for this really lovely comment. That snowmobile had everyone cringing, while these guys were laughing their assess off. That "grace". I know, I know!

Rebuild that bug out bag!!! You just never know when you need to grab something and have what you need AND peace of mind!! I would love to hear what you have in yours. I might do a bug-out bag post!
Jul. 28th, 2017 08:00 pm (UTC)
This was such a fascinating look at your community! I love all the stories you told, and I can see how many people could not live there with the hillbilly clan. I really, really love the story you ended it on, with the man wiring up the tree. That was heartwarming.
Jul. 28th, 2017 11:53 pm (UTC)
Thank you so much for reading and commenting! The stories never ever end up here! It's kind of crazy! I loved that tree story, too.
Jul. 28th, 2017 08:05 pm (UTC)
Oh! You got me bawling with that last paragraph!

E, this is a worthy and effective article if ever there was one. It is highly informative, funny in a quirky way, and provides a heart-wrenchingly wonderful insight into the true community you share on your mountain.

As ever, brilliant, and beautifully written. Wonderful! <3
Jul. 28th, 2017 11:54 pm (UTC)
Aw, thanks, M! Every time I tell that story someone tears up. It's just really moving! I'm so thrilled that you felt this non-fic outing was a worthy effort! It was definitely something new for me...and lately I've been wondering why I'm so private...I think it's a holdover from the early days of the world wide web...but something that I need to remind myself isn't so important today. It's good to share!
Jul. 29th, 2017 12:26 am (UTC)
You're welcome! ;-)

I think those of us who write are more private generally. Maybe it's because a lot of the confidential stuff gets worked out through the fiction we create. I can be really superficial if I'm in a social situation were I feel the need to be "on." It's not that I'm artificial, or insincere, it's just that I can make most things seem light and insignificant. Defense mechanism!

I.E. Since joining my church there has been much discussion about why I am single. Only recently I confided to three of my buddies that most days I can barely look after myself, so how could I possibly look after someone else. It's hard for me to talk about. I'm a good listener. Another trait I believe is common to writers.

The thing about you is that you can write anything, and write it beautifully, fully! Your more personal work this year has been so, so good.
Jul. 28th, 2017 10:31 pm (UTC)
Fascinating! Living in North Georgia, we have our share of hillbillies and survivalists. They can be both a comfort and a little scary. I'd hate to be on their bad side if the end times comes and they want my canned goods, you know?
Jul. 28th, 2017 11:56 pm (UTC)
Thank you for reading and commenting! I bet you do have your own fair share down there! I would love to get down there some day!! Yeah, getting on their bad side would not be a good thing. Some of the folks up here have experienced that first hand. I'll have to write up the story about when the country store was sold...
( 29 comments — Leave a comment )