30 Days of Thansgiving

On my facebook page for the last 12 days, I have been posting the 30 Days of Thanksgiving. Like so many others, I have been counting my blessings one by one, and reading what a lot of my friends are thankful for in return. It's one of the really cool traditions that social media has brought about. With 18 days to go, I imagine I will come up with some silly things to be grateful for, like hot coffee in the morning or the invention of the McRib. But as I pause for a moment and take in my surroundings, I realize that my blessings go far beyond a few words in a status update.

I am sitting in a hotel room in Atlantic City, New Jersey. Being dispatched for storm duty for the first time in over a year, I left home yesterday and arrived here this morning. As I drove, I couldn't help but be excited about being back on the road and in my element. I remember being in my Belfor truck en route to Nashville, being on a plane bound for Oregon, and being on a 747 headed for Chile feeling the same way. This is what I do, I thought as I made my way across the Pennsylvania Turnpike and through Philadelphia. I am back in the game. But as I approached New Jersey, it was different.

 Normally as I reached the edge of the damage zone, I would see something that reminded me of the real reason I was there. In Nashville, it was the flooded area just off I-65 that forced me to take a detour. In Louisville it was a car that had been enveloped by water to the point I could only see the roof. In Chile, it was the collapsed pedestrian bridges laying next to the highway. But this was really different.

As I drove down the Atlantic City Highway, it was evident there had been a storm. A few trees were laying on their sides. Billboards had been ripped apart by the wind. But not the devastation I had anticipated. And no "wow" moment that reminded me I do this because I like helping people. "I thought this was a superstorm" I thought as I pulled into the hotel parking lot, about 5 miles from the coast. I went inside and found I could not check in for three hours and decided to take a drive. I figured I might as well check things out to see if we were even going to be needed here, or if I should make my way into New York City.

I was talking to Tiffany, telling her how little damage I was seeing as I went across a bridge that leads to the strip, when I nearly hit a boat. It was laying just off the side of the road at the end of the bridge. I remember being in Minnesota and nearly taking out a flying helicopter in my truck. In the split second before I reacted in both cases, I thought "how am I going to explain this to the boss?" And then that moment, the "wow" moment I have experienced so many times before, happened again. And kept happening for the next 3 hours.

As I drove, the devastation was more than I ever could have imagined. Homes laying on their sides, roofs sticking out of the shallow bay, boats tossed on shore like they were play toys. I drove through Atlantic city, up the coast to Toms River, Seaside Park, Long Beach and Red Bank. No power in most places. Debris stacked up along the side of the road. Work trucks and generators parked in the street, demoing out building after building. 50 miles I drove, every place as bad as the one before. I was turned away by police twice in areas where Sandy first made landfall. It will take years to rebuild.

When I got back to the hotel and checked into my room, I opened my computer and checked facebook. My sister had her 30 days posted, thankful for my Aunt Debbie. Another was thankful for her love of reading, and another for her son's Cub Scout Troop. All of those things, and all I have been thankful for, are great things. But I thought how thankful I am to have my home. My boys. My sweetheart, my family, and my friends. I am thankful that when I am done working, I will return back to life as usual while these people will be rebuilding for many years to come.

Life can change in an instant. Whether it is meeting a cute little red headed girl in a bar or Mother Nature pointing her fury at your home and destroying everything you ever had, there are no guarantees for tomorrow. But as I sit here in this hotel on the outskirts of Atlantic City, 5 miles from absolute devastation, I know that I am so blessed. And so are you.

Day #588, and even though I am many miles from home and missing my sweetheart like crazy, it is still good to be me.

Good Night All..............


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