November 25, 1996 in Nation/World

Many Wandering In Search Of Warmth Chilly Folks Become Restaurant Refugees

By The Spokesman-Review

When it’s cold and folks have the cash, what do they do?

During the ice storm, some blow it.

People who otherwise wouldn’t be out partying have been out late, avoiding their frozen digs. Others start early, hitting the road in the morning and staying out until bedtime.

“That’s the nice thing about living in the Northwest,” waxed Rod Glenn, sitting in Luigi’s lounge in downtown Spokane on Saturday. “We’ve got all the seasons: firestorm, ice storm …”

With thousands of people without power, many are becoming loiterers. Instead of heading to shelters, they’re spending time in restaurants, taverns, libraries, spas and anywhere else there’s heat.

At The Onion downtown, the clinking of glasses and silverware Saturday night was louder than the thump-thump bass of the music. The bartender poured drinks with both hands.

Bill Siegwarth and Tim Severns sat there, sharing cold weather war stories. Most involved bars.

One tavern was so packed, Severns said, “customers were waiting on customers.”

Dale Forrest sat nearby with some other twentysomethings, downing a pitcher of beer.

“We went out for dinner Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. Turnin’ it in to the insurance man!” he gloated. “We were just grubbin’.”

Forrest’s power was back, he thought.

“We hope.”

Next door, at Luigi’s, Katy McBride sat in a dark corner eating salad - about 11 p.m. The elementary-school teacher’s home was still without power.

“The other night, I drove around in my car just to keep warm,” she said, bundled up in a sweater and turtleneck. “That’s the truth, because I didn’t have anywhere to go.”

The news of restaurant refugees came as no shock to the staff. “That’s what I did Tuesday and Wednesday,” waitress Teresa Beck said.

During the day, public buildings became the places of choice.

The periodicals section of the Spokane Public Library downtown bustled with folks nose-deep in copies of Stereo Review and Time.

Which would make sense, as people were likely pining for their hi-fi clock radios. Others just stared, zombielike, out the window.

STA Plaza, too, buzzed from morning until it closed. Bundled-up people were reading. Or just standing. Or torturing others by trying to remember long-forgotten music lessons on the piano upstairs.

Funny thing was, when all the buses had come and gone, people in the plaza didn’t pile out. They just stayed, sipping their lattes and trying to look purposeful.

At the Mars Hotel on Saturday, a big, blond bouncer watched a humid mass of people dance. “Tonight was real busy,” he hollered, a Secret Service-looking earpiece hanging to one side.

Among the standing-room-only crowd was the owner of Best Bet Plumbing. Having generator power at home, he wasn’t hiding because of no heat. He was just plain hiding.

A stubbled, bleary-eyed Bill Moyle said he has sold $30,000 worth of generators this week - at no profit.

“Just sell ‘em at cost, man. Flyin’ ‘em in and sellin’ ‘em to people. … We put ‘em all on credit cards.”

“I’ve had six hours’ sleep in the last week,” he slurred.

“Our phones are going right now. I have people answering our phones right now.”

He had hardly seen his wife. “I just had to get out, man.”

Another fellow sat at the bar. “The power came on the other day - for three minutes,” Joe Clayton griped. “I timed it.”

Waiters and waitresses said they have developed a sophisticated system to identify those who are without power.

A bartender at Outback Jack’s on West Sprague called it “the gross-hair look.”

“It hasn’t been washed for days,” she said matter-of-factly.

Obviously, the unwashed aren’t health club members. Long before the night wanderers awake, some folks are holed up in spas. They aren’t necessarily fighting flab.

“People have been coming to the club and what-not for showers and hair dryers,” Aaron Roberts said at the reception desk of Sta-Fit North.

Maybe they should call it Sta-Clean.

Back at The Onion, a goateed Mike Hines thought it all wasn’t such a bad deal. It was educational, man.

“It’s actually cool, because it shows how much you use electricity,” he said.

His power, of course, had returned.

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color photo

Thoughts and opinions on this story? Click here to comment >>

Get stories like this in a free daily email