When last November’s ice storm turned out the lights on Coeur d’Alene’s east side, residents ventured through the darkness in search of comfort and comfort food.
“We were kind of like the first light you saw coming west (on Sherman Avenue),” restaurateur Woody McEvers said Thursday, one year after the massive storm crippled the region.
Providing for those seeking refuge from their dark, cold houses created some special memories for McEvers.
He commemorated the event Thursday with free coffee at his restaurant, Rustler’s Roost, among the few on East Sherman with electricity after the ice storm struck.
Customers who ventured out that first morning lined up in the Rustler’s Roost restroom to wash up with hot water. Others huddled over plates of biscuits and gravy, bacon and eggs and cups of coffee and talked about their predicaments.
The Chuckwagon restaurant at the far east end of Sherman was open as well, but head cook Terry Brown had to figure out how to keep pouring as the power to the coffee makers went on and off throughout the day. “I didn’t know how to make ‘cowboy coffee,”’ he joked, adding that he experimented with boiling coffee grounds over the grill. But he admits that was just “coffee-colored water.”
McEvers and Brown marveled most about how the beleaguered locals pulled together. Customers took it good-naturedly when Brown announced to a full dining room lit by flashlights that there would be no more french fries. McEvers seated strangers at the same table and no one seemed to mind.
“Everyone was concerned about each other,” McEvers said. “Friends checked on their neighbors and brought them in (to eat).”
The Chuckwagon opened at 4:30 a.m. to feed hungry power crews and made chili to take to others in rural areas. McEvers took his first load of sandwiches to the Blue Creek area, following a WWP truck through tunnels of downed trees and falling snow. As he parked along a rural road, a tree-trimming crew appeared from the snowy forest around him like muddy ghosts with ravenous appetites.
Later, he hitched up his catering trailer and served meatloaf and spaghetti in the field, moving the meal site a few miles down the road each day as crews progressed along damaged lines.
On Thanksgiving Day, McEvers served a turkey dinner in the lodge at Camp N-Sid-Sen on the eastern shore of Lake Coeur d’Alene, with more than a dozen rural residents setting tables with flowers and candles, stoking fires and cutting pies for the crews who had been working long days out in the cold.
During the power outage, McEvers remembers spontaneous applause from customers erupting for a wet, muddy power crew that stopped into his restaurant for a hot meal.
Brown was installing emergency lighting in his restaurant on the morning the ice storm began. The 25-year restaurant veteran had heard reports of an approaching storm from Seattle, and extra lighting seemed like a good idea. Still, he had to buy a generator to keep his freezers running and $200 worth of flashlights and batteries to get through the intermittent blackouts.
For those who remember the ice storm in terms of biscuits baked and burgers grilled, Thursday’s anniversary was a chance to reminisce with customers about the day nobody minded slow service, or changes in the menu.
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color Photo