The sound coming from the phone sounded all the world like a swarm of angry bees.
Geoff had another live one on the line.
Florence has come, hitting our eastern North Carolina brethren hard. It will go down in the books as a storm all others are measured against. It proved a minor inconvenience here but was a life-changing event for a lot of folks.
It won’t be a measuring stick here in the mountains. We’ll keep remembering the twin storms of 2004, the flood of 1940 and the flood of 1916. And the blizzard of ’93.
Natural disasters bring out the best in some people. They bring out the worst in some people. And they bring out the weird in some people.
And when the weird got going, they called Geoff Cantrell.
I’ve been fortunate to have Geoff, who now works in the public relations office at Western Carolina University, intersect my life repeatedly. He grew up on Balsam, son of a park ranger; our joke was that his Daddy chased my Daddy (which wasn’t always entirely a joke). We went to high school together, worked at a weekly newspaper together for a couple of years and later at a daily for a decade or so.
Geoff’s as nice a guy as you’ll ever meet, but he possesses this odd quality.
The eccentric are drawn to him like moth to a flame.
The blizzard of 1993 produced a bumper crop.
I didn’t have much in the way of a crisis during the two-plus feet of snow we were smacked with that year. I did have to run my sister-in-law to the ER the night before the flakes began piling up thanks to a bout of food poisoning from a now long-defunct restaurant but had her back at the house before the roads began closing. We never lost power.
After a few days I-26 and I-40 reopened, and I was ready to go to work and sister-in-law, having been stuck four days, was ready to head back to Ohio. I dug out sister-in-law’s van, moved it so I could get out, and began the commute to work, which took about three hours even though it was only 25 miles or so. (Everyone got back on the road at the same time, and it didn’t work well).
I got out at the job site, reached into my pocket, and had a sinking feeling when I realized I’d driven off with sister-in-law’s keys.
So, she was stuck with us five days.
Anyway, we all had it better than Geoff, who was stuck at work with no food but a vending machine. It was around this period he started getting the oddball phone calls.
Once he was on the line for a half-hour or so. All I picked up from the conversation were the usual Geoff-isms: “My goodness,” “Well isn’t that something,” that sort of stuff.
When he hung up and turned to me I really can’t describe the look on his face. Bewilderment will have to do.
“That was my Aunt Gladys in Chattanooga,” he said.
“How is she?”
“I don’t have an Aunt Gladys in Chattanooga.”
During disaster, tempers run high as patience runs out, and that brings us back to the call that opened this column.
The phone rang, and Geoff picked it up. (Fun fact: Back at the weekly, I barred him from answering the phone on Thursdays, the day the paper came out).
“Bzzz. Bzzz bzzz bzzz.”
“Yes sir, I understand, but – “
“Bzzz bzzz BZZZ bzzz.”
“Yes sir. But this is the newspaper. We don’t have anything to do with that.”
“BZZZ BZZZ BZZZ!! (click)”
“So what was that all about,” I asked.
“Guy wanted his power back on. I told him we didn’t have anything to do with that.”
“What was that yelling at the end?”
“He said, ‘THAT’S THE SAME THING THE SHERIFF’S OFFICE TOLD ME!”’
Buchanan is editor of the Sylva Herald.