By the time I decided to top off my tank in the northeastern corner of Tennessee, every gas station was taking cash only, with long lines of cars forming. Id stopped at an ATM before my road trip and had nearly 300 dollars stuffed in my wallet, and I wasnt worried. I still had a quarter of a tank, so I motored on and a few exits later, just past a cluster of gas stations jammed with vehicles, I pulled into the Regal Inn Motor Lodge and got a room. The Hindu desk clerk was happy to accept cash at below the posted nightly rate.
I figured the credit card situation might be straightened out overnight. I could gas up in the morning after the lines cleared. I was in no hurry; I had all summer. That was my thinking going to bed that night.
Woke up to no power, the TV dead, everything dead that didnt run on batteries. Anything that depended on the internet, cell service, wireless anything, that was all dead too. My smart phone was brain dead. It could show me some of my old pictures and texts, but it couldnt make a connection. Same deal in the motel lobby: no power, no wireless connections, no credit cards.
On balance, it wasnt such a bad location compared to many others places I might have been when the lights went out. I could have been passing through Birmingham or Baltimore. In rural northeastern Tennessee, the typical clients of the Regal Inn were long-haul truckers and families on a budget.
Next door, the Waffle House was still serving food, but only to cash customers. Their emergency generator quickly ran out of fuel. Without electricity, the food in their freezers was defrosting, but their propane tanks still cooked hot. Then the police moved into the restaurant, and the generator was fired up again, presumably with government fuel.
The restaurant was full of cops. Plenty of light inside the big glass windows and plenty of cop cars parked outside made it a safe place. By the third day the new restaurant policy was cops only, and we highway refugees were turned away. Even the parking lot was only for police. A little Alamo, ringed by a wall of police vehicles parked end to end.