Former AJC reporter Michelle Hiskey’s Clairmont Heights neighbors came to her rescue: Michael Dowling (from left), Ian Sifuentes, Bert Ackermann, Scott Davis, Dana Atwood and Luke Love. (Photo by Michelle Hiskey)
Photo: Michelle Hiskey
Photo: Michelle Hiskey

Torpy at Large: Operation Irma — Chainsaw gangs and the yearning to help

Not long after Irma’s gales tore through the area, residents of the Medlock Park neighborhood took to Facebook to send out calls for the Chainsaw Gang.

Now, the Chainsaw Gang isn’t necessarily a true gang, with initiation rites, matching jackets or hand signals. It’s simply some guys looking for an excuse to fire up their saws and chew into wood.

Modern urban life on the outskirts of The People’s Republic of Decatur doesn’t give a citified dude many chances to get manly in the old-fashioned sense.

But after the storm tore through the area Monday afternoon, men (and undoubtedly some women) were out tending to the roofs of neighbors or clearing away streets, driveways and yards of people they barely knew.

I’m picking on Medlock because, for some reason or another, I belong to their neighborhood Facebook page although I don’t live there. But the outpouring of selflessness and sudden civic volunteerism was not confined to this neighborhood.

It was a story line seen across the area, up in Cobb County, over in Gwinnett County and out there in hard-hit Gainesville — people were ready and willing to step up when called upon. In fact, many weren’t even called upon. They just got out there and looked for what needed to be done.

These were heartening scenes, just like the countless vignettes of quiet heroism from the floods of Houston, or the wreckage of Florida.

Nowadays, it seems people are too ready to sneer, judge and belittle, to take shots at folks who don’t look like them or think as they do. People are pretty raw and edgy these days, maybe even numb from the streams of invective that flow through daily life.

But when it comes down to it, most people are ready to do good when the chance presents itself. Especially when it’s an opportunity to fire up the chainsaw.

Gov. Nathan Deal did a helicopter survey of both ends of the state Thursday, telling Channel 2’s Richard Elliot that he saw widespread damage in both places.

Stephen Perras, a real estate agent who has lived in Medlock for 12 years, said the neighborhood of small 1950s post-World War II homes reminds him of the small town in New York where he grew up, a “working-class neighborhood.”

It may be that, but not in the old sense of truck drivers, factory workers and laborers. No, the people here labor at a university or at the CDC or behind a computer. But they have largely resisted the urge to scrape the old-timey homes from their lots and replace them with the monstrosities now de rigueur in many other neighborhoods.

No, the people here have plugged into relationships outside their homes, not gone inward to their great rooms or entertainment centers.

»» PHOTOS: Irma wreaks havoc in Georgia

Resident Mimi Kiser said camaraderie and community are somewhat fragmented these days.

“But there’s something endearing about the new forms of community here,” said Kiser, who works at Emory University. “In our neighborhood it’s young parents who have put a lot of energy into schools, the civic association, and are connected through Facebook. They seem to be reinventing community.”

It was an area with plenty of Hillary and Bernie signs, but the places that saw similar bursts of neighborly volunteerism carried Trump signs last fall.

“We all have a lot more in common than differences,” said Perras.

Zac Raby (left) and Stephen Perras make their way around the Medlock Park neighborhood Monday clearing branches from roofs, streets and driveways. (Photo by Kristin Kelly Mayfield)
Photo: Kristin Kelly Mayfield

Kiser was in her home when a tree slammed into the roof of her 1,000-square-foot house. A neighbor posted Kiser’s situation on Facebook and within 10 minutes Perras and Zac Raby, an IT worker, were assessing the situation. Then they got to work, quickly and efficiently clearing the branches from the roof, tarping it and then nailing the covering into place.

“They put themselves into harm’s way,” said Kiser. “The winds were really blowing. It was scary out there.

“I was so shook up and then they came. They were wonderful. They were like angels. They were wet, male angels with parkas.”

Then, she said, they got four more calls for their help.

Why do guys like Perras and Raby jump into it?

“It was seeing the look on her face when we left,” Perras said of Kiser. “That’s all the payment you need.”

About the same time, five blocks to the west in the Clairmont Heights neighborhood, Michelle Hiskey was hunkering down with her daughters when they heard — more like felt — a terrible crash.

A quick investigation found that the old tree out front was now resting in a bedroom. After the initial shock and after fielding calls from concerned neighbors, she posted her predicament on her neighborhood’s Facebook page.

“I had read that during storms, a crew of dads with chainsaws try to help out,” she wrote in a blog about the episode.

These, mind you, are different dads with different chainsaws. But they have the same mission.

Stephen Perras and Zac Raby, part of the Medlock Park neighborhood’s Chainsaw Gang, were busy fellows all week after storms rolled in Monday afternoon.
Photo: Bill Torpy / The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Dave Moore, a lawyer, said their kids are all classmates, causing parental interaction that has become friendship. “There’s like six or eight guys with equipment and when something happens, we get together,” he said.

Within minutes, he said, there were 15 neighbors at the home, eight of them using chainsaws or spreading tarps.

Bert Ackerman, a database guy, came with his 16-inch saw and ceded to Luke Love’s 20-inch tool, which turned Ackerman from sawman to remover of logs. There seems to be a bit of chainsaw size-envy amongst the gang.

“It’s really a simple thing. ‘Get up there. Get the tree off the house. There’s all these holes. Get a tarp. The lights are out. Does anyone have a generator?’

“We all jumped in,” he said. It was a good deed done well, but he jokingly admitted the actions weren’t totally altruistic. “To be honest, I was just looking for something to do.”

Just another chance to get the chainsaws growling.

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