My wife and I have been provisioning all day for the monstrous Hurricane Irene. How temperamental is she? She keeps changing her category! This storm is such a raging bitch that not only have 370,000 New Yorkers been ordered evacuated, but the New York Times has momentarily given away free storm stories on its Web site. This evil hurricane is already messing with our Web business models!
This has been a summer of firsts for me. Not only have I had my first baby, but three days ago I experienced my first earthquake, and this weekend, I’ll face down my first hurricane, and all at an age where you stop having firsts. It probably also bears mentioning that you shouldn’t be dealing with any of these things in New York City, perhaps even the baby part.
My wife and I are thankfully not in one of the flood zones, but we have big windows on a high floor and are wondering if we will have to be spending the weekend bodily shielding our baby Xander against flying tempered glass. New York supposedly upgraded its building codes in 2008 to stiffen them against hurricane winds, but in a city where pragmatism must be mixed into politics like milk into chocolate, many existing buildings didn’t have to meet these codes. At the height my wife and I live, there’s a danger of glass, gravel, and other items flying off adjacent roofs (even those of shorter buildings) and creating a debris field. We hear different pieces of advice about how risky it is to stay where we are, but at this point, we have few choices. I’ll let you know if things start flying through our living room.
I’ve spent most of the day stocking up. It’s strange how people predicting the end of the world recently (Glenn Beck comes to mind) have been admonishing you to invest in gold. But after spending the day looking for larder items, I’d say the smarter money is on peanut butter. That and bread seem to be the two items my neighbors can’t live without, and every store I’ve been to today has been robbed of its creamy spreads and whole wheat breads. Where other nonperishable items like beans and soup and Chips Ahoy remained, peanut butter seems to be the rock star staple food of the nascent storm survivalist. How you gonna eat gold, after all, when the flood comes?
When you are provisioning, I’ve found it helps to be counter-intuitive. Most stores I went to had run out of flashlights and D batteries by 2 p.m. today. But if you were willing to walk into one of the tiny newsstands, you found lots of D batteries. And my wife said there were tons of flashlights at Gracious Home. I found it better to look for each prized survival item at the place where it was most novel. Water at the health and beauty store. Batteries at the bodega. Cereal at Bed, Bath & Beyond. If anything, however, today’s shopping lesson was a bog standard lesson in supply and demand. Items that are unremarkable one day become as valuable as silver the next.
Another lesson for you disaster watchers is to listen to the voices in the street for the stirrings of public skepticism. There are a few lone voices out there who insist Mike Bloomberg, our billionaire mayor, is fear mongering and exaggerating the threat of the storm. The city has launched New York’s first mandatory evacuation ever from the flood zones in all five boroughs and mass transit will shut down at noon on Saturday. In a mordant moment at a press conference Thursday, Bloomberg said that he’s asking residents of those areas to leave so as they do not, you know, die. But skepticism of his motives has already risen among those who feel he’s making up for a botched response to last winter’s Snowmageddon.There’s a lot of dismissive sneers by those who say we’re having our chains pulled. New York hasn’t seen a major hurricane in decades.
It makes you think briefly about politics. To doubt something that’s factual (indeed, to ignore myriad satellite pictures and weatherman showing you exactly how Hurricane Irene is going to hand your ass to you) is something damn near instinctual among us. Perhaps political parties grow from these abundant small disagreements more organically than we think. I wrote earlier this year after the Japan earthquake about the need to politicize acts of God, comparing the event to Hurricane Katrina. Is there something good about doubting people who would take you out of harm’s way? Does it help us to constantly question and be skeptical of things insight tells us are true, in hopes of constantly making insight better? Is it better to have a foil political party or group always saying “Nay,” no matter what the question? Is this what actually makes democracy work?
Perhaps we don’t choose the dialectic. Perhaps it chooses us.
I’ll leave with that thought and hope Hurricane Irene does not choose me or my family this weekend. If you don’t hear much from me in the next couple of days (and hate seeing egregious spelling errors sitting uncorrected in the post) it’s because my power is likely down or because my son won’t let me type for two seconds. In fact, I’m amazed I wrote this much.