My Hand, and How I Play It

Saturday, September 13, 2008

I woke up this morning at my mother's home in Mississippi to the brightness of cloud-scattered sunlight in a happy, tranquil emotional state it is impossible for me to describe adequately. There are elements of the feeling that goes with my very distinct recollection of playing in a sandbox in the shade during a sunny morning just before my first day of kindergarten -- the rest of that day escapes me -- and a somewhat "tropical" mood (to use a crude approximation) I sometimes get when I listen to some of Bob Marley's music.

That feeling, fortunately, has not entirely dissipated, but I do recall thinking it odd, in a very good sense, to feel that way as I woke up further and remembered that today, Hurricane Ike is probably doing -- or has done -- whatever it will do to the house in Houston.

I write now -- before looking at any hurricane news -- partly to enjoy the small dose of normalcy that writing can afford me and partly to collect and record some very interesting thinking I have done over the last couple of days. If I recorded the mundane details of the Rita evacuation, my chronicles of the travails of Ike will look inward a little more, to how I dealt with them.


As I mentioned just before boarding up here, I had planned an evacuation in three stages: (1) Get out of immanent danger. (2) Evaluate the post-strike situation. (3) Act accordingly.

As with Rita, Ike demanded an evacuation just before a week-long trip out of town I was already planning. In the one case, I was to take a trip down memory lane, heading to Jackson for the twenty year reunion of my high school class. In this case, I am headed to Boston to see my wife, who has already relocated there, and for purposes related to my job hunt.

My flight to Boston is Tuesday, or at least it is scheduled for Tuesday. An event I must attend for networking purposes is Wednesday: I would really like to attend it because it may offer me a chance to meet someone in a position to help me get a job with one of my favorite companies. In addition to preserving my life, then, I needed to have a way to keep building my future.

Houston's official disaster plan, of "hiding from the wind", was foolish advice for me for two reasons. (I worry that it was bad advice generally.) First, any one of the enormous pine and ash -- or is that "trash"? -- trees surrounding my house could fall on it to turn it into a death trap during the storm. Second -- and I was not accounting for this when I decided to leave -- the lack of electrical power and the logistical nightmares brought on by littered and blocked streets would have limited anything I could do for at least a week afterwards to physical labor and "guarding" whatever was left at the house. Did I mention that I don't own a gun?

How does one react to such a potential disaster, whose effects can range from practically nil to a near-total loss of possessions? My plan was not a bad first stab, but the nature of the storm, compounded with its huge size, ruined Stage One. Removing to a location north of town looked good at the time. I would, in fact,be safer there than at the Houston house. But at minimum, my kind hosts were going to be without power the next day, and my cell phone connection was unreliable as it was. I'd take a step back to look and see, only to be blinded by the power loss, and immobilized by impassable country roads.

So I checked some track maps of the storm, and the traffic conditions along U.S. 59 to be sure that my customary "northern route" to Mississippi would allow me to outrun the storm and head to an unaffected area. Now, thanks the fact that I am such a fine son, I can use the DSL connection I helped Mom set up in July to follow up on the storm.

(Cable and radio are useless. "The real problem is the storm surge," isn't just the particular way that the moronic products of modern journalism schools happen to be bragging to others and fooling themselves about how "on top of things" they are. And it isn't just something that can drive you crazy if you need real information. It could also be the refrain of a musical farce about the television "coverage" of this storm, which has been wrong or ambiguous in content and patronizing in tone. These ass clowns are so collectivistic that they're gearing their news coverage to a mass rather than to their own individual customers. The wind is a big deal -- to anyone not on the coast.)

I can do what I need to do now. I can call people in Houston, if they are reachable, about matters pertaining to my current job and what the house looks like. Failing that, I can probably at least see if I still have a roof through Google Earth or something like that. I can follow the progress of the storm through the National Hurricane Center and a few good storm bloggers. I can change travel plans, if need be, and contact anyone I need to in Boston -- and the storm preparations have put me behind on that already.

Today, I plan Stage Three. For the extreme cases of a late miss -- There was still hope, the last time I checked, that my area could see the "clean side" of the storm. -- or the total disaster of a dirty side hit from an intensified storm, my course of action is straightforward. If the storm "misses", I may be able to drive back to Houston today and more or less proceed as if Ike never happened. If there is utter devastation, I change the flights to Boston to start and end in Jackson, or possibly New Orleans. It will be at least a week before I can get to the Houston house, and probably longer before I would be able to act effectively there anyway. My time is better-spent in Boston.

My biggest concern, next to the state of the house, is the possibility of looting, but I have our most important things with me, and that is what insurance is for. I think I made a very good decision yesterday.


Before I post this, answer some comments, and then get back to the business at hand, I briefly note an interesting observation on how the prospect of losing most of one's possessions can lend perspective.

Now, I'm all for checking into things and learning that I have agonized over nothing and made a long trip that was ultimately unnecessary. That would be great. May all my coworkers turn me into the butt of a running in-joke involving paranoia about high winds and pine trees! But there is a certain amount of freedom that would come with such a loss. Most material possessions can be replaced fairly easily. I essentialized this best in a joke I made to my mother: "Well, a claim check is a lot easier to transport than a bunch of furniture." There can, perversely, be upsides to this disaster. There's no use spending too much energy mourning losses when one ought to be seeing how to use them.

My wife is safe in Boston. The cats and I are safe in the forests of Mississippi. And Ike may have volunteered to downsize our furniture for us. I just hope he leaves that one photo album I forgot in the living room alone!


Before I turn to answering some comments -- and I thank all who wrote in to wish me well -- I note that while I am back to blogging, how regular I can be will depend on whether things in Houston are as bad as they could be, and then on how quickly they can be improved or I can get myself to Boston.

-- CAV

PS: Incidentally, I think that the state of serenity I felt before, coupled with some sort of implicit realization that not all aspects of an "act of God" are necessarily bad, are often expropriated by hucksters of religion. (e.g., "Everything God does has a purpose.")

Before I saw the potential upsides of a direct hit and had made, I'm guessing, some subconscious adjustments to my potential losses, I thought something like, "Any worshipper of 'nature' or a God who could do something like this is an utter asshat!" My remark stands for nature-worshippers, but religious people are being helped in their folly by people who are more than happy (and prepared) to help them mis-integrate life's lessons with arbitrary religious dogmas.


Atlas Fan said...

First, what a beautiful evocation of your childhood and of your manhood. Your writing is a pleasure to read and it improves with every post.

Second, Stay safe.

Third, since I have recently blogged on it with a long quote from Socialism by von Mises, it occurred to me that your comments about the difference between the government's plan and your plan for the storm is a paradigmatic example of why government efforts to plan the economy or anything else must fail. In thinking about the mass of people for whom they assume responsibility, all they can think of to do is tell them to stay out of the wind, because the details of a person's actual life are lost to them, and MUST be.

Best regards,


Elisheva Hannah Levin said...

Well, good luck with it all!

I think you made the best decision for you and the cats. As you said, there is a purpose to buying insurance.

Also, have a nice trip to Boston.

Myrhaf said...

I'm glad you and the cats are safe in Mississippi. I read somewhere that 40% of the people in Galveston stayed there. That strikes me as an irrational decision made by a lot of people.

Gus Van Horn said...

The more information I get about the situation there, the better this decision looks.

First, I appear to have escaped substantial property damage.

Second, it looks like staying would have caused me enormous inconvenience, and at great personal risk to boot -- and I would have missed my flight.

As for the government's "plan" for anyone, that is necessarily going to be wrong beyond safeguarding our rights. Treating a human being like a cog in a great machine makes about as much sense as treating anything else that is NOT a cog in a machine like one.

And yes. Anybody who stayed on the coast is a worse than a fool, given the fact that everybody had more than ample warning to leave those areas.