Over a decade or so ago there was a petrol strike in the UK.
The wife and I were living in dodgy South Wales at the time. We had popped along to Tesco to do our weekly shopping only to find that the panic whipped up by 24 Hour News had led to the store being completely bought-out of milk and bread. And - for reasons that aren't entirely clear - ketchup. I've since suspected that those three ingredients are well-known to most other people as the basis of a crude but nourishing survival-soup come the apocalypse. Or can be combined to make a rudimentary barricade to keep zombies at bay. But what relationship they have to a petrol strike is beyond me.
Anyway I cite that alarmist behavior as I am being urged to pay attention to the warnings about Hurricane Sandy. And by urged I mean the suggestion is that if I don't heed the warnings then I am neglecting my civic duty and endangering the lives of my own children. Now I should point out that while I do live on the East coast of the United States I do live 400 miles inland at the foot of a mountain region. Which doesn't get hurricanes. All the poor buggers who live in actual coastal states need prepare, worry and all that. I need to do a little bit of this and that. We will get a lot of rain no doubt. But not storm surges, twisters or utter mayhem. So on that very-selfish level the borderline panic up here in Nowheresville seems very misplaced and almost rude to those actually in harm's way. Which is why I was a touch aggrieved to find out that all the school districts around here are closing at noon because the after effects of this storm are predicted to touch us around Wednesday lunch time.
Actually I have prepared. Two years ago prolonged rain did flood the basement. Not flood in the sense of the poor bastards on the Carolina shores getting storm surges. But rainwater about 6-10 inches deep needing to be pumped out. So in other words like many, many Americans have to do. There's a bizarre thing in this country where a large quantity of the places that people live we have no business being in. Nobody should be living in Florida. It's a swamp populated by 10 foot long meat-eating alligators that is barraged by hundreds (yes HUNDREDS) of storms every year. Half the Eastern coastline should be uninhabitable. Proven time and again by the fact that properties built along it are often washed into the sea or blown away. It's like that all over this country. New York (especially up here and out to Buffalo) is a wet swamp. People really shouldn't be here. But that unbreakable "nothing can stop us and we always recover!" spirit that makes the US very appealing in other ways is a massive failure on these terms.
Worse than that though is the alarmism is always mixed with parochial self-centered exceptionalism. We do it in the UK too. Eddie Izzard has that great joke about how a tragedy occurs in another country where thousands are killed, even more displaced but the British news is apoplectic about 4 British people who may or may not have got a grazed knee. Here though it takes on a whole new life. This is my synopsis of a weather report I just watched -:
"Hurricane Sandy has now passed entirely over some silly, pointless islands near our glorious country. So pointless in fact that we haven't even written their names on the map of North America we are showing you right now. But enough about them. Probably just cattle and actual poor people. Anyway we strongly advise checking the wall mounts on your massive flat screen television. And for God's sake make sure you have enough Mountain Dew to get through the next few days."
That right there is 24 Hour News mixed with that weird self-view of the US by Americans but also mixed in with the worst of all situations. That being that New York City will get some weather. And that's where all the really important people in this country live. I know some lovely, wonderful people who live in the city. I hope they'll stay safe and aren't going to suffer any problems. But it's on occasions like this you can practically feel a seismic shift in how alarmed people are being instructed to feel. When it was just hitting South Carolina no-one gave a shit. You could literally hear in the weather reports "oh it's just going to hit them. So that's great news!" Now it's rolling up the Long Island Sound it's suddenly clear that proper Americans are in danger.
But I have checked to see if we have batteries and we have LOADS. The power does have a strong chance of going out to be fair. Power lines down and all that. We have enough of those. And I shirked at my wife's suggestion to just fill the bath with clean water so we have a supply. Frankly I suspect the cat would - just to be spiteful - piss in it. And while I feel confident that I could drink around that bit it struck me as more sensible to go to the store and buy some water. I had to go anyway (out of Ranch dressing - and woe betide me if my daughter doesn't get celery and ranch for longer than two days straight). So I went out to get "supplies". Sadly I'm also a First World Idiot so ended up coming home with barbecue kettle chips and some dog treats. Oh - and some York Peppermint Patties. Just in case. Actually on the radio on the way it was announced that a Walmart (in the other direction) was out of ice and water. At my local store the first thing I saw was a guy pushing two entire carts of ice. Unless that guy is transporting a kidney across the state (like in a frantic episode of House) then that guy is surely being alarmist? There was a guy at the gas station too filling up 3 one-gallon bottles. He gave me the knowing wink too. Like he was going to sell it to the rubes once central NY turns into some Mad Max murderous wasteland.
I know I'm being slightly glib here but it just seems unwarranted to treat this like we live in Virginia right in a storm path. We will have our own tribulations and I'll adjust accordingly. But I feel like those times years ago when people - straight-faced and with seeming sincerity - claimed that their little, tiny town in the middle of nowhere was just as likely to incur a terrorist attack as New York City was. It's just not the case. The actual coast of this country will get awfulness. By the time it gets up here it'll be unpleasant but it's just not appropriate to claim it'll be just like when Florida gets rammed by a hurricane. I have appropriately prepared. I've cleared out the basement, checked the sump pump and got all the headlights out. There's bottled water and whatnot. And I have already eaten half a bag of kettle chips to try and add a layer of body-fat lest we need to live amongst the geese in the field out back during the late-Fall. However the emotional angst of the morning has been to much to bear for the rest of my household though.
Gives me a chance to put that ladder away outside.