Monday, November 22, 2010

When Times Get Rough: A Case Study

Monday morning when I got on the bus to head to work I thought it would be cold. So I wore my warm hat, gloves, and some long underwear. Thank goodness I was prepared because I didn't anticipate walking home three miles from work in blizzard-like conditions! But that is exactly what I did.

What struck me about my after work commute home were two things: most of us are not prepared for bad weather (or other disruptions in daily life) and, amazingly, the Seattle dis-ease (strangers not talking to each other) totally disappears when faced with adverse conditions. Let me address the first.

Over the last 24 hours I've listened to the news and heard people discussing the snow and heard complaining and blaming all aimed at someone or something else for the mass of gridlock everyone faced trying to get in their cars and commute home as the roads turned to ice Monday night. It's the Mayor's fault, it's Metro's fault, why hasn't the city bought more equipment, etc! My question is, why do we expect business as usual in the midst of a major winter event? Why should we expect the roads to be cleared as Mother Nature takes hold over the city? How can we compete with Mother Nature? Why should we expect our mail to be delivered in our mailbox the next day or neighborhood roads and side streets to be clear so we can get to the grocery store? We should all hope that our cities and transportation authorities plan accordingly and are prepared for bad weather to help us live our lives as usual but in reality their help will never reach the expectations we have under ordinary conditions. Our expectations need to shift from what my city can do for me to what can I do to be more prepared?

I just heard on the news a woman was stuck in her car on Interstate 5 for six hours and all she had to eat for dinner were ten tic tacs! If you spend a lot of time in your car, make sure to find a spare box in your house and make a basic emergency kit. At a minimum have warm blankets, hats, gloves, boots, food and water, a flashlight and an emergency hand crank radio (they have cell phone chargers in them now!). If bad weather is in the forecast, consider working from home. If you absolutely have to be at work, make sure your car is full of gas, you have chains, and you have someone to call to tell where you are at. Be prepared to sleep in your car. There are many things we can do as individuals to be more prepared if we should find ourselves stranded. This also includes being stuck at home because of a power outage or any other disaster. Take the opportunity to prepare now. Because when times get rough, I would rather have a two week (minimum) supply of food and supplies than find myself without or find it difficult to get to the grocery store or pharmacy. Plan ahead. Visit the Red Cross website to help you prepare.

If you are still reading, you will also want to hear my second observation about the reaction of the people on my bus during the commute home. Usually on the bus, everyone keeps to themselves. They read, listen to their iPods, or sit quietly and look out the window. Everyone is quite satisfied with their personal space. Last night it was quite the opposite. The bus was packed. People were standing in the aisles. They were getting road condition updates from their iPhones and Blackberries and reporting them to the bus driver who took alternative routes to help us navigate around the gridlock. People were telling jokes. After being stopped at a light for nearly 10 minutes, someone suggested going to the bar on the corner for drinks before continuing on. People shared and compared stories from the winter storm in 2008 creating camaraderie amongst all the passengers. When we realized that both bridges to West Seattle were blocked, half the bus, including myself, got off and walked. I found a group of four to tag along with and was able to visit with them the whole way home. It was cold, it was windy, it was icy, but we had each other. We walked by car after car. We used our own power to commute home and were confined to no road, and it felt great. I even saw a man take his socks off and give them to a child who was crying because of the cold. When times get rough, we still have each other.

The power we all have to be prepared, to help one another, and as a result to take more control of our situation, is what gives me hope when times get rough. I hope this very minor experience has taught me these lessons because there will be many more ahead. And if it was me, I'd rather be warm in my down sleeping bag stuck in my car sharing water and food with the folks next to me than being stuck in the cold with ten tic tacs.

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