Every Day is Saturday

Finding Joy in the Here and Now

A Native Atlantan’s take on Snowpocalypse 2014 – What the Hell WAS that?

on January 31, 2014

Snowpocalypse 2014

Ladies and Gentlemen, I interrupt my usual week-between-the-blogs silence to bring you my thoughts about the colossal tragedy of errors that was Tuesday in Atlanta.

First let me say that I am very, very fortunate because I work from home, so I don’t have a harrowing story of survival to share. My husband was not quite as lucky, except that he was told to go home at 1:30 in the afternoon and just so happened to be able to exit the freeway at that moment.  It still took him two and a half hours to wind his way home, which I thought was bad until the stories on Facebook and on the news started flooding in, like what happened to my sister and her partner.  They were out running errands and were eating lunch when it started snowing.  They were eight miles from their house when they set off home. They arrived almost nine hours later, but at least they made it. The two strangers, friends-of-friends who they took in that night, did not. That unfortunate pair abandoned their car on a nearby freeway and hiked to my sister’s house where they got bourbon, a bed, and breakfast. Another friend wrecked his car and thought he would have to sleep on a city bus, but was driven home by a kind stranger in a heavy vehicle. Yet another friend drove hours to rescue her son who was stranded on his school bus, only to be forced to seek shelter with him at a grocery store before being taken in by a good Samaritan who lived nearby. And finally, a friend who had driven down from Canada spent seventeen hours in her car before being rescued; she was slightly more prepared than the average Atlantan, but it was a horrifying experience nonetheless. There are probably thousands of these stories, some that turned out well and others that ended in tragedy.  And here we are on Friday and there are still abandoned cars littering the roads and places where it is unsafe to drive – at least until the temperature climbs above freezing and stays there for a while.

I’ve been reading lots of articles that try to explain how all of this happened and who is to blame.  At first I was inclined to cut our government leaders some slack. This is Atlanta, after all, and if I had a nickel for the number of times we had been forecast to get snow and nothing happened, well, I’d have a few dollars. We just don’t believe it until we see it, and that goes for grandmas and governors alike. But the more I read about it, the more I thought, hey, it isn’t the government’s place to play Russian roulette with peoples’ safety – they should have closed the city schools and government offices all day Tuesday and encouraged employers and metro school districts to close as well. If they had done that I’m guessing that it still would have been bad (because most employers don’t care about their employees’ safety, not really), but we wouldn’t have had the total gridlock we saw.  But what we got from the Governor and Mayor was two days of them dancing around claiming that the response to the emergency was timely and vigorous, and that we couldn’t have predicted what was going to happen (which is a crock; all the local meteorologists including the Weather Channel had accurately predicted the storm as early as Sunday). Yes, it was clear that the Georgia Department of Transportation was trying desperately to get the icy roads treated, but by the time they were ordered out it was far too late. The damage was done because the freeways had become totally blocked within two hours of the first snowflake. The trucks couldn’t get through, and it just got worse and worse as the day and night went on. I’ve lived in this city almost my whole life, and I have never seen anything like this. The footage taken from the news helicopters made it look like CGI from an apocalypse movie.

But then we started hearing about acts of selflessness and heroism by ordinary people.  The woman who launched the Facebook page “Snowed Out Atlanta” should be given a medal – that page became a platform that put people in need together with people who could help, and I am sure it was responsible for saving lives that night. There were stories of people walking out onto the roads and freeways with food and water and hot chocolate. Men in four-wheel drive vehicles towed cars up icy hills and out of ditches. Kroger and Home Depot announced that they would keep their stores open to act as shelters for people who couldn’t get home.  I heard of many folks who found shelter and food at area Walgreens, QT and Publix stores, not to mention the gas stations. And the commitment of the school principals and teachers who stayed where they were in order to keep the children that were separated from their parents safe and calm is inspiring. It’s these stories that keep us going, the instinct we have to reach out and help each other in times of need. I was proud of my city, even as the rest of the country looked down on us for letting it happen in the first place.

Today’s headline in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution says “Governor Apologizes”.  In the accompanying article, Governor Deal says that in the future he would “take those weather warnings more seriously”, and they would “’err on the side of caution’, even if it leads to jabs that they overreacted.”  OK, so he’s admitting that he waited until he was sure that the storm was going to be bad before closing offices and sending out the sand trucks because he was afraid that if he had done it before the storm was predicted to start and there had been no storm, some people might have been upset that he overreacted and spent unnecessary millions of the state budget. Wow. This is the leader of my state. I find his lack of courage disturbing. And the mayor of Atlanta is no better – all he has done is become defensive instead of owning up to the fact that he could have spoken out and urged people not to come into the city on Tuesday, but he didn’t.  Instead, he was busy accepting an award as “Georgian of the Year”. Ouch.

So, what have we learned from this? Anyone? Anyone? Bueller?

Here are my takeaways:

  • Our state and local government is short-sighted, greedy and incompetent (but we knew that already, so why are we surprised?).
  • Overreacting to predictions of inclement weather is ALWAYS a good idea.
  • The government is neither the problem nor the answer, and we need to stop treating them as if they are either or both.

My fellow Atlantans, let us take this opportunity to collectively tell those in authority to stuff it, and decide to take responsibility for ourselves and our families.  Let us vow to take the time to watch the weather reports to find out what we need to know, and act accordingly, regardless of what those in authority are saying (or not saying).  Let us stand up to the schools and businesses that value their calendars and profits more than the lives of their students and employees, because if we all agreed that we would in future refuse to drive to work and send our kids to school in the face of an oncoming storm they would have to concede to us.  We’re mad as hell, and we don’t have to take it anymore!  Are you with me??!!

Well, ok, maybe that’s a little over the top, but I’m sure that none of us who lived through this experience is keen to repeat it. And I truly don’t believe that our elected officials, any of them, are capable of fixing what needs to be fixed, either the ones in office now or pretty much anyone looking to get elected. The history of the lack of cooperation between the state, the city of Atlanta, the metro area counties and all of the smaller municipalities is decades old and bone deep. All of these groups are so heavily invested in protecting their own slice of the pie that they appear to be incapable of doing anything for the greater good of the region. And voters’ attitudes seem to only reinforce the situation (take the failure of the T-SPLOST effort last year that would have addressed some of out regional transportation problems).  Our only hope is in the kindness and generosity of ordinary people, which is sad and uplifting at the same time. But that’s the way it’s always been, and probably always will be.

Might as well accept it:  we’re on our own.

***************

Thanks for reading my blog!  If you want to know more about me and my journey, check out my book “Everyday is Saturday” on Kindle.  The book is part diary, part memoir, about the first year after I was laid off from my dream job.  I think it has something to say to anyone who is struggling with change.

photo credit: William Brawley via photopin cc

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