It’s sticky now in those powerless D.C. apartments, stifling in those suburban Maryland and Virginia ranchers, brutally boring in those family rooms where the kids are having to figure out how to entertain themselves without joysticks or DVDs. But if I’ve learned anything in nearly two decades of getting paid to linger in places where nature behaves badly — more than a dozen major hurricanes, plus an assortment of tornadoes, ice storms, windstorms, snowstorms and earthquakes — it is this: People are good. People are adaptable. They’re good and adaptable in situations far worse than the one we’re dealing with now, and they’re good and adaptable in situations that aren’t as rough.
So, we’ll get through this.
Power outages in the area
What’s going on with local weather in the Washington region and why it’s happening.
If you doubt me, look at Facebook this morning. Both friends and “friends” are posting messages like this one: “I have electricity if anyone in D.C. needs a place to recharge and cool off.” Governments across the region are opening “cooling centers” left and right, but the cooling centers next door are the most poignant and the least heralded.
The weather guys call this storm a “derecho,” a name derived from the Spanish word for straight ahead, because it is a type of windstorm that travels in a roughly straight line. But derecho also has another meaning in Spanish — it can mean “a right,” as in a human right. In some ways, those powered-up “friends” inviting their powerless friends and “friends” over to their houses to cool off are validating that simple human right to be treated well by those around us.
No one mandates these acts of kindness, large and small. It’s simply what we do. No entity ordained the creation of the Cajun Flotilla, those tough Louisianians with musical names like Faucheux and Thibodeaux, who flowed into New Orleans with speed and daring for heroic rescues after Katrina while the governments frittered away precious hours.
Dale Coon, a self-proclaimed redneck with a barbed-wire tattoo on his left arm, certainly wasn’t waiting for official guidance as he sloshed me and a group of his friends through a New Orleans neighborhood where fires burned on oil slicks in the waist-deep water. In those days just after the levee broke, New Orleans was an almost lawless town, and the crack of gunshots was the nightly soundtrack. Coon didn’t need to be there in that fetid city-turned-swamp that day — he lived far from the flooded streets. But he’d stuffed a .38 special and a .357 magnum into his pants front and waded into the water, steering us past an enormous water moccasin, because his friend’s dogs were trapped in a putrid house and his friend’s elderly neighbor was missing.
I was reminded of Coon two years later, when I again found myself floating down city streets, rather than driving down them, as the water rose in the Mexican state of Tabasco in October and November 2007. I noticed a small, wiry man lifting neighbors out of his canoe and pulling them to the rooftop of a house whose first floor was now an aquarium. Up there, he’d fashioned a spit to roast a freshly butchered pig — the one pig he owned, now transformed into a neighborhood buffet. Why do all that, I asked. “They’re hungry,” he said matter-of-factly. Wasn’t there a place he could take them? He just laughed and pulled another woman up.