Sitting in my favorite coffee shop on Tuesday “crafting” my last blog post, I watched as beautiful white snowflakes started lightly falling. Delightful! They started to come down harder. Living the southern part of the US, I thought I’d better get my fanny pack home before the crazy drivers hit the road. After all, there was a winter storm warning posted. Really there was. So I went home. And then all hell broke lose.
Yes – you guessed it – I live in the Atlanta area.
I grew up in western Pennsylvania. We either walked to school or rode on a school bus that was more like a tank than a bus. School cancellations were rare even though we got something like 200 feet of snow a year. Okay – I may have made that number up. But we did get a lot of snow. And there were a lot of hills. I still remember my father putting chains on our car and that distinct sound when they hit the road in their rhythmic metallic monotony. Post-tire chain banning legislation, studded tires became all the rage. You knew winter was coming when it was time to put on the “snow” tires.
Most of my adult life, I was a Buckeye. Ohio, home of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Schmidt’s cream puffs and Cincinnati-style chili. Winters are not quite as bad as in Pennsylvania, but we still had plenty of snow, sleet, freezing rain and ice. Sometimes all at once!
I was an odd ball. I enjoyed when my kids school would get cancelled. It meant that we could all play in the snow! We did “snow things” – created snow angels, went sledding/saucering, built snow forts/igloos and snowmen, had snowball fights. And at the end of the day – a huge pile of soaking wet snowsuits, jackets, gloves, hats, scarves, socks and boots by the garage door, cocoa by the fireplace, and a sound, deep sleep that night. Fun times!
What happened in the Atlanta area this week wasn’t fun.
You all heard about it on the news so I won’t go over it again. Depressing really. Infuriating actually. The news coverage was surreal. Hopelessly clogged roadways, sheets of ice that were once interstates littered with jack knifed tractor trailers, people in leather shoes and jackets abandoning their cars in 15 degree weather after driving 3 miles in 8 hours. The cars – out of gas, dead batteries, wrecked. The people – hungry, thirsty, needing medications or a bathroom, sleep deprived, at their wits end… Some walked 6 miles to get home or to shelter.
The worst of it was the children. Hundreds stuck in unheated school busses, some in ditches. The kids marooned at school were lucky. They had heat and food and water and toilets and familiar adults around. Some children made it home – eventually. They got rides from people they knew. They got rides from strangers. Think about that one… And when many got home – hungry, thirsty, exhausted and frightened – the house was empty. Their panicked parents were out looking for them, stuck either in the unrelenting gridlock or on the many hills that were impossible to climb.
I try not to get too political. I hate what politics has become. But I think the Atlanta metro area needs to suck it up, put their big boy pants on and pull them up. We need to figure out what to do so that we never, ever allow our children to be put a risk like this again. That might mean that each little city-state fiefdom down here might have to give up some of their autonomy. That might mean some higher taxes for strategic transportation improvements. That might mean hiring people who actually have experience in developing and implementing emergency/disaster strategies rather than relying on the “good old boy” network to fill critical public safety positions with political cronies. “Brownie, you’re doing a heckuva job…”
Our elected officials say they will apply the “lessons learned” from this week’s debacle as if they were talking about the implementation of a new IT payroll system didn’t go as planned.
I hope the people of Georgia will apply their own “lessons learned” come election day.
For our children.