Monday, July 16, 2012

The Tragedy and Triumph of the Yuppie Refugee

Over the centuries, Americans have proven themselves determined, pioneering, innovative, rugged survivors.  They made this great country out of guts, dirt, sweat, blood, tears, and possibly some other bodily fluids.  And, yes, slavery and some stolen land, but that's not as inspirational, so we'll move on.  Americans built the transcontinental railroad.  Americans discovered flight.  Americans beat the Nazis.  Americans invented junk food.  There have been no bounds to what Americans can conquer, except maybe obesity.

And that same spirit evidenced itself magnificently after the June 29 storms that pummeled the Washington, DC area, storms so severe, meteorologists had to quick come up with a word for them, something in between "tornado," which the storms most closely resembled, and "dorrito," which the meteorologists were stress-eating while they watched their radar maps.  Behold, the DERECHO.  The derecho left over 1 million Washingtonians without power for days on end in record heat, and for once, most of those people did not live in the boundaries of Washington, DC proper, which needs no storm of any kind to lose power, it only needs Pepco and incompetent city government.  

Yes, the American spirit of survival was vividly on display in the hard-hit suburb of Arlington, Virginia where Kevin and Holly Frank (names changed to protect the guilty) live with their two small children.  After their power went out and a google search on Holly's iPhone helped them determine it would not be coming back on anytime soon, they swung into action.  While Kevin bravely stayed behind to entertain their children without television, Holly ventured out to find an open Starbucks.  Unfortunately, the few operating Starbucks were swarmed by desperate customers, so Holly, fearing being caught up in a riot, moved on to the grocery store.  She bought up several packs of Starbucks Via, while congratulating herself on owning a gas stove.  But when she got home, she sadly discovered that while her stove was powered by gas, the lighter was powered by electricity, and being overly educated, she lacked the common sense to light it with a match.  In despair, and with an eye on the rising thermometer, their depleting smart phone batteries, and their bored, gadget-deprived children, Kevin and Holly decided to flee.  

Kevin immediately got on the phone with Hyatt, with whom he had accumulated a large amount Gold Passport points.  Tragically, the week-long ski vacation he and Holly were planning to take at the Park City Hyatt later this year would have to be cut to three days.   Holly cried softly as they pulled out of their driveway and headed for their new home, a  tiny room at the Crystal City Hyatt Regency.  

The Franks have tried to block out the horror of the next several days.  With the whole family sharing one small room, Kevin and Holly were forced to get in bed at 8 pm and sit quietly in the dark, with only the flicker of movies on their iPads for light, while their children slept nearby.  While the room had a TV, its limited channel repertoire did not include Nick Jr. or Sprout, leaving the Frank children to huddle around Holly's laptop to watch Wonder Pets on Netflix.  At one point, they tried to escape the confinement of their room by going to the hotel pool, only to find it full of screaming, ball-throwing preteens.  The Frank children were not bathed for 4 days because the room only had a shower, not an option considering the kids' water-in-face phobia.  The room quickly descended into a squalor of dirty diapers, pizza boxes, goldfish crackers, and mildewing swimwear.  The hotel's housekeeping staff tirelessly worked to prevent a cholera outbreak.  But perhaps the worst part of the ordeal were the numerous meals the family had to consume in chain restaurants while in the company of 18 month-old Lawson.  

Kevin Frank comforts his traumatized children with a story in their refugee encampment.

Eventually, the power came back on, and the Franks were able to return home.  They found their neighbors, almost none of whom they actually know, hard at work clearing fallen tree limbs and restocking their freezers.  The community spirit was encouraging--the Franks' neighbors actually called them to discuss the removal of a large branch that had fallen on the fence line.  They also mentioned they had never lost power.  Neighbors helping neighbors in their time of need. 

To those who worry that America is getting soft, losing its edge, abandoning the values that made this country great, buying too many Chinese products, I say--come visit the hardy folks of Arlington, Virginia.  Come visit, and be inspired.