If you live in “the Sunbelt” you accept that certain stereotype clichés are NEVER going away. “Driving in snow” … “Mayberry references” … “grits” … “speedtraps” … etc. A classic Twilight Zone episode came alive in my Sunbelt metro community this week. There are lessons to be learned regardless of where you live. January 19, 2005 – The Day The Hippos Danced on Maple Street.
If Rod Serling could have only lived another 20 years to see how utterly dependent our society has become to our incredible technology. Serling’s classic Twilight Zone episode The Monsters Are Due On Maple Street forsaw just the beginning of whether man or machines are really “in charge”.
Backtracking a few days to this past Wednesday …
Do you know how to give a Chamber of Commerce executive nightmares? Let him read/hear headlines like these in the national media …
- City of Apalachacola Florida Disappears into Giant Sinkhole
- Clinton to Build His Library In Little Rock
- Raleigh NC Paralyzed by 1” Snowfall (Yes, 1”)
Yes, Raleigh, North Carolina … once honored as a Money Magazine Most Livable City … fell victim to a meteorological love tap from Mother Nature this past Wednesday. Your humble Internet Legend … moi … was at ground zero of this metro calamity.
Watching my fellow Raleighites exhibit the dark side of that renown “Southern Hospitality”, I may have been the only one smiling. For what other saw as mass confusion, I saw as “a damn funny column”. Making lemonade out of frozen lemons.
I had given an incredibly well-received talk to the Monroe NC Rotary Club that morning and drove back home alongside the “itty bitty blizzard”. How “bad” was it? I had my wipers on intermittent so thoughts of The Donner Party were not paramount.
To be fair to “local authorities” (being “fair” to local authorities YIKES!) what happened between 1 PM and 5 PM on January 19 in the thriving metropolis of Raleigh-Durham North Carolina was actually “the perfect storm”. The minimum amount of precipitation created the maximum amount of chaos, pure and simple. Cody, Wyoming or Ypsilanti, Michigan would have been just as vulnerable. It had nothing to do with sweet tea or azaleas.
…The local CBS affiliate’s “weather guy” is generally considered “THE local weather guy” although the local ABC affiliate’s weather “hottie” is well “hottier”. “Greg THE weather guy” consulted his dopplers and his Ouija Board after the fact and declared in his most erudite tone “sometimes sh*t just happens”. OK, he said “stuff” but 1,000,000 area residents knew what he meant.
In retrospect, the one tomato can holding up the entire end aisle display was yanked out at 1:15 when the local school system brain thrust decided to close all the schools two hours early … at 1:30. The immediate effect was “Tsunami-like” as 10 of 1,000s of frantic soccer moms piled into their giant SUVs and “hurried off” to pick up Little Susie and The Beav.
Imagine the Nazi Panza tanks barreling through the Woods of Bastogne in the Last Blitzkreig during the waning days of WWII. These “Moms On A Mission” hit the major thoroughfares at just the precise moment that the 1” of snow turned into solid ice. Refer now to the title of this column … “The Dancing Hippos”.
Putting a magnolia-mouthed Junior Leaguer behind the wheel of a medium-sized armored personnel carrier does not bestow upon her the driving skills of a Bob Bondurant driving instructor. It simply means her vehicle is now large enough to clear the curb on an out-of-control skid and wipe out every mailbox, lawn jockey, and birdbath within 50’. To be gender-fair … compu-geek guys are not exactly Dale Jarrett behind the wheels of their medium-sized armored personnel carriers either.
Take 10,000 “Moms On A Mission” driving 10,000 Suburbans, Yukons, Expeditions, Hummers, and other assorted “huge freakin’ not-so-mini-buses” and put them on solid ice … and tell them “their babies need them”. Is that not the perfect recipe for disaster … not quite!
It’s 2005 … what are 10,000 “Moms On A Mission” GUARANTEED to do when sliding sideways down a traffic clogged artery in giant bumper cars? Get on their cellphones of course. These modern day “June Cleavers” immediately try to call “Ward” to alert him that “The Beav” is probably frozen stiff standing outside the school wondering if Mom has deserted him. Since it was balmy at 7:30 AM, “The Beav” had left home that morning with no galoshes, no idiot mittens, and no “under armour”.
Churches are not “built for Easter Sunday” and cellphone systems are not built for 10,000 frantic Moms simultaneously calling hubbies to “stop everything you are doing and GO GET BEAV”. Some managed to actually get through … which of course dumped 5.000 more cars onto the already iced-over gridlock mess.
Meanwhile “Beav” may not have had his galoshes and idiot mittens but he did have HIS CELLPHONE. So now we have bundled up “Beavs” standing under school overhangs panicking because the entire regional cellphone network melted down by 2:00 PM and Beav cannot reach June or Ward both of whom are stuck in terminal gridlock.
The Raleigh area is a high-tech mecca so our local compu-geeks figured out that their Blackberrys circumvent the cellphone systems. A 1,000,000 people sitting deadstill in a 1,000,000 stalled SUVs cussing into 1,000,000 useless cellphones … and the compu-geeks are e-mailing each other … “Yo, dude, this is really rad, Do ya think they will cancel the basketball game tonight?”
Everybody ends up “with a story” in one of these “where were you when …” crises. Kid Swagger, bless her heart, tried to drive the family Volvo home … got 2 blocks from school, did a 180 trying to get up an incline, somehow with divine intervention (yes, there IS a God) got into a nearby parking lot, hyperventilated, tried to “call mom” on her useless cellphone, had the presence of mind (she IS a Swagger!) to lock the car, walk 4 blocks to a local snack shop where she coerced the shop owner into free hot chocolate while she read The Great Gatsby. Resourcefulness is a family trait.
I was dispatched to “GO GET OUR BABY!” and joined my 1,000,000 stuck and mad as hell cellphone-less neighbors. The SwaggerMobile is a F-150 SuperCrew so I was not intimdated at all by the slipsliding Dancing Hippos.
Two and a half hours later I walked into the snack shop. How glad was Kid to see me? She ran up and actually HUGGED ME IN PUBLIC! Any parent of a teenager knows that public displays of parental affection is a worse sin than still carrying a Backstreet Boys backpack. When a crisis brings deep seated parental affection to public view … it’s A CRISIS.
By 4 PM many of the gridlocked Junes and Wards had become McGyvers’ and fashioned any number of obscene symbols from their dead cellphones and hung them from their rearview mirrors. Go back to that earlier reference to “Southern Hospitality”. Southerners and “Yankees” have completely different profanity vocabularies. We have a large number of relocated Yankees in our community. You get native Southerners and transplanted Yankees all stuck in terminal gridlock with dead cellphones and you get a cloud of obscenity large enough to be seen by astronauts passing overhead.
What does any normal person do when your cell call does not go thru? You keep banging on “REDIAL” and yelling obscenities at it, silly rabbit! LOTS of cellphone repair business to be had in Raleigh right now.
On Rod Serling’s Maple Street, the wily space invaders simply tweaked the electrical and mechanical devices and the frustrated earthlings quickly turned on each other in frustrated acts of technological cannibalism. Serling predicted this in the 60s way before microwaves, SUVs, and cellphones.
… Man’s basic inability to cope with inconveniences to his daily routine is inherent in our species.
1,000s of Wards and Junes never did pick up their Beavs that afternoon. The stranded kids had great fun staying overnight in the schools. They made mystery meat sandwiches and midnight snacks from the mashed potatos overdosed with saltpeter. Sordid tales of how Mr Witherspoon The Vice Principal and Miss Cathcart, the provocative Home Ec teacher, huddled together “to preserve body heat” will linger for months in mumbled “locker chat”.
By the next morning the respective local authorities played “hot potato” with “whose fault was it”. The City blamed The County blamed The State. The Governor (a Dem) tried to find a link to Halliburton but finally just shut his door and played Solataire on his laptop until Greg The Weather Guy got the temperature up enough to melt the ice.
The local towing companies had a bonanza hauling off the 2,000+ stalled and abandoned vehicles. Abandoned when the drivers realized it being Wednesday it was ALIAS NIGHT. Leaving Beav stuck at school, the Wards and Junes trudged home like Napoleon’s army giving up on conquering Russia.
Within 48 hours all was once again well in our pristine world of Raleigh … ice melts … but Little Rock still has his library … Raleigh Wins … Raleigh Wins!