It’s been a busy week or so here in the Southeast, what with the aftermath of this storm. A derecho, they called it. A land hurricane. To me, it was just a mess.
It came upon us sudden on a calm and hot Friday night, big black clouds that crept over the stars and a wind that went from still to a gale, shearing trees and shutters and power lines. I’d never seen such a thing. I hope to never again.
We were blessed enough to come out on the other end unscathed. No trees down, no shingles missing. Friends and family fared worse. Communities were without power for days. Not an ideal situation, especially given heat indexes that topped out at 115.
The Monday morning commute to work was slow and tedious. The roads were clear of trees but not debris, forcing me from one lane to another and back just to find my way.
But the stop lights were the worst, especially in the city—giant snarls of traffic devoid of police and authority, where I knew anarchy would rule. People are busy on even a normal day, busy and stressed and in a hurry to get from where they left to where they’re going. Add to that a deep July broil, no electricity, and the stress of home and land in peril, and I knew the end result would likely be a big bubbling pot of anger.
And sure enough, the first city light I came upon promised just that. The police were elsewhere, the white lines that marked the lanes lined with large orange cones flecked with dust. And the light itself did not even blink yellow, which told me even emergency power was gone. The roads there converged into a lowercase T, with four lanes of traffic on four sides.
I threw up my hands and resigned myself to fate. I’d be stuck there until Rapture, most likely. If I was lucky.
So I crept and sauntered and stopped, the windows down, Jimmy Buffett on the radio singing that he hoped I understood but he just had to go back to the islands.
But then I began to notice a peculiar something. Traffic wasn’t really backed up at all. Progress was slow, yes, but also smooth. A continuous forward motion, easy and steady onward. One made possible not by a uniformed person waving and whistling and directing, but by fifty people engaged in a poetic form of cooperation.
Vehicles moving north to south puttered through the intersection until someone—managed only by some inward sense of spatial fairness—stopped, convincing the vehicle beside him and the ones ahead of him to stop as well, which allowed the traffic moving east to west a hole through which to move. The entire process was reversed minutes later, when someone else’s fairness compass similarly tipped north.
In the end, I got to work no later than usual. I even got to go through it all again an hour later, when the powers that be decided a college without power was no place to work.
They say there was no predicting that storm, not until the last minute. It simply sprang up. Most storms are like that, I think. You don’t see them coming until the wind’s on you. Until things start breaking.
I’ve heard places north and east haven’t fared so well. Not only were there power outages, but also looting and robbing and, well, all the things we normally associate with such temporary societal breakdowns.
It was nice to see the opposite here in my little corner of the world. Nice to see people working together rather than looking out for themselves. To see them letting someone else go first, even it was just at a broken stoplight. It gives me a little hope that, while things can and will be bad, we don’t have to be.