I got into a Twitter squabble recently. It happened before Irma hit, and it was a small argument, but it still got under my skin.
The days leading up to last weekend was this slow crawl of dread. All the news that was concerning Irma was centered around how massive she was and how it was going to be the end of the world etc. Headlines were on constant repeat on the over-glorification of how deadly this was; “Climatologists in Awe: We have never seen anything like this! You’re SCREWED, FLORIDA!” It was deadly, make no mistake. It leveled a Caribbean island, and made Miami look like Venice. By the time it reached us in Central Florida, it was a Category 1; a tropical storm with an attitude. Not that anyone noticed with the flooding and destruction as we crawled out of our homes the next day. As I type this less than a week later, we still don’t have phone service. The nightly chorus of crickets have been replaced by generators. By the time Irma reached Central Florida, it didn’t matter anymore how strong she was. You were going to feel her wrath. Irma was bad. Period.
And every year it seems without fail, after each named hurricane that comes tearing up the I-4 Corridor, there are at least a half a dozen local news reports on the deaths that followed. Not as a direct result of the storm, nonono. The deaths I’m talking about are more tragic. Every single time, there is always…ALWAYS…someone dumb enough to operate their gas powered generator inside the house. As if carbon monoxide poisoning was some Liberal hoax perpetrated to undermine NASCAR or something.
Every time the storms come, senseless tragedy follows. But, here’s the thing: We are talking about Floridians here.
Now…wait…WAAAAIIITT…before you get all worked up here for one reason or another, let me explain.
It is true that Florida has been known for its, shall we say, abundance of a population who possess a particular brand of t3h dumb. From “hanging chads” to hilariously botched robbery attempts, it leaves little to the imagination how we end up the punchline of a party joke. I’ll admit it, I’ve seen it, it’s real. However, it’s not any different from the stupidity that happens in other parts of the country. The only difference is that we seem to have cornered the market on it. Almost as if the rest of the country regards us as that guy. You know? The person they always use as an example in radio commercials? “Don’t be that guy. Use AXE body spray.”
I’m a Yankee. It’s something that’s brought to my attention pretty much every time I step outside of my house here in pay-you-in-sunshine Florida. I’ll be the first to admit that I run the range of shaking my head to full out flabbergastedness when I read a headline about some headscratchingly stupid thing committed by a Floridan. I anxiously follow the continuing saga of “Floridaman“. (For more information that makes my long story even longer, I refer you to the ‘Florida’ tag on fark.com). What I’m trying to say is that I’ve had my share of laughs at Florida’s expense. But after going through a few years of life altering storms, one tends to have a change of perspective. What I mean when I said, “we are talking about Floridians here,” please understand that I mean that with the best intentions.
I got into a Twitter spat with someone pre-storm because I was expressing my disdain for the gory headlines that seemed to be posted with just a smidgen of glee by CNN and the like. The person I argued with took the stance that it’s good to keep the public informed and to make people aware of what’s going on. I proceeded to tell him that I completely agree, and I didn’t exactly appreciate his tone.
Full disclosure: Yes, my Twitter handle is @his40thieves and no, it doesn’t have anything to do with writing or book promotion. All of my social
anxiety media accounts were made a long time ago, long before I knew the rules of tying all of them together to make a uniform package for somethingsomethingSEOsomething. I have a YouTube account that’s probably going to go away soon. A g+ account where I spend most of my time. A Twitter, an Instagram, a Pinterest, and a Tumblr…for some reason. All of which have different names, all of which have nothing to do with each other. In the future, I’ll need to put all my ducks in a row and become a grown up and stuff.
My case is that if every headline was a Doomsday headline, it wouldn’t take long for people to start tuning the information out, which ultimately will exacerbate things. I can understand if you were in Boston reading this and feeling a twinge of concern as you sip your Pumpkin-Spice Latte and tug on your cableknit sweater that you bought online from Urban Outfitter. But as a Florida resident, this is the kind of thing that fuels The Resentment Machine as we frantically wipe the grocery store shelves clean, board up our windows again, sandbag our doors, again, and try and find a way out of here before the storm arrives while at the same time avoiding some gun nut road-rager on 95 that has the capability of killing us all because the KFC he usually goes to ran out of potato wedges.
These headlines were of no benefit to us. None. We know the storm is coming. We know it’s deadly. We know the precautions we have to take and that it’s probably best that we evacuate. WE KNOW THIS! YOU DON’T HAVE TO BEAT THE HORSE ANYMORE BECAUSE IT STOPPED BREATHING DAYS AGO!
Remember, we are talking about Floridians here. The Fear that this person is presuming we magically don’t have has been simmering on our collective back burner for days. It was seven days out and already a category 5. People in the Keys were already making preparations; out of state hotel reservations, stowing personal belongings, stocking up on gasoline. We were ready. We were prepared. Of course, ‘being prepared’ depended on your definition of the phrase. There were those who were prepared to flee to safety, and those who were prepared to meet their doom.
The vast majority of us did what was in our power to do. Not that you’d notice with every other report focusing on the people who were going to hunker down and wait it out. Not that you’d notice because you’re too busy shaking your head thinking, “Those poor, poor idiots. Don’t they know how selfish and irresponsible they are? They’re risking their lives and taking the time away from rescuers who should be helping other people.” (No joke. Someone actually said this.) This is the last thing you want to hear as you’re running down the list of emergency phone numbers, making sure you have ice and perishable foodstuffs, and making sure your children aren’t freaking out in terror because they have no idea what’s going on. It’s worse than offering ‘thoughts and prayers‘.
It is this last point that I would like to address.
This is how the wheels in The Resentment Machine start turning.
First of all, my heart goes out to Houston, Corpus Christi, and Louisiana. To Belize, Nicaragua and The Yucatan Peninsula, and everyone else affected by Harvey. To the people of Puerto Rico, Barbuda, The Virgin Islands, and everyone else in the Caribbean who were devastated by Irma, there is a hole in my heart that is filled with sorrow. I cannot imagine or fathom your loss. I am sorry.
Now, I know what you’re saying, “Oh, lookit you, Mr. Istillhavepower. Maybe we should tone it down and get off our high horse for a minute.” We were lucky. Every year, we spin the barrel and hope the chamber with the bullet in it doesn’t land on us. We always run the risk of not being lucky. We always run the risk of being washed out to sea, or being swallowed by it. We run the risk of tornadoes and hurricanes, of alligators and sinkholes, of 2nd Amendment fanboys and people who should have never been issued a driver’s licence like…ever. Everyday there is something out there waiting to harm you; we’re like America’s Australia. But as real as these threats are, and there are plenty of them, we don’t let that stop us from doing what we need to do. We are talking about Floridians here. We know when danger is coming.
I hunkered down. Pretty much everyone in my neighborhood did the same thing (with the exception of my next door neighbors who just moved here). Irma was followed the moment she grew, and we all paid attention; reading her every movement and adjusting accordingly. By this time last week, we had a general feel for where she was going. Could we have left? Absolutely. Should we have? Possibly.
The point is, we stayed and survived. The point is, we were told we were irresponsible for staying. By our own people. If you stayed, you were being irresponsible.
Here’s the reasons why these people were ‘irresponsible’.
Nowhere To Go
There are a lot of homeless and displaced people in Florida. Most of them knew enough to get out of the damn way and take shelter. On the flip side, there are a lot of homeless and displaced who made the conscious decision to not seek shelter. I shudder to think as to why they wouldn’t, but regardless, it’s not my place to force someone into doing something they don’t want to do.
Perhaps they are cognisant of their own mental illness, maybe they were abused as children and the thought of being cooped up with a bunch of strangers isn’t too appealing. Maybe it’s a chemical dependency. Maybe one or two of them have an outstanding warrant. I’m talking about a small percentage of a small percentage. “A brave man doesn’t mind the feel of the weather on his face,” a line from Big Trouble in Little China once stated. “But a wise man knows enough to get in out of the rain.” They made their choice, and it has nothing to do with you. Nothing. These people have been marginalized their entire lives, and even now as a hurricane threatens to erase them completely, you still…STILL refer to them as a burden. If it were me, I’d tell you to go screw too.
They’ve made their choice. Respect it.
But beyond that, not everyone has property out of state. Not everyone has friends or family that they can pop in on at a moment’s notice. Not everyone is fast enough to make a reservation at a hotel that they want. Some of us are old and infirmed. Some of us are just plain stuck.
No Means To Get There
You might not own a car. Maybe you do, but it’s a twenty year old Pontiac because that’s all you could afford and there’s no way you could fit everything and everyone into your car. Or, maybe you can, but sacrifices have to be made (sorry, grandma). Maybe you’re slightly more fortunate to have a minivan that’s on its last legs, and it’s good enough to get to the Panhandle. Maybe. Even if you did have an escape plan, there is that tiny detail of being surrounded by water on three sides. Your only option is to head north on your choice of two highways. Good luck with that. I hope your car doesn’t overheat, cause a traffic jam, and you’d have to make it out of here on foot.
Some of us are just fortunate enough to have a car that works. Something that will bring us back and forth to our low wage jobs so we can be fortunate enough to get another barely functioning vehicle a few years later. Maybe.
Which leads me to my next point…
We Can’t Afford It
The main source of revenue in Florida is tourism, slightly ahead of agriculture. That means there are lot of people that live here work in the service industry, which is a nice way of saying, “there’s a lot of people who live here that don’t make a living wage.”
Let’s say for example you’re main source of income is from working as a nurse. It’s the best job you can get. The pay isn’t that great, but you’re surviving.
All of a sudden, a major hurricane is going to roll over you in 5 days. You have about 3 days to make up your mind: stay or go?
If you choose to go, your first option is to fly out. It’s nice, but since you haven’t allowed for an emergency like this on your meager budget, you’re going to take a huge financial hit that you won’t recover from for a while. Not a pleasant option with student loans due. So, your second choice would be to drive out of here, maybe get a hotel room for the weekend somewhere out of state. Gas, food, lodging, pretty soon you’re looking at a month’s rent or higher. Every possibility that is presented to you looks less and less likely to happen.
If you choose to stay, then there’s the inevitable Thunderdome Gauntlet of Destruction you have to endure at the gas stations and grocery stores. You stock up on what’s available and what you can afford. Depending on where you’re living, you might invest in a generator. Otherwise, you sandbag your door, barricade your windows and pray.
No Seriously, We REALLY Can’t Afford It
The storm is over, and depending on which route you took, you’re either coming home or you’re cleaning up the mess that’s left behind while checking up on your neighbors. Whichever scenario you took, you best get back to work soon because Florida is a “Right to Work/At Will” state. That means that you had best hope you have an compassionate employer, and they can sympathize that you couldn’t come in because your apartment just got used as a chew toy from a Category 5 hurricane.
Otherwise, they can fire you on the spot.
One of the biggest reasons people don’t leave during the storm is the least talked about. If they leave, they run the risk of losing the only job they have. That a hurricane might erase you from this very plane of existence is not an excuse. You didn’t show up. You’re as good as gone.
People who are hospitalized or worse because of carbon monoxide poisoning aren’t doing it out of just plain ignorance. They run them in their house, because they are less likely to get stolen. Generators aren’t cheap, especially during Hurricane Season. These things are an investment that some people can’t afford to lose, and if that means risking your life, then so be it. “Oh, just let it go,” I hear you say. “It’s a material thing. It’s not worth dying over.” Tell that to the family who needs power to keep an oxygen tank going or a refrigerator to keep medicine in.
The Florida that everyone wants you to see is that of upward mobility. Everything has to be packaged like a glossy travel brochure; all shiny and new. You would think that Florida is all about Disney World and Palm Beach and Mar-a-Lago. Of course we want you to see that, because the other Florida, the Florida that you hear about on the 6 o’clock news, the Florida that cleans and maintains these shining testimonies to wanton, unchecked capitalism at $8 an hour isn’t quite as sexy.
It’s easier to refer to us as a meme. Especially when the shit hits the fan in a situation like Irma or Charley. Have a few laughs and secretly be relieved that it’s not going to happen to you. It’s easier to refer to some of us as “irresponsible” because it throws the attention away from the fact that you probably don’t know what you’re doing either and you’re probably racist. It’s easier to cast dispersions and be appear aloof, because you’ll never have to go through what we do.
You’ll probably never have to worry that your only option for employment is a dead end job where you can be fired on a whim. You’ll probably never have to live in constant fear of being wiped out by a monster storm or being pillaged by looters after the fact. You’ll probably never have to worry about your entire neighborhood being flattened, or the people that you knew yesterday are now missing. You’ll probably never have to make that gut-wrenching decision of having to stay because there is no other option for you. You’ll probably never know what it’s like to feel the wheels of The Resentment Machine turn every time we’re looked down upon because you think we’re too stupid to get out of our own way.
And that’s fine.
Because, after all, we are talking about Floridians here. Sun worshipping, beach dwelling, blue crab eating, monster truck driving Floridians who are well acquainted with danger, because in most cases, it lives right next door to us.
Hurricanes are nothing new to us.
It would be “irresponsible” for you to assume that we are ignorant of that.
You know what’s “irresponsible”? Rush Limbaugh calling Hurricane Irma a “Liberal Hoax”. It’s worth noting that this “Liberal Hoax” made his fat ass evacuate real quick. He has an audience that is in the millions. How many do you suppose died because they listened to this moron and decided to carry on as if nothing’s unusual?
This guy gets a pass for blatantly passing along misleading and quite possibly lethal information, but we’re “irresponsible” for not evacuating?
It’s been over a week.
The sun was out today.
Phone service came back.
I cleaned up my yard.
Two more storms have been spotted in the Atlantic and are planning to hit the east coast in a week or two.
The Resentment Machine still hums.