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This Week with The Chicowitz:

After the Storm: The Road to Recovery

Last week: “The Big One!

I worked the ice line. Bags of ice were stacked on a pallet under a fly. People could drive up and collect up to four bags. Every 20 minutes or so, we had to unload more bags from the trailer and stack them on the pallet. After all, they don’t unload themselves. To do this, we formed an impromptu ice line. Yep; just ordinary folks standing shoulder to shoulder passing bags down the line. It’s not rocket science. But they didn’t need rocket science; they needed an ice line.

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This story is a bit old, but it is certainly not dated. It is a story about a road to recovery. But read between the lines; it is about far more than that.

August, 2004:

So, you are sitting in your modest, comfortable home, having just dodged a major hurricane. You are watching TV in your cool and comfortable La-Z-Boy recliner. You see stories of the devastation less than a hundred miles down the road — people without food, without electricity, without water. At first, the media says the people do not need direct help; they need money, a resource which is beyond your reach.

But, four days later, they say they do need help — manual labor — in remote places inland. You have nothing critical on your schedule, and a full tank of gas in your car. How can you NOT offer to help? How can you just sit there when people in need are so close by?

 HMC then Each week our Boomer-in-Charge, Hershel Chicowitz, has something to say about life, society, or what’s going on... from the perspective of a baby boomer. This is what’s on his mind the week of September 25, 2017.  HMC now

So, Thursday morning I drove 50 miles to Ft. Meade, Florida — inland, but nonetheless in the direct path of the hurricane. Folks at the fire station assigned me to a major theatre of operation in the small town, the 9th Street Comfort Station.

The newly established Ft. Meade 9th Street Comfort Station is located next to Ft. Meade High School. It consists of about four flys (poly-something covers held up by 8-foot aluminum stakes), a few plastic chairs, and some wooden storage pallets.... surrounded by about half a dozen truck trailers. The trailers came in from all over; they were filled with every damn thing in the world.

I was one of about 15 volunteers working a shift at the comfort station. The others were mostly locals, I guess. There was one guy from the Salvation Army; I think he was in charge, though he wore no uniform and bore no resemblance whatsoever to General Patton. He carried no sidearm. A Polk County sheriff’s deputy on duty did carry a weapon; I guess it is required. But he got testy and threatened to use it only if you did not drink water regularly and take a five-minute break every couple hours in his air-conditioned cruiser.

When I took my turn, I had to sit in the back seat — my first time in the back seat of a police cruiser. Actually, it was OK; I was not handcuffed, though I did notice the faint smell of pepper gas on the seat. I donno; maybe it was pepperoni; same difference to me.

In front of the large trailer in the background is a stack of cardboard boxes. My job: bust ’em up and stomp ’em down. I done my best. In fact, I am very proud that, after about a half hour of hard work, I was promoted to Cardboard Box Supervisor. My job then was to direct junior cardboard box busters, determining which boxes should be busted up, and which were strong enough for recycling to another task. I relished the responsibility and was proud that the people in charge recognized my executive abilities so quickly. They told me it was the fastest promotion in the history of the comfort station, though I suspect there may be some exaggeration in that.

I also worked the ice line. Bags of ice were stacked on a pallet under a fly. People could drive up and collect up to four bags. Every 20 minutes or so, we had to unload more bags from the trailer and stack them on the pallet. After all, they don’t unload themselves. To do this, we formed an impromptu ice line. Yep; just ordinary folks standing shoulder to shoulder passing bags down the line. It’s not rocket science. But they didn’t need rocket science; they needed an ice line.

There was no hierarchy to the ice line; your position in the line was completely arbitrary. There was no status in being closer to or further from the trailer. I appreciated the egalitarian structure of the ice line.

Beyond the ice pallet were a jillion bags of food: chips, canned fruit, bread... that kind of stuff. There was no shortage of anything.

Oh; and water... in all sorts of containers, from 6 ounces to 2 gallons. There was an ocean of water. Fresh, bottled water – you know, the stuff you pay about two bucks for a 12-ounce bottle for at Publix.

For everyone who drove to the 9th Street Comfort Station... it was all free. No money; no paper work; no questions asked. And if you drove a van and said you were collecting for several families, you got several loads of stuff.

It was sunny and miserably hot; over 90 degrees by mid-afternoon. But no one complained. It was just part of the deal.

Late in the afternoon, a truck with hot meals arrived. I donno... maybe a thousand meals. I’m not sure exactly what was in them. But we quickly unloaded them into large shopping bags and into several SUVs for delivery to mobile home parks in and around Ft. Meade.

The part that really amazed and impressed me was the source of all the stuff. FEMA supplies? Government rations? Red Cross pallets? The teamsters’ union? Nope. There were huge trailer trucks from Walmart, McDonalds, Home Depot, and Publix grocery store. Donations, all of them... compliments of the free market system. People talking care of people... as it should be. The guy in charge told me that the trucks just started showing up as soon as the winds died down. THIS is American exceptionalism!

So that’s my little story. It’s not much, but it sure beat doing nothing.

I went to Ft. Meade six days after a devastating hurricane wreaked havoc on the area. Aside from my brief tour of duty, several things stick out in my mind:

  Though there was considerable damage to the area, there were many structures that showed little or no damage.

  Six days after the hurricane, power had been restored to about 75% of the people in and around Ft. Meade. Those without power were generally in remote parts of the area, of which, admittedly, there are many.

  It was obvious that downed trees - big ones - had blocked most roads, in many places. But by the time I got there, every road was cleared. Downed trees had been cut into small pieces and stacked along side the roads. Even in this little town that would be hard to find on a map, help — massive help — had arrived quickly.

  You didn’t hear people complaining or feeling sorry for themselves. You saw them out helping themselves and helping others. Though the government played a large role in getting supplies to the area and restoring order, people did not wait for or expect government help. They did it themselves.

One-time vice-presidential candidate John Edwards spoke, in his stump speech, about “two Americas.” In a way, I agree with him; there are two Americas. But I see it divided not as he describes it. I see it as people who complain, look to the government to tell them what to do and how to run their lives and to take care of their needs. Then there are people like the folks in Ft. Meade; people who get out and do what is necessary without being told by or waiting for the government; people who do not look first to the government to solve their problems; people who do what is necessary, help their neighbors, and then get on with their lives.

You do not need to look up Ft. Meade on a map. You do not need to visit there. But you could learn a lot from this small town in America... the real America.

Have a nice day.


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