Thursday, December 6, 2007

My personal Disaster Recovery

Thursday December 6th, 2007; Day two of my personal disaster recovery.

So we awoke this morning in a motel to the pitter patter of raindrops. My body was mildly complaining, and as I became more awake, my mind started hurting. The images of our cute little house, filled with mud and knowing that Mrs Codfish was going to get her first look at this was troubling. For just the briefest moment I wanted to roll over, pull the pillow around my head and not face any of this. This would probably be a pretty hard day.

It’s always easier to face adversity with a really good cuppa joe and here in Olympia we have our own version of good coffee: Batdorf and Bronson or BnB. It happens that they have a shop just down the street so I hustle down for a triple Americano as Mrs C was calling around to make connections with contractors early. Chairman Meow, our Siamese illegal, smuggled across the not pet border in the dark of night helped out by lazing on the bed.

At the coffee shop I run into two old friends, co-workers from my time at the Department of Community Development. Some of my most exhilarating working time and these two guys were integral to my learning a lot about community development. I look a mess and think briefly of avoiding the topic but it’s pretty obvious that something is up so I let it out that we’ve been flooded. They are very sympathetic and offer help. It was a really nice gesture and helps my mood, almost as much as the coffee.

Back to the motel and we are off, but first to pick up some essential supplies: rubber boots, a cell phone charger, some trash bags, etc.

Right away the cell starts ringing off the hook and it’s friends who have heard that there is trouble and want to help. Remember the two old pals in the coffee shop? Calling to see if they can come out on the weekend and help. Folks from my current work situation, “What can we do, need meals? need a place to stay? need help? What can we do? Mrs. C’s co-workers, with the same story, “how can we help?”

I have perhaps an ‘interesting’ work history. Meaning I’ve worked in quite a few different places and with a number of different employers. This is a circumstance in which one makes many friends but not a whole lot if “Been working with him for 30 years” type friends. Some of my ride pals have had a sneak peak into this phenomenon as we are out riding around the country side on brevets. I’ll let drop that I used to live here or there. I never really thought much of it until I started riding brevets, but I’ve lived a lot of places and met a lot of people. Now I know, it’s more than meeting people, they are my friends, and Sheila’s friends too.

Before we even got to the house we’d had three offers of places to say. Open ended, “come on, stay with us and we’ll figure it out after a while” type offers. Truly amazing. I have to say I can face the bleak disaster scene with steely resolve (that sounds pretty dramatic, doesn’t it?) But in the face of this seemingly bottomless well of unconditional caring from all these friends, well, … I get a little choked up just writing this.

So, even though it’s raining and I’m headed to my flooded out house, I’m feeling a whole lot better than I did as I was heading down to BnB for a cuppa. I have the sense that I’m not in this alone.

Once at the house it was not as bad as yesterday. Coming into town there are lights on in homes and stores! Woo Hoo! The power is back in Oakville, THANK YOU GRAYS HARBOR PUD! (not alone at all and fortunately not in the dark!)

On our street, no driving through muddy water and hoping to avoid the ditch, the road is above water all the way to our driver way. And where yesterday it was just me and the guy up the street, ( and the freaked out cat who had been locked in the house during the flood), now the next door neighbors are hard at it throwing carpet out the windows. This motivates me; the rando competitor wants to get busy and get some “demolition time’ in the bank!

But first I had to walk Sheila through the house. I had tried to take the most heart wrenching stuff out yesterday, all the Christmas decorations that fell off the tree, the clogs that had floated out of the “mud room” into the living room (now they are all mud rooms” The Bonsai that had tipped over and landed out on the carpet the frantic kitty tracks up the walls. But even so, there is no way to dress up this pig up; our first home of less than a year was a soppy stinky mess. She took it very well. We took pics throughout the house and then got busy getting stuff out of the house.

We were at this for all of 5 minutes when the town building inspector drove up. We walked through the house and he estimated my little problem at $70,000 to $80,000. He’s just trying to get a handle on things for reporting to FEMA. I know this but even so a lot of wind went out of my sail at that moment. Then he says ”There is a crew of young people helping out, they’ll be here in about 15 minutes to help you with your clean up”. “Great” I say, but in my mind I’m thinking, “Wonder if this will really happen, and will I be getting help or riding herd on kids?” Sure enough within 15 minutes two crew bosses for the Washington Conservation Corps show up and ask “What can we do to help?” We talk about it and in no time at all I am directing or perhaps dodging the good work of anywhere from 6 to a dozen young folks. “Riding herd on kids?” I am so ashamed of myself.

They got ALL our furniture out of our house, and safely stored in the shop. They then went to work on the carpet, and room by room they removed all of our sopping wet, muddy, slimy 1200 sq ft of WtoW carpet, and then all of the sopping wet carpet pad.

In the mean time as if by magic a 40 dumpster is dropped off in the cul de sac, and almost as magically a guy with a rubber tired front end loader shows up and starts scooping the mess into the dumpster. They power wash the drive, and the garage, and haul and sort good from bad. As Ms C said, she felt bad that she could not stay ahead of them sorting, boxing, bagging and directing. This process also helped to reduce the grief. When you are throwing a tote bag full of photos away, you don’t have much time to grieve as the next fresh faced worker asks “What about this?”

The forces of nature are truly incredible. I have always known this, from my days as a fire fighter, and later when I did some work in Louisiana after the hurricanes. When you see the effects of a flood, where it has run it’s course right through your living room it causes you to think that humans are inconsequential. But I must say, the power of humanity, people working together toward a common goal, dealing with the effects of natural forces is perhaps even more impressive. Like ants moving an apple, you question what it is really possible, until you see it actually happening.

By this evening we had accepted an offer from an old friend who just happens to have a house he was willing to let us live in, less than 20 minutes from Oakville. This is someone whom I have only infrequently talked with in the last six years or so. We had to turn down offers from three other friends who wanted us to come stay with them and yet another couple who wanted to loan us their 26 foot travel trailer for the duration.

We have arranged for a ‘crew’ of friends to come help us start the process of removing dry wall and insulation, and doing the disinfecting this weekend. Others have offered to prepare meals, and help wash the mountains of laundry and linen. Really, more selfless friendship then I ever thought might come my way. To all of you who have offered your help, your prayers and good wishes I have to say I feel humbled, and honored that you would make us this offer. I really feel unworthy. You are the best friends anybody could want.

It is hard for me some times to acknowledge that I need help, and for some reason it is often harder still for me to accept it. Who can understand this? The neighbor behind, in no better situation than us cooks up all the elk meat he put in his freezer just two weeks ago to make tacos for the WCC crew, and of course won’t quit until Mrs C and I come over for an elk taco lunch break. Just amazing. Who can explain this?

There are as many explanations for this good fortune as there are explainers. If you’re a socialist you see the good will of the government “from each according to his ability, to each according to his need”. If you’re a republican this is clearly the free market economy at work (some how I have trouble seeing this but well, there you have it). If you are a humanist you see this as the most obvious manifestation of ‘community’. It you are a very religious person this is clearly the work of God (probably whatever God you believe in).

I have my own personal belief but I’m planning to cover all my bases: I plan to write a number of letters to elected officials to express my gratitude that there is a program that allows young people to learn work skills in a real life setting that has incidentally saved me a huge burden of work. I’ll also plan to write to the President and praise him for allowing this little program enough funding to continue in the face of other greater needs. I’ll write to the crew boss to tell him how impressed I was with the work his crew did for us. And I’ll be spending a little more time thanking God and a little less time asking for a hand.

Stay tuned, I’m sure there is much more to come.

PS: Feel free to share this with any acquaintances you might know who believe the world is populated only with selfish, angry people.

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