VARICOSE VALLEY – This is my small abode I visit for weekends and during times I need to get away from it all – the “all” being bail bondsmen, repo men and bounty hunters. My lean-to looks like it’s been hit by a shotgun, with the roof thatch pulled back, paint pocked, even the pink flamingoes sport holes, well, more holes. In recent weeks, Texas has been struck by floods, rain, swamped riverfronts and high winds, everything but a plague of locusts. I think it was all due to our wishes for rain to end the drought. Be careful what you wish for.
And this is only the beginning of hurricane season – the Red Cross has thrown out the first doughnut – touching off our annual chaos. We have all seen scenes of the destruction on local TV, even national TV, if we have not experienced it ourselves. So this is a good time to check off some constantly recurring events, including some which are uncomfortable. First, our TV weather reports. As we know, our TV meteorologists push the panic button when a dark cloud appears west of Africa. When the cloud turns into a breeze, stations start showing maps and charts and spaghetti lines – all heading toward their viewing area.
If a storm actually comes close, TV stations break out the Dan Rather Syndrome. For those new to Texas, years ago – to give you an idea of how long ago, it was Hurricane XVI – a storm hit the Gulf coast, and a young, unknown reporter named Dan Rather from station KHOU-TV in Houston was sent out to cover the storm. So there was Dan swaying on the Galveston Seawall or standing knee-deep in flooded streets as the rain and wind whipped around him, while he reported that he was swaying while the rain and wind etc. Network suits in NYC spotted this talent and the rest is a success story — until the Texas Air National Guard brouhaha. Ever since then, any TV reporter sent to cover any Gulf storm story sees that as his or her route to stardom. Back at the TV station it is the weather person’s 15 minutes of fame, and they milk it to the hilt.
This fearmongering works, as rating take off. Then we see the rush to stock up. Again, the TV reporters are out in the aisles questioning panicked shoppers who are hoarding up on dog food. And, always, plywood. No storm story is complete without a lumber yard selling sheets of plywood followed by shots of Billy Joe and his four sons madly hammering nails to hold up plywood over doors and windows. I have a question: does plywood rust to sawdust over the winter? If not, why is everyone buying a new supply of the boards every year?
Now we come to a touchy point, and again we go to the TV news. “This is the third time I’ve been flooded,” says some mouth-breather. “The National Guard done had to rescue me and my 12 dogs. FEMA promised me money to rebuild.” Like most people, my heart goes out to the poor fellow and to his dogs. His house is a mess. His pickup has been washed from its blocks in the front yard and down the street. And my thoughts are like yours: “Am I having to pay for this? Again?”
We all sympathize with people in Tornado Alley, Okla., who annually get their farm blown into the next state while they cower in the school gym because they don’t have a storm cellar or even a bathtub to hide in. We give to the charities that rush to help. But how many years will we still be shelling out cash to these same people who got a house on the cheap because it’s in the six-month flood plain?
Houses along beaches are sure to flood if not disappear, it’s just a matter of when. Houses along riverbanks may last a bit longer, but they will eventually end up as firewood – or maybe plywood. We see homes in residential neighborhoods with their soggy carpets rolled up on the curbside, and molding furniture stacked by the street, and we feel sorry – sorry for ourselves because that means our own house insurance rates are going up. Houses that are in the floodplain are sitting on a ticking time bomb. So it’s in the 500-year flood plain. That study was made in 1515.
Money aside (a term which is hard for me to write), there is the safety factor. We see a National Guard or Coast Guard trooper dangling from a cable tightly hooked – he hopes – to a bouncing helicopter hovering over some guy who ignored the orange barricades across a low-water bridge. Firefighters extend their ladder horizontally to a driver who thought his ’69 VW Beetle could safely float through an underpass where the flood gauge clearly shows water lapping at the 5-foot mark. Less dangerous but also expensive are the caravans of FEMA workers who descend on the flooded areas with their forms, interviews – and checkbooks.
There is something called “flood insurance,” which is different from regular home insurance which only covers burned rice, Comanche attacks and acute mildew. Exceptions to coverage are listed on Pages 11-34, in Lithuanian. Flood insurance covers damage caused by floods, and should be required by any owner of a structure within a time zone of a 1,000-year flood plain. You ask, “But what about those who can’t afford flood insurance?” I’ll get back to you on that. There should also be a policy covering rescues. Otherwise, you and Ire paying for their safety, comfort and repairs. The charity we are all giving to, and generously, is the U.S. government. As for my dugout home here in Varicose Valley, I have paid dearly for insurance over the years, and now am fully protected. Wait! What’s that I hear? Sounds like a plague of locusts.
Ashby is floating at firstname.lastname@example.org