So now it begins.
The accusations of incompetence, ineptitude, and downright stupidity. The evasion of responsibility, real or perceived. The finger-pointing. The back-biting. The back-stabbing. The self-righteous posturing of those not involved in the decision-making process. The self-justifying whining of those who were. The weeks of absolutely absurd and pointless muppet-flailing which will be part of the national and regional dialogue for the next several news cycles.
I’m speaking, of course, of the aftermath of the Great Snowpocalypse of Atlanta, 2014 Edition.
Now, let me begin by staking out a base position. I was out in it. I know, I know, the sentence isn’t grammatically correct, but you get the idea. No, I didn’t spend the night in my car, stranded on a stretch of interstate or parkway because the whole road net had become paralyzed by a combination of winter weather conditions and a typical volume of Atlanta traffic (more on this in a moment). I didn’t have to have to abandon my vehicle a mere two miles from my home and trudge through the (minimal amount of) snow in temperatures in the mid-20s, all the while muttering about “Arctic-like conditions,” fearful that my fate would be reminiscent of the Scott Expedition. I didn’t sleep in a Waffle House or Home Depot–at least, not this time. No, my experience was spending two hours traveling approximately one-half mile in an effort to complete a trip that was totally unnecessary, saying “Bugger this!” (or words to that effect), doing a one-eighty and returning home. However, it was time well-spent, as it gave me an appreciation for the realities of life for those who did spend the night in their cars, walked home in the (minimal amount of) snow, or spent the night in some makeshift ad hoc public shelter.
In the endless volume of punditry and pontificating that will be belched forth in the days and weeks to come, we will be bombarded with countless variations of “What [insert Government Official or Department of Your Choice here] should have done was….!” We will then be told how the schools weren’t closed in anticipation of the coming storm, how salt- and sand-trucks were not deployed and put to work before the first flake fell, and how poor was the coordination and cooperation of the various state, county, and municipal authorities in coping with the emergency.
An article by Rebecca Burns on Politico.com bewails “The Day We Lost Atlanta,” as if the region (“Atlanta” is not just a city, it’s a geographical notion as well) had experienced multiple strikes by nuclear weapons in the hundred-megaton range and been wiped off the face of the planet. The terms “Snowmegeddon” and “Snowpocalypse” are making the rounds among the perpetually smug pseudo-hip to describe the afternoon, evening, and night of January 28, 2014 in and around Atlanta, Georgia. Professional navel-gazers are already creating narratives depicting the day as a Great Natural and National Disaster.
Atlanta still exists, it’s infrastructure (and no, we’re not going to talk about its flaws, that’s for another day) still functions, and as of today, January 30, 2014, the region is beginning to move with something approaching its normal dynamic. People who can work from home are doing so, people who can’t are, for the most part, staying home from jobs that really would have no point today, because the people who would need their services aren’t going out to avail themselves of them. Schools are closed, a prudent precaution because there’s still ice and snow on the majority of side roads and streets, and given the hills (the endless, endless hills!) here in Atlanta, doing otherwise would be a recipe for multiple tragedies. By the weekend, everything will be back to normal, for weal or woe. So, the bottom line here is that Atlanta got some snow, a bunch of people were inconvenienced, and within a few days all will be as it was before.
What really happened in the “Snowpocalypse”? I mean, what really happened? There was one death, a pedestrian struck by a car as he was walking down the middle of a street. (I won’t even deign to dignify that act of stupidity with further comment, other than to repeat the words of the Great American Philosopher Forrest Gump: “Stupid is as stupid does.”) There were a handful of injuries in minor traffic accidents. A lot of vehicular sheet metal met its doom. An unexpected volume of tire rubber was expended by motorists who had no clue as to how to drive their vehicles in slick road conditions. An inordinate amount of gasoline was consumed by cars and trucks idling for hours on end in the gridlock. And a world-record amount of muppet-flailing has ensued in the aftermath.
That’s it, folks. Atlanta, city and region, got shut down completely for one day, partially for two days. One fatality, a few injuries, a boon for accident attorneys and a big hit in the pocketbook for auto insurers. No buildings were destroyed, no one lost their homes, no one even lost power; in short, no permanent damage anywhere to anything (aside from a few bruised egos among those Southerners who imagined that they knew how to drive in the snow). And that translates into having “lost” Atlanta? Puh-leeze….
Of course, there will always be that Greek chorus of doom ready to chime in with “But what if…?” and “Oh, it could have been so much worse!” Which proves nothing. What might have been is exactly that – what might have been. Pointless conjecture remains pointless no matter how gruesome or titillating might be the details. Deal with the reality, people, not your fantasies.
The gridlock that occurred on the afternoon of January 28, 2014, happens to a slightly lesser degree every day in Atlanta, usually for three to four hours at a time, and happens in the same magnitude at least once a week, as accidents and incidents on the interstate, highways, and parkways create ripple effects that logjam traffic for hours. What happened that afternoon was notable not for its size or scope, but merely for its duration. As for gridlock, the few hours of daily gridlock that Atlanta experiences even in good weather isn’t a patch on the daily lockdown that is part of life in Los Angeles for drivers on the 405, the 605, the 10, the 110, the 210, and the 710. Having lived in West Los Angeles for eight years, I can attest to that personally.
In the aforementioned article, Ms. Burns bemoans the fact that the events of January 28, 2014 demonstrate that Atlanta’s infrastructure and governmental organization are both woefully unprepared to handle the stress of a major evacuation, and implies that there will be horrible consequences if such an event is every required to actually be undertaken. Well, suck it up, Cupcake, get out of Atlanta more often, take off your parochial blinders, and look around you. NO major city in the United States is prepared for or possesses the infrastructure to handle an evacuation in the face of a large-scale natural disaster. Does anyone remember Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy, just by way of example? “Snowmegeddon” was simply a demonstration of that wise old adage that “Crap happens” executed on a regional scale. Were preparations poor? Unquestionably. Were decisions badly-made? Undoubtedly. Are there lessons to be learned, applicable to how to act and react in the face of another such impending storm (Atlanta seems to have a habit of getting hit by a major snowstorm every three to four years)? Unarguably. Will such lessons be learned? Unlikely. The politicians in Georgia, from the governor on down to the superintendent of the smallest school district in the Atlanta area all acted and reacted as their kind always do – avoided making actual decisions until events either compelled them to do so or made the decisions for them. Then, naturally, those self-same politicians began to attempt to lead from the rear, while ordinary, real people rolled up their sleeves and coped. It’s too much to expect politicians to be anything other than what they are, so let’s give up that idea as a lost cause move on to more constructive and productive thoughts. However, I digress….
Bottom line: “Snowmeggedon, Atlanta 2014 ” was and will remain, deservedly so, a joke. A tempest in a teapot, which will be stirred endlessly in the days to come by the nattering nabobs of the chattering classes, an endless source of punditry and pontification by those who wish to appear wise, but who in the end, only can only produce “much sound and fury, signifying nothing.”
I survived, along with the rest of Atlanta, save for that one unfortunate individual, “Snowmegeddon.” And I yawned through the whole thing….
Remember, I’m Daniel Allen Butler, and that’s the way it is….