Sunday, September 25, 2005

Cinderella, Sweeping Up

So you stayed home for Rita, with the thermostat dialed to 60, lying on the couch and watching it all on TV, congratulating yourself on your prescience and laughing at the suckers stuck on the freeway traveling four miles in eight hours in a 100-degree wool blanket?

Well, bully for you. Now shut up.

Or you got out on the freeway and it took you 20 hours to get to that Burger King parking lot in that town whose name you never knew, where your SUV carrying just the two other family members finally ran out of gas, and now you can’t stop whining and cursing “the media” and the politicians and vowing that you’ll never do that again …

Well, we feel ya, but for now would you please shut up?

Or maybe you’re a member of the media---non-credentialed “citizen journalist” or card-carrying word-and-image warrior in full-dress uniform---and you’ve mustered the gall to blame television for “hyping” the dangers of Hurricane Rita and causing people to needlessly flee and the clog the roads.

Well you---especially you---should shut up.

As we noted here in several postings (sorry to keep repeating ourself), the question of “go or stay” doesn’t bring forth an easy answer. Most Houston-area residents, we think, ran through some quick calculations (factoring in their own past experiences with hurricanes and their locations and particular situations), took into full consideration Katrina and what the media were saying about Rita, gauged the lengthening gas lines on Wednesday and their own pocketbooks and patience, and made their decisions accordingly.

If we lived on or near the coast we sure as hell would have beat a hasty retreat. But we live up in southwest Houston, equidistant from U.S. 59 and the Loop, a half-mile or so north of Brays Bayou. Flooding was a concern, but not a major one, since we came out OK in Allison. What worried us about Rita was the prospect of unprecedented high winds raking through Houston and ripping off the roof of our modest abode, with a secondary concern being the durability of the four large trees in our yard and the towering pine in the yard behind us. (When it first appeared that Rita might run straight through Galveston, we thought we might head up toward Jasper and camp on family property near there. That certainly would have worked out well.)

A small adjustment in the storm’s route and all those people who waited it out on the freeway and got somewhere they thought was safe might have been down on their knees thanking whatever supernatural being they pay obeisance to, while we could have been standing (if we were lucky) out in the front yard of our devastated house cursing the same supernatural entity. Man has yet to totally subdue nature, we've heard, and even inside that large cone of uncertainty that appeared to be making Neil Frank even punchier than normal, there’s no foolproof way to pinpoint exactly where a hurricane will fall on land until it’s pretty much too late to load up and roll out. So there was no “right” or “wrong” decision.

Which bring us to the question Banjo Jones has posed for polling: Did television news operations overhype the dangers Rita posed to the Houston-Galveston area?

Sure they did. They overhype a two-car fender-bender on the feeder road, so overhyping a potentially massively lethal hurricane was as easy as donning a rain slicker and getting blown about the beach.

We didn’t find the local television coverage to be any better or worse in tone than on a typical Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Sure, it left us bilious, but that’s because it was like watching a 60-hour non-stop variety show from the 1960s, with anchors Jerome and Dominque and Bill and Shern-Min and Shara (and it was good to see you again, babe, but that fire engine-red outfit you sported on Thursday was screaming Code 3; muted earth tones are preferred for hurricane panic) filling the Ed Sullivan role and all the reporters in the field----Wayne and Ted and Jessica and Deborah and Mark and Phil and Whoever and Whomever etc.---being brought on stage for brief turns in the wind as Topio Gigio, the Little Italian Mouse, or comedian Alan King.

But was that bad? Irresponsible? Funnyboy Ken Hoffman of the Houston Chronicle, in a rare appearance in the paper’s front section on Sunday, avers that the television stations should be “investigated” (by a presidential commission? Congressional committee? HPD? Oh … that was a joke? Right!) for setting the viewing area needlessly on edge. He should spend more time reading his own paper and its non-paper products. As the storm approached, the Chronicle's much-promoted SciGuy blogger wrote (emphasis added):

... with Rita due to make landfall some 75 miles east of Galveston. The bad news? I don't think there's a whole lot of confidence in the track. We may wake up with the storm shifted back over Galveston Bay, and it might be at the Texas/Louisiana border. Good luck trying to sleep tonight.

The official forecast track has slipped slightly northward again, but Houston remains in a very dangerous position. Unless the storm turns south or north in the next 24 to 48 hours we are set up for a truly horrific event. I am not going to sugar-coast this, my friends. If the storm comes ashore as forecast, it would essentially be the worst-case scenario ... As a Houston resident and property owner, I am truly mortified right now. If you are under a mandatory evacuation order, you should heed it.

Greater Houston is not a bowl, but has many more coastal communities and housing developments than the upper Gulf coast. These people absolutely must leave, their homes are likely to be flattened.

... it's looking more and more definite that we'll be hit by an extremely powerful storm in our own backyard. Let's do the best we can.

With all due respect to this SciGuy, who's a smart writer, are these momentarily definitive judgments any different than what the television stations were saying/doing, minus the valedictory pronouncements? (Blogging being the closet written product to round-the-clock television and radio coverage when it comes to rapidly shifting developments, as opposed to the old, tired, frozen-in-time newspaper, which somehow never even made it to our house on Friday and didn't show up on Saturday till late afternoon.)

Actually, when it came to Hurricane Rita, we found one media outlet we could count on, again and again, without fail, to strike just the right balance of hard-eyed skepticism and bug-eyed hysteria, of fact and fiction, of the sacred and the profane.

Yes, that was us. But that’s the way we roll here at Slampo’s Place: all-seeing, all-knowing and “right” 100 percent of the time!

Now we’ll shut up.

No comments: