04 November 2011

A Moralizing Rant

In August 2011, just hours after that typhoon of rapacious looting and pillaging known as the London Riots, Londoners, armed with brooms and buckets, appeared in force and set about putting their neighborhoods back together. Volunteers mobilized to help sweep debris from the streets and come to the aid of shopkeepers whose businesses had earlier been the scene of terrific violence and it was not just in London that residents were organizing to restore order to their communities. Across the UK in those areas affected by this contagious mayhem, citizens were Keeping Calm and Carrying On.

It's not like that here. Perhaps it will take a series of appalling riots to mobilize the citizens of Western Massachusetts, but I hope not. Last Saturday it was not a hooliganizing mob but a freakish blizzard that disabled our region. We have had a late autumn and most of the trees were still covered with leaves, so when the quite heavy snow fell, it severely weighted the oaks and the maples and down they came. Since early June we have experienced two tornados, one big, one not so big, one hurricane and one earthquake, but this blizzard has created far more damage than all those events combined. It has been almost a week since the storm hit and nearly 100,000 homes are still without power. And that's just in our region. Other New England states were badly affected as well. While walking the streets, you can still come across downed power lines, felled trees, tangles of broken limbs. But that's not what really concerns me. What is quite astonishing is how quiet everything is. Where did everybody go?

I live in an area that did not lose power and the damage to the property is not so jaw-droppingly bad but a local college is virtually invisible for all the downed elms surrounding it. Lining the streets, branches have piled like berms, shoring up the tree belts. Jagged fragments of shattered limbs are projecting into the roads, making it necessary for cars to veer into oncoming traffic. There is garbage strewn across the street in an otherwise tidy neighborhood. In every place I walk or drive through, lawns are covered with debris. No one is cleaning up. No one is mobilizing or organizing or restoring. Everything is as it was on Sunday after the storm had passed with the only difference being the absence of snow, now melted thanks to warm temperatures, but no one had to do anything to make that happen. So what is everyone waiting for? Why aren't they taking care of their neighborhoods, why are they leaving things as they are?

In the hundreds of houses I passed on my walk early this morning only two had yards cleared of debris. There are a few houses that have sustained some damage and of course it is not reasonable to expect the owners to dislodge the thirteen foot splinter impaling their garage, however, in the majority of cases, all that's necessary is a big dose of yard work. But six days on, the place still looks like a disaster. A friend helps her family clear limbs from their street annoying a growing line of drivers who cannot be bothered to get out of their cars to help her. An acquaintance, after waiting an hour in line to fill her car with gas, arrives at the station behind a man who pulls up to a pump and leaves his car, returning with his lunch fifteen minutes later. An accident occurs at an intersection without the benefit of functional traffic lights because someone refuses right of way to another vehicle.

Meanwhile, the streets remain hellish, the yards untended. Everyone seems to be waiting for someone else to do something. But there isn't anyone else. Perhaps it's too much to ask some Americans to rally in support of their community, but they seem to be similarly unwilling to look after what is theirs or exercise common sense.  Is this now the local attitude - Keep Calm and Don't Care?

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