Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Luck has nothing to do with it

When people ask me what Columbus is like I usually tell them that it's a great place to live but you wouldn't want to visit here. It's not exactly the slogan our city's tourism department endorses but it's painfully accurate.

Don't get me wrong, Columbus has plenty to offer. We have a great arts community that coordinates plenty of activities to promote local artists and performers. We have interesting restaurants, bars and night clubs. Columbus actually sponsors festivals and activities throughout the year to engage the public and stimulate economic development. Sadly, none of those things are worth booking a trip to Columbus for. If you live here or have to be in town for something else it's great, but if you book a weekend getaway to Columbus you're going to be disappointed.

We've got minor league baseball and major league soccer, neither of which is worth watching but it's there. Ohio State has a football team people either love or love to hate and the State Fair sets up shop every August providing a great opportunity for people to eat unimaginable deep-fried concoctions or for other people to watch those people eat unimaginable deep-fried concoctions. Again, interesting stuff if you live in the area....not so much if you have to book a flight.

We don't have a great waterfront. Two beige rivers meander through the city and converge downtown but very little has been developed on these shallow waterways. There are no sandy beaches, no towering mountains, no lush forests. Columbus is surrounding by housing developments and farmland. To put it bluntly, Columbus is boring.

And that's OK. The cost of living is manageable, the job market is solid and traffic is generally easy to deal with. It's a great place to live. There's usually not much excitement and that's the way we like it. Excitement can be overrated.

Today is a significant day for Columbus as it marks the first time in 10 days that the entire city has electricity. Back on September 14th the remnants of Hurricane Ike hooked up with a sexy Canadian cold front and enjoyed a blustery romp right on top of Central Ohio. Sustained winds maxed out over 50 miles per hour with gusts exceeding 80. Trees were toppled, power lines were downed and by the end of the day 400,000 people were in the dark. Most of those people were without power for the better part of a week.

The effort to restore power quickly was hampered by how prolific and wide spread the damage was as well as the fact that utility crews were dispatched to Texas to help get people back online after Ike made landfall. Nobody expected Columbus to sustain damage in hurricane force winds.

Most people in Columbus were surprisingly calm about the whole ordeal. Normally weather-related inconveniences are turned into crimes against humanity. Check the reaction later this year when snow isn't removed quickly enough and you'll see what I mean. I really expected more whining when I heard that power would be out for a week.

Some people were upset. Generators were quickly sold out, gas prices stayed high even though none of the Texas refineries were damaged and people couldn't find ice. People weren't happy about pitching thousands of dollars worth of food in some cases but the bitching never got out of line.

Still, there were people who wandered around reminding everybody how fortunate we were to not live on the Gulf Coast. Our misery was trivial when compared with the suffering people endured when Katrina hit New Orleans and the residents of Galveston would be inconvenienced long after Columbus got back to normal. We got off easy. We were lucky.


Look, I took the storm in stride, I always do. Nature holds all the cards. Sometimes we overcome, sometimes we get the crap kicked out of us. That's just the way it is. But lucky? No. I live in boring-ass, white bread, corn pone Columbus, Ohio because we're not supposed to get hit by hurricanes. That's the sacrifice. If you live close to the beautiful beaches of the Gulf of Mexico you choose to do so knowing that a hurricane could come along and blow your house down. If you live in Southern California you realize that the mother of all quakes could come along and smash your entire existence. If you live in St. Louis you recognize that the Mississippi River will pour over its banks every few years. You accept those risks. You live with them.

You want to know what risks I accept in Columbus? Tornadoes. And not those big trailer park eaters they get in Kansas. Central Ohio sees the occasional F2 or F3 tornado. If my house ever gets nailed by one I'll just grin and bear it because that's the chance I take living here but when the winds swirl at 50 miles an hour or more for six hours I'm not going to smile and count myself lucky. I chose to live in Columbus. I could have taken jobs in Miami, New Orleans or even Galveston. I stayed here because I wasn't willing to accept the risks of living on the volatile Gulf Coast. I chose boring.

I don't blame the people of Galveston and New Orleans for living there. I don't trivialize their plight but once they clean up their mess and repair the damage they go back to the joys of living on the ocean. Those places are major tourist destinations and the people who live there enjoy it. When people in Columbus clean up the mess and fix the damage they go back to that mundane Wonder bread existence nobody else in the world cares about. It's not a fair trade.

I'm not whining. There's a sick side of me that really enjoyed the storm and I was actually disappointed that I was one of the few people to have his power restored within 24 hours. I saw a sustained power outage as a challenge. I was going to build fires and eat neighborhood pets and/or wayward children. I relished the post-apocalyptic existence I was going to be required to eek out for a few days and I was ready. I was ready to fend off needy neighbors and loot grocery stores for the provisions I desperately required. It was going to be fun. I was going to be the king of Clintonville. So I actually welcomed the storm.

Most people didn't. Most people like electricity and cable TV and a general sense of order. I don't begrudge them that. The people of Columbus did a great job handling the adversity this freak storm blew into their lives. I'm actually proud of the way people responded. But don't tell me we were lucky. That's just insulting.


Goldie said...

WOW. I see we're the ones that really got lucky in Cleveland. Our street did not lose power at all. A few people I know lost theirs, but most got it back in a day or two, 4-5 days in a few cases. Of course, there were some trees flying around that did a lot of damage, but on our street again we got off easy. That said, come visit us in February for some nice, thick lake effect snow!

claw71 said...

Goldie, I've been to Cleveland. I was born there. You're not lucky. Nobody in Cleveland is lucky. I was in New Orleans right after Katrina hit and the levees failed. There were women being raped in teh Super Dome who said, in between their screams for help, " At least I don't live in Cleveland."

Goldie said...

Oh man, not you too. I understand it when my buddies in Boston or Silicon Valley feel the urge to rip on Cleveland, but I didn't expect it from you. Ah well, who am I kidding? I keep telling my kids to move out. Leave this city while you can, I beg them. Don't worry about leaving me behind; I'm old and my life is spent. You can still save yourselves.
Anyway a group of us will be passing through C-bus tomorrow afternoon, so you guys may want to hide or something.

Casey said...

Im pregnant. Its yours. Im sending it back to Colo-whatsit to die in shame, just like you.