Storm surge

“There are two LOAVES of bread left in the store. I know you like wheat, but these are white. And I think one’s been trampled on.” He kind of chuckles. “So do you want ’em?” My dad was calling me from Sam’s Wholesale on Tuesday, Aug. 28—the afternoon before Hurricane Isaac hit the coastline of Louisiana. By this time, most people in town had half a garage full of water bottles, enough batteries to last a decade and the spare gasoline necessary to make it to Arkansas even if stuck in parking lot-type traffic.

I have four children, and I was down to half a loaf of wheat. Not good preparation.

“Tell you what,” my dad offers. “I’m going to go to the checkout and see if I can get a discount on the stepped-on bread.” This last-minute store hopping and price negotiating is generous, if not amusing, considering that Dad is prepared. The shutters over the French doors across the front of my parents’ house are already boarded up, and inside are plenty of supplies. He’s not one to wait around for hours for the rain to start falling.

I could have joined the frantic preparation party on Sunday, when I took two children to Walmart for a quick grocery run and couldn’t find a cart in the store. What is going on? I thought to myself as I wheeled in a basket from the parking lot. It wasn’t until I got to the water aisle and saw men and women pole vaulting to reach the last gallons of water stuck on the back of the top shelf that I got it. Storm surge. Carts were so jammed that passage was impossible. My cart turned away.

I should have taken heed on Monday morning when visiting the eye doctor. “Fill up every bathtub in your house. Do you have a hot tub?” The contact lens specialist dropped her magnifying glass and looked me square in the eyes. I shook my head no. “Then fill up your washing machine. You are going to need it when the water stops working and you go to flush the sewage.”

Flush the sewage—good gracious. You overestimate my dedication to my house, I thought. I don’t need water. I need gas to get out of town in case the water goes out. So, before my children returned home from school, I attempted to find a gas station with regular unleaded. I went to six. At one station near my house, I waited with 36 others as a fuel truck deposited more gas and it rose to a level high enough that we could all fill up.

Hurricanes bring out a sense of panic mixed with a sense of community that is invigorating. People actually talk to each other in line. Neighbors help neighbors. There is a surge of purpose, of familiarity, of determination before a storm that makes living in a hurricane zone tolerable, even enjoyable.

My dad stopped by my house after the Sam’s run to deliver some bad news. “I lost your bread,” he admitted. “A woman approached me and asked if I got the last two loaves. She’d been working all day, had to go home to her kids and didn’t have any bread. I gave her what I had.” Especially in the midst of panic, there is kindness and bread to go around. The bottled water, though, is in short supply.