**Warning, this is a commentary - and like any good journalist, I am using hyperbole!**
The U.S. mainland has been hit by 4 major (Saffir-Simpson category 3+) hurricanes this year, and while the deaths, damage to personal property, and disruption to the business cycle have been very unfortunate, I must say I am appalled by the reaction of some of my fellow compatriots. Fortunately, the hurricane specialists at the U.S. National Hurricane Center issued good track forecasts for Dennis, Katrina, Rita, and now Wilma, otherwise there would be an entirely separate firestorm brewing! I am proud of their tireless efforts to alert the public of each storm's approach.
My frustrations are being stoked by what I'll term America's growing sense of entitlement. Every day, millions of Americans fill up their cars with gas, take their kids to school, go to work, come home, eat dinner [often it's take-out, which I admit to missing here in Barbados!], watch television, and plan their tomorrow. Our streets are - for the most part - clean, our buildings decked out in the latest architectural trends, and for at least 50% of the country, the most annoying part of the day is gridlock from our commutes [or perhaps an error in our take-out order]. And, by golly, we have had this lifestyle for such a long time, we feel entitled to it. It is ours by birth!
So, of course, when a trivially small thing - like a hurricane, for instance - disrupts our way of life, we get upset. We are no longer comforted by our material possessions (that don't work without electricity). We cannot get take-out to ameliorate our hunger pangs. Our sense of independence - provided by our 4-wheeled friends - is taken away when the fuel pumps cease working.
And the media, America's first-amendment-created giant of an industry, is there to stick a microphone in our mouth and let us vent our frustrations. Notice this report filed by Allen Breed, AP writer (note: as of post time, I cannot locate Mr. Breed's employer) in Ft. Lauderdale, 2 days after Hurricane Wilma made landfall:
Trucks carrying the first wave of relief in Florida — food, ice and water — either arrived much later than local officials expected, or simply didn't show up at all. Hundreds of people lined up outside one home-supply store, desperate for cleanup and other items. Drivers waited five hours at gas stations, and at a handful of fast-food restaurants open in the Miami area, burgers were available — to those willing to endure two-hour waits.
Nine hours after she first got on line at one of the designated relief-supply locations, Fanie Aristil, 23, of North Miami wearily left for home with 28 pounds of ice and six liters of bottled water.
"All that time," Aristil said. "This is all we get?"
To me, Mr. Breed's tone is downright disparaging. Almost as if he is accusing someone / some group of failing to meet "local officials' expectations" for food, ice and water deliveries. But is his reporting that off-base? Could we not have gone to the store *before* the hurricane and bought food? Was it impossible to fill empty milk jugs, or even tupperware containers, with water prior to Wilma's onslaught? Oh no, as Americans, we seemingly cannot be troubled by such things. Especially when expect the mighty savior, GOVERNMENT, to come to our rescue. Immediately.
The next part of the story gets crazier! Either Mr. Breed is engaging a journalist's favorite friend - hyperbole - or our American sense of entitlement goes even further than immediate government hand-outs of food, water, and ice. Are we really "desperate" for cleanup supplies from the nearest home supply store? And those who waited "five hours" at gas stations -- what on earth was in their minds? Was their sense of independence so threatened that they had to wait 5 hours to get gas? And once they filled up, where did they think they were going?? Did they use up all their fuel from before the hurricane hit?
Finally, I do feel bad for Ms. Aristil who waited on line for 9 hours for ice and water. Clean, safe drinking water is essential to life, and that should engender a sense of entitlement (but from the government? see the above rant!) Perhaps she comes from a poor family and could not afford to "stock up" before the storm. Maybe she was the family representative, and thus knew 5 litres of water would only last a few hours. But heaven forbid she complain about the government for any ineptitude that would infringe on her sense of entitlement ["this is all we get?"].
She lives in America, the land of plenty, where our daily routine shouldn't dare be disrupted by something as trivial as a hurricane. And of course, if such a thing should chance to occur, we ought to demand immediate restoration from our mighty savior, GOVERNMENT. So we can get back to eating take-out and sitting in gridlock.
I am sure there was at least one person in that nine-hour line who was very grateful to receive rations. However, did Mr. Breed report their attitude? Not in this story. Perhaps because graciousness and thankfulness, the great emotions they are, aren't sellers. They don't promote controversy. And, of course, they don't fit with our principal theme of entitlement.
PS: as a corollary, Will Weissert filed this Associated Press report from Cancun, Mexico, 3 days after Wilma's landfall:
"People are desperate. They are nervous," [Mexican President Vicente] Fox said. He said the country's first priority was to get enough food and water to the coast, and he dispatched Mexican military ships, planes and trucks to bring supplies. He said the second priority was to get tourists home.
"I feel the Mexican government is helping here to an extent, doing the best they can," said Kevin Riley, town finance administrator for Paw Paw, Mich. "But the U.S. has done nothing. Where is our government? They are only preparing for Florida. They forgot about us."
Honestly, Mr. Riley, what do you really expect? Government is not your momma, it is not there to scoop you up and kiss your "boo boos" and make everything better. You are not even in the U.S.! But of course, it is hard to lose that sense of American entitlement in just a few days, even if you are fully under the jurisdiction of a Mexican government that is dealing with people who really do not have the opportunity to "stock up" before the storm, people who would be forced to drink whatever they could find [yikes] if government-supplied trucks of water did not arrive. I hope that your airline is soon able to get you on a flight back to Michigan and return you to normalcy. Because, of course, you're entitled to it!