Belated Thoughts of Thanksgiving: Americans are Everyday Awesome

Written by Rob Morse on December 6, 2013

The news is full of our government screwing up, and I’m sick of it. Americans are awesome even if their government is corrupt and inept. Even when the politicians and bureaucrats do their best, they can’t know enough to do the right thing in the right place at the right time.

Bureaucrats need political permission if and when they finally figure out how to help. This is painfully obvious after each natural disaster. Our communities and local businesses are more responsive than the federal government with its wasted billions. I’m impressed every time Americans open their hearts.

Natural disasters are a part of life, be they earthquakes, fires, floods, blizzards, tornadoes or hurricanes. The people who live with them know what to do. That includes a rural farmer and a suburban housewife, the local policeman and the county fire commander. The local merchants know what to do, too. In fact, the Federal Emergency Management Agency has an informal but effective index of disaster severity. It is called the Waffle House index.

The southern US has a chain of restaurants that cater to small markets. They are the edge-of-town diner where you’ll see hunters, fishermen and construction crews collected at odd hours like big rigs around a crossroads truck stop. Things have to be pretty bad for the Waffle House to close for more than a few hours.

Think about where you’d go for supplies if a windstorm damaged your home or business. Along with the local police and emergency crews, you’ll go to the local diner to get a hot meal. Then you’re off to Walmart, Lowes, Home Depot and your local stores for food and first aid supplies. Most of us have been there and done that.

waffThese companies plan for a storm or disaster the same way airlines plan for bad weather. Their facilities have local stockpiles of essential materials. They harden their buildings and equipment when they know a storm is coming. They remove people and equipment from the path of the storm. They pre-position critical materials nearby. They have crews ready to move pre-packaged cargos of essential items into the damage area as soon as the storm recedes. It happens every time, though the names of the businesses change as you move across the country. If things are really bad you’ll see the local brewing and bottling companies start to produce clean packaged water. You’ll also see large portable generators trucked in to run hospitals and communications equipment.

There is no government plan coordinating this recovery. Instead, ordinary citizens and business owners take care of their businesses, their communities, and their neighbors in need. Some of our neighbors trained as Community Emergency Response Teams (CERT). Most churches, schools and businesses have a disaster plan. They’ve been there before, and they know that people eat more fast food until the power is restored, until their families are safe and until their homes are fully repaired.

The food, water, plastic sheeting … I can’t think of all the things people need right after a disaster, but they do not appear by magic. It is called capitalism. The extraordinary actions of these businesses are almost hidden, but you can see them work at the edge of a disaster. Depending on the season, snow shovels or chain saws appear where they’re needed just like frozen turkey appear at the grocery in mid-November.

True, crack teams of emergency personnel move across the country to search for trapped victims or fight fires. They are the highly-trained specialists.

I’m amazed by the ordinary guys, the people from the next town, who simply show up and get the job done. I saw them after Hurricane Katrina. They gathered at their local church and headed over to help. The churches near the disaster know where people can stay if they don’t have family nearby. God bless them all, the businessmen and the volunteers. If the disaster is large, then private charity funds will spring up around the country. Have you noticed that we give to private charities after a disaster rather than throw a few extra bucks into our monthly taxes?

Politicians will fly in for photographs. FEMA will show up weeks later when the motels are open again. FEMA may or may not issue low cost loans for demolition or reconstruction. FEMA may or may not roll in moldy trailers for temporary housing, if you are lucky enough to qualify. In New Jersey after Hurricane Sandy, those decisions appeared to be political than charitable.

Though some would disagree, I trust my neighbor’s generosity more than a politician’s campaign promise. We Americans are impressive. It isn’t news, but it is everyday awesome. You are another reason for Thanksgiving.