Saturday, September 10, 2005

Running Errands

The other day I headed out to Vacaville to run some errands and I was thinking about the recent disaster on the Gulf Coast. Actually, I started out thinking about gas prices, since it was the first time I'd had to put gas in my car since the price went up over $3/gallon. I knew I was close to needing a fill-up as I was leaving Davis, but I figured I could probably do better than $3.09/gallon for regular unleaded, so I headed down the road and ended up stopping at a place in Dixon where it was $2.98/gallon. So it was about $45 to fill up the minivan, and it was then that I realized that I didn't really care how much it cost me -- I'd been thinking more about how much gas I was using to drive around town mostly because I'm thinking more about conserving lately, not becuase it's gotten expensive.

Yep, I'm still a liberal

Besides, any time I think about how much gas costs, I remind myself how lucky I am if that's my biggest problem. After all, there are so many people who lost their homes or even their lives down on the Gulf Coast.

I enjoyed my shopping trip, even though I couldn't stop thinking about all of that. I went to the Adidas outlet because I needed new running shoes, and found two pairs of work-out pants there on clearance. Since I am what you might call pear-shaped, finding pants that fit me can be a bit of a challenge, so this was a big deal. That they were ridiculously cheap for quality, brand-name work-out clothes (a year ago I paid about $40 for a pair of running pants there -- this time I paid $11 for a pair of cropped work-out pants and $14 for a pair of long ones) was an added bonus. Shoes were a good deal too. If they'd had my size, I would have been able to buy a new pair of the same running shoes I already had for $25, less than half what I paid at the store in Davis last time. But I wasn't even bummed out that they didn't have my size, because they also had another pair that were a) still a bargain at $40, b) deliciously comfortable, and c) not even ugly! I mean, they're still running shoes, so they're not attractive, but they are white with grey and teal green accents, and they are not-hideous enough that I commented to the guy who rang me up that I suspicious of whether they were actually real running shoes or not. For a guy who works at a sports attire outlet, he seemed awfully clueless about the joke I was trying to make.

After that, I headed over to Costco. I couldn't help thinking that if we could just airlift the entire contents of a few Costco stores over to the hurricane victims down on the Gulf Coast, we could go a long way toward replacing a lot of what they are needing. Food, clothing, appliances, luggage, furniture, books and DVDs, tents and sleeping bags, basic hygeine items -- Costco has it all, and in huge quantities. I'll tell you what -- if there's ever a natural disaster nearby and we need to evacuate our home, the nearest Costco would be my first choice to take my family. The one we shop at in Vacaville is built kind of up on a hill, which would be great in the event of a flood.

Knowing I was going to Costco, I hadn't eaten lunch before I left home. I knew that even if I didn't stuff myself with free samples of microwaved delicacies, I could grab a yummy, cheap hot dog or frozen yogurt on the way out. So I made my way to the back of the store, starting in the bakery area, and starting snagging samples as I approached my main objective: a roast chicken. Sure, they have them at Safeway across the street from my house, but the ones at Costco are twice as big and cost $2 less each. We had a Safeway chicken last week and found it sorely lacking. So I picked up a chicken, and as I travelled on in search of more culinary delights, I passed a sign above a little dispenser that said "Hairnets and Beardnets." Beardnets? Well, yeah, I guess that makes sense -- I don't want some guy's nasty little beard hairs falling in my free pasta sample anymore more than I want some woman's head hairs in there -- but just the idea of a guy with a hairnet over his beard kind of grossed me out. "I hope I never see that," I told myself. Naturally, not two minutes later, I did see that, on the guy handing out samples of french bread pepperoni pizza. All I can say is, bleah! Someone should tell that guy that his yucky beard is not worth that kind of humiliation.

Anyway, this post does have a point, and it is not to make light of the Katrina situation. It's more that I don't know what to feel when I am able to just go about my regular, normal business -- sending the kids off to school, going to the gym, going off to Vacaville to run not-unpleasant errands -- while huge numbers of my fellow citizens are suffering a couple thousand miles away. This is very similar to how I felt 4 years ago, when terrorists attacked the East coast -- it's already unfathomable that these kinds of things can happen, and that much more so when you are so far away that your daily life is more or less untouched by the tragedy. The 9/11 attacks had a California component in that the plane that went down in Pennsylvania was headed to Los Angeles and carried a number of Californians -- similarly, I'm sure there must be lots of people here in California who have friends or relatives who have been severely affected by the hurricane and flooding, but just like 4 years ago, I'm not one of them this time either. And so all I can really do is be sad and angry and terrified for all the victims, but in a vague kind of way, and there's no point in doing anything other than contributing to the relief efforts and going on with my business.

Another similarity between this disaster and the terrorist attacks is that it occurred at almost exactly the same point in President Bush's second term as 9/11 happened in his first term. If pre-9/11 intelligence reports are to be believed, there were a number of clues that those attacks were coming -- similarly, all indications are that this kind of flooding in Louisiana and Mississippi in the event of a big hurricane was well anticipated but not prepared for. Yet somehow, the Bush administration turned the 9/11 attacks to their advantage, using them as a reason to attack Iraq, even though no Iraqis were involved in 9/11, and probably exposing the U.S. to even more anger-fueled terrorist attacks in the future. It makes me wonder if they can also manage to turn the devastation of Katrina to their paradoxical advantage again, as a means of cutting back disaster relief or services to poor people, or stripping away at environmental protections.

Finally-- last winter when the tsunami hit island nations in southeast Asia, there was a lot of talk about why should those nations automatically expect help from the United States? Wasn't it their own problem that their governments weren't able to provide them with disaster relief? Now that our great, powerful federal government has managed to bungle providing that same kind of relief to its very own citizens in almost every possible way, one would hope the people who complained about us sending help to the tsunami victims would be a little more humble. But I doubt that will happen. Unfortunately, one thing I think people will remember is that a tiny percentage of the victims were angry and misguided enough to take up arms and shoot at their would-be rescuers. The Bush administration has already done some blame-the-victim-style damage control, so it stands to reason that we can expect plenty of "they didn't want our help!"-type spin from our less charitable citizens in the years to come.

And probably lots of bitching about the high cost of gasoline as well.

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