Friday, May 7, 2010

Strange Days

Judging by the numbers of curious people who ventured to the fringes of the roads closed due to Flood 2010 (myself included), Clarksville finally had a (temporary) destination / attraction.

Sure, it was the brown, muddy waters of the Cumberland and Red Rivers that overflowed their banks to greet buildings and areas that don’t normally front the water. The same water that people were photographed playing in. The same water that had been receiving untreated sewage for several days since the sewage treatment facility went underwater and offline. Ewwwww.

There was an almost cheerful mood at the edges of closed roads where people gathered to gawk and quiz the police officers about Flood 2010. “Why can’t we go down there to the mud filled businesses?” “I know I just heard you tell these ten people they couldn’t cross this line of traffic cones, but could *I* go down there and have a look?” Obviously, these were people who were not affected by damage to their own homes and businesses. I know, because I was one of them.

It was Wednesday, and I had been away from the office for two days, cut off from my three mile commute to downtown when the bridge spanning the Red River at College St/Wilma Rudolph closed, followed by the closing of the bridge over the Red River on Warfield Boulevard. The Cumberland River had overflowed its banks, shut down Riverside Drive and the bridge at Boot Hill and created Atlantis v. 2010.

If I was a determined and dedicated company girl, it is certain I could have gotten to work by a circuitous route involving a six mile trip to I-24, seven miles on the Interstate, then five or so miles back into town, in the company of every other rerouted driver in the region. The bigger danger was not being able to get back home later, as the water was still rising and the list of closed roads still growing. And I could cope, crash at friend’s, sleep at the office, whatever, but I couldn’t abandon Moose at the house when there was doubt about getting back. And I wasn’t dragging him into the office. Actually, that never even occurred to me as an option. It’s not like I save lives or the place would fall apart without me. Seriously, I work in marketing.

So, Monday and Tuesday I stayed home under sunny blue skies, the temperature in the mid 80s. And it was weird. I didn’t even have that much work to do, at the office or from home. All the moving parts to my projects were either at the printer, en route to the client from the vendor, or with the client for approval before going to the printer. I handled a few phone calls on a client brochure order, then I took Moose for a walk down the hill to the end of my own street after hearing it had been closed. The water from the lake at Dunbar Cave had been creeping higher with the downpours all day Saturday and on the Sunday morning early leg of a harrowing excursion to Nashville International Airport (another story for another day). The golf course had new meaning to “water hazard,” the front yards of the houses across the street were collecting deepening liquid reserves. The river was snaking around there somewhere, too, contributing to the rising levels.

At the intersection with Haymarket Road, the sight was like that of a boat ramp, flanked by houses under water. And I mean under the water – to the edge of the roof gutters or higher. I felt like a voyeur. A man standing on the porch of a dry house yelled out that he didn’t recommend a swim. Not a chance, dude. I took a couple pictures with my crappy yet portable Kodak Easy Share camera and Moose and I trudged back up the hill in the sweltering heat. At home, I planted flowers bought during an earlier toilet paper and bottled water junket to Kroger.

Tuesday I worked a solid three hours from home. It was harder than working at the office. The couch is not an office chair. The laptop is not the desktop. My lap is not a desk. My desk is not even a proper desk with the awkward antique upholstered chair. The dog, constantly walking across my lap and the computer for no other reason than to get the other side then trying to snuggle, rendering one arm useless was a crippling (yet adorable) factor. All my notes and to do lists were on my cubicle wall or the computer desktop, not accessible on the company server. An email from the boss loaded with links paralyzed my system and necessitated a call to our IT goddess for correction. The font size on everything accessed via remote desktop was so microscopically small it made my eyes feel like they would erupt in geysers of blood any second. Files took forever to load. I went outside and planted some mystery flowers left by friends a week earlier after they thinned their garden.

The sewage treatment plant was closed and the request issued for restricted use of dishwashers, washing machines, and toilet flushing, which meant I had a free pass on those household tasks. Unfortunately, I was glued to Facebook and the TV news for updates, and was also not writing, making jewelry, reading, or even feeding myself. This is what happens when I am left unattended. I couldn’t remember any of the things I routinely fantasize about doing at home when I am at the office.

By Wednesday I was done dealing with the deeply ingrained Puritan guilt about not being at the office working, topped with an icing of guilt over not doing any personal work. I needed out, and had a new determination to get to the office, as Dad would say, “Come hell or high water.” Well, we certainly had the water. It was all over the place. And it was feeling kind of hellish. One bridge had reopened, so it only took 45 minutes to get downtown, versus the usual 12 minutes or the longer nightmare it had the potential to be.

The roads downtown were a labyrinth of closures marked with orange barrels and cones. Trails of mud marked where the water had been at its highest. Dumpsters were overturned. The river water was everywhere. The office, which sits on the third block up from the river, separated from the water by a five lane road and a waterfront park, was now spitting distance from the water. I went closer with my camera early in the day, and again after work. I even ventured around the general area, and for the first time in my nine years here, it was possible to be a pedestrian and not fear for safety. Bicyclists were zipping around on the auto-free streets, enjoying an unprecedented mobility. It was nice. And kind of eerie.

And later, back at home, it was just another normal evening for me and Moose. A cobbled together dinner. Time wasted on Facebook. Texting friends. On my end of the street, anyway. Others in town were not so lucky. I knew it, and felt a little bad for the normalcy under my roof.

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