Katrina Causes Massive Complaint Damage

I pulled into a gas station and swiped my credit card -giving the gasoline pump my resentful permission to guzzle three of my dollars for every gallon it trickled into my tank. I glanced over my shoulder to see an angry guy jab a premium-unleaded pump-nozzle into his SUV harder than necessary. He then squeezed the pump's trigger, shook his head and scowled at the gas prices high up on the station's sign. For some easy, guaranteed sympathy I was tempted to call out to him, "Can you believe what we're paying here, buddy?" Then I remembered the CNN video showing miles of post-Katrina, gulf coast streets with cars fully submerged in water. I considered that I would soon drive away from this gas pump, with an ability to travel anywhere in the city on dry pavement, in filtered air conditioning, with a full tank of gas in a car that functions -all after "suffering" only some credit card damage. I decided to keep quiet.

I try not to complain about anything. When I fail and a complaint escapes, it's usually because I've forgotten that any of my problems can be dwarfed by those of someone else -somewhere. News images of hurricane Katrina have restored this perspective for me and have since muted my complaints about anything.

Southern California is an ideal place to plan outdoor activities because of the abundance of sun and scarcity of rain. When rain happens, a few streets will certainly flood, traffic degrades yet further and fender-bender statistics skyrocket. There are serious conditions such as landslides and fatalities, but nothing on the scale of physical destruction caused by a hurricane. A quarter inch of predicted rain will lead the local news. I can expect to suffer a dirty, rain-spotted car and a delay on my commute to work -what a nightmare! I can't imagine what Katrina's survivors would say of my temptation to complain about our LA "sprinkles." When it comes to the weather this next year, my personal-complaint-volume will be turned all the way down.

I stopped by the grocery store for some milk. Each of the checkout lanes had at least four shoppers in line. While I waited (and tried not to feel perturbed that a special express lane wasn't available just for me) I wondered if any of the hurricane victims who had been stranded in the New Orleans Superdome would have been willing to "suffer" in a line of four, eight or twenty people while holding refrigerated food in a clean store before driving to their undamaged home. What a complaint-demolishing thought. My desire to complain vaporized and my wait in line seemed short.

Amidst a cell phone conversation with my dad the connection was dropped. I pulled the phone from my ear and gave it my most disgusted look. All "signal-strength-bars" had vanished in the middle of Los Angeles and then blinked back on. This, after my cell carrier had boasted full coverage for their service? I felt that a serious complaint was in order. Then I considered how many hurricane survivors had gripped a low-battery, cell phone while crouched in every possible corner of their attics and then every corner of their roofs in desperate attempt to get one unavailable signal-strength-bar to notify a dad or mom of survival. This thought ruined my plans to complain. I quietly pressed redial -grateful that I could make a call and that my dad could answer.

Construction of new condos is underway next door to my home. The sounds of engines, voices and pounding usually peak thirty minutes prior to whatever time I had planned to wake up. Pre-hurricane Katrina, I'd jump out of bed, curse the condo developer and then grab my window handle to slam it shut. Now I consider how encouraging those same sounds of new construction would be if heard through the windows of homes owned by people in New Orleans who were bull-horned to evacuate on a boat or bus -people who didn't know when or if their home or street would ever be restored. Now, when I'm awakened too early, my mouth stays closed and I slide, rather than slam, my window shut. That Katrina sure did muffle the construction noise next door.

I can't believe hurricane Katrina silenced the birthplace of Jazz, the dinging and clanging of slot machines along the coast of Biloxi, Mississippi and a host of other sounds we link to that region of our country. Katrina also reached 1,600 miles west of her landfall and silenced me in Los Angeles. She damaged my ability to complain. I hope it is damage I can sustain.

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