Thanks to fans and foes

 

When

massive storms hit a community, sometimes it brings out the best in people. Neighbors help neighbors cope with the weather. Volunteers

gather to fill sandbags in flood zones. Children pitch in and shovel the

driveway of an elderly woman for free.

But when

the winter has been as long and as severe as this one, Indianapolis residents

give up on that neighborly crap and decide that every person is on his or her

own.

Last week's

ice storm was a case in point. There wasn't any neighborly concern, no good Samaritan, we're-in-this-together philosophy going on.

It was pure Darwinism, anarchy on ice, a preview of what a real apocalypse will

look like.

It's a good

thing the roads were eventually cleared, or at least the main roads. A few more

days of being cooped in their homes and the people of this city might have

resorted to looting and cannibalism, such was the fear I saw in people's eyes.

We expect

the store shelves to be stripped of bread, milk and eggs as a big winter storm

approaches. But the atmosphere at a local grocery store last week went beyond competitive

shopping into the realm of near anarchy.

People were

shopping with such frenzy, such zeal, it seemed as though the end were truly

near. Once the bread was gone, the search was on for anything even close. The

crescent rolls and Twinkies went next. I saw an old man pushed aside as he

tried to take the last package of English muffins.

There's

something appealing about watching a bout of panic shopping, something primal

about seeing people have to compete for the goods they usually take for granted.

When I lived within walking distance of a Kroger, I used to go there just to

stir up trouble.

"Better

stock up," I would say to a frazzled soccer mom. "The new forecast is looking

like you'll be stuck inside for a week." Or: "Forget the frozen pizza. When the

power goes out for a week, you'll wish you had a case of pork and beans and a

generator."

My favorite

prank was to see if I could incite fears of water shortages. "I'm getting 50

gallons," I'd say. "Gonna need it all when the pipes freeze."

Folks will

believe anything you say about a winter storm, and they're also ready to

believe the worst you have to say, so it was usually no problem to set off a

wave of fear at the store and see entire shelves stripped bare within minutes.

After a

lifetime spent braving Indiana blizzards, I've seen it all. Shopping carts

filled with Little Debbie cupcakes and beer. People buying 30

pounds of hamburger.Grown men and women acting like

children.

During the

worst of the storm last week, downtown was paralyzed. Most shops and

restaurants were closed, which meant if you were able to get to work, you'd be

going hungry if you hadn't brought your lunch.

The few

stores that were open were unable to cope with demand. If you broke your ice

scraper on Wednesday, you were using old CDs to scrape your windshield since

every store in town was out of stock.

For 11

months a year, you can buy as much rock salt as your car will withstand.

There's not an especially large value placed upon it. But salt takes on much

more value during storms like last week's. It becomes almost as valuable as

gold and just as scarce.

My wife and

I went from store to store looking for salt. When we asked clerks whether they

had any, they reacted angrily. "No, we don't have any," one clerk said. "And before

you ask, no, I don't know when we're going to get any more. I wish people would

quit asking."

Finally we

found some. When the pallet of salt was delivered, people flocked to it like

there was a Wonka golden ticket inside. People didn't care who they pushed

aside to get it. It was both incredibly exciting and dreadful.

When the

storm hits, you can't count on anything being easy. I gripe and moan but, like

every other inconvenience arising from the ice storm, ultimately there's

nothing anyone can do about it. You're on your own.

Hopefully,

we've gone through the worst of the winter and the great ice storm of 2011 will

soon just be an unpleasant memory. But it's worth keeping the memory of how

people reacted to it in the back of your mind. If the crap ever really hits the

fan, it will be much, much worse.

So if I

were you, I'd be stocking up on salt, water, bread and ammo. When the going

gets tough, Hoosiers tend to react strongly. It's better to be prepared than to

be sorry later.

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