I certainly share the ambivalence felt by many over the assassination of Osama Bin Laden. I heard the news, as many did, while watching baseball on ESPN, the Mets at the Phillies (Mets 2-1 in 14 innings). There was ninth inning irony in the players’ ignorance as the crowd chanted “USA, USA, USA” after viewing their phones and twitter feeds while the athletes just played ball.
My own twitter feed started bringing in satisfaction (@DanielPink “RT @markknoller: Cheering crowd outside White House estimated at 2500.”) and angst at the President’s delay (@HeatherOsborn “I love that it took approximately 10 minutes for people to start bitching about Obama being late. I'm gonna go ahead and believe he is BUSY.”) and jokes (@TheThomason: “Obama: ‘Anybody else wanna see my birth certificate?’ Drops mic. Walks away.” Or: @CaitKitt “Also, now that we killed the dude, can the TSA stop fondling all our junk? #prettyplease” 9:54 PM May 1, 2011)
Unlike a lot of other people who first heard of OBL’s death while watching TV, but like a fair number of other North Alabamians, I was in a hotel room dozens of miles or more from home. We were avoiding the 600,000 person power outage that resulted from the “April Fury” tornadoes. Our house was fine, other than one downed tree top and one leaky window, and some slowly spoiling food as our fridge and freezers lost their cool. We are very fortunate to afford to simply drive to a Nashville suburb and check into a La Quinta with hot showers, clean sheets and breakfast. Many of my neighbors took this option, or went to relatives in nearby towns. We’re “rich” Americans. It’s incredible. But it’s also incredible how fragile our way of life is. Without electricity and Internet and gasoline and open stores and cell phones we were quickly reduced to land line phones (those of us who still have them) and battery powered radios. Hello 1952.
But those weren’t the problems that haunted me in the La Quinta in Smyrna, Tennessee on May 1st that kept me from truly processing the news of the death of bin Laden. Nor were they the problems that had kept me from gagging on the syrup drenched royal nuptials of William and Kate two days earlier, marriage coverage that censored the anti-austerity protests pervading Great Britain. I’ve gone without electricity enough in my life not to sweat it much. What was nagging at my mind was the damage from swirling storms that don’t even get names but, acre for acre, do much more damage than hurricanes. And the stories from friends and acquaintances that kept spinning out to me through the phone, the e-mail and the web (yep, wireless internet in the hotel, too).
A colleague runs a swim club with his son as a side business and it got hit; he was at the pool between storms, but went home at the urging of son and girlfriend just in time. I’m sure the pool office and bathhouses are gone. We saw what’s left of the bordering trees, snapped and twisted, from the adjacent highway on our drive home. Next to the highway we saw a house with only rafters for a roof left, the next house was just the concrete slab and debris – nothing bigger than a few feet long. Across the highway and into a subdivision a newlywed couple we know from the running community lost their house, and so far their cat. She runs about my speed, when I’m in shape. Their brick house disintegrated around the young woman, one wall at a time and even the rug she was on got sucked away (the husband wasn’t home). Their car was in the driveway and is now a neighbor’s lawn ornament, but the woman is banged up but okay. They would be staying at her parents’ home in nearby Tanner, Alabama, except that their house was also destroyed by one of the tornadoes.
A local photographer, who we also know from running, has posted an offer to provide free disks of photos she'd taken for anyone if they lost theirs in the storms.
A friend family’s daughter was in Tuscaloosa, she goes to the University of Alabama there, at her boyfriend's apartment. They are fine, but the gas station directly across the street is gone, as is the sideview mirror from her car. The neighbor of another friend’s daughter also went to Alabama; she won’t be coming home. They cancelled finals at UA, students get the grades they had, or they can schedule a final with their instructor. Tuscaloosa had one of the biggest tornadoes and it was the one to hit the most populated area. 5,000 homes damaged or destroyed.
600 people attended the funeral yesterday of a 12 year old girl who was the classmate of another friend’s son. There were 8 family members in a trailer, none escaped injury, but it was the youngest who was taken.
My office is still without power. Internet came back at my house late yesterday and is still out for many people so I don’t yet know who else has a story to tell. So I’ve been brooding on these twisters, these nameless micro-hurricanes that last for minutes rather than days, and it has kept me from digesting the death of Osama. But I know I’m glad that he, and his twisted soul, are gone.