Monday, September 6


Myy son, daughter-in-law and one-year-old grandson live in Tallahassee, where my son is attending Florida State University (an old family tradition -- we bleed garnet and gold). My mother, two sisters and their families, and assorted aunts, uncles and cousins, nieces and nephews are scattered around Florida, mostly in Panama City, but including West Palm Beach, Jacksonville and Orlando. The West Palm relatives evacuated their homes because of Hurricane Frances and are visiting the Panama City relatives, but the whole gang is prepared to depart north Florida if it's called for. Maybe they'll go up to see the Alabama relatives -- what a blessing to have a sprawling but close-knit family.

I'm sitting here in Dallas at 5 a.m. because I can't sleep (TMJ pain), listening to a heavy rainstorm and thinking of Hurricane Frances and my family. We've lived through so many hurricane warnings over the years but never once in my youth did we evacuate. One year a tree uprooted and fell on our roof, but we never suffered much damage even though my mother's house is only three residential blocks from the bay. In the 30 years since I left home, my family has evacuated nearly a dozen times. During Hurricane Hugo, which kept circling back around, they were forced to evacuate and return home twice, and when the third evacuation order came they just ignored it and sat pat. I talked to my sister during the third run and she told me, "We're just sitting here in the garage with the door open and watching the hurricane blow down the trees." One of the worst hurricanes to hit us, Opal, tore off the beachside half of my friend's parents' motel -- you could see the appliances and furniture all jammed in the doorways where the water surge carried them. That's remained for me a symbol of the hurricane's power. We didn't evacuate that time, either.

One of the reasons it used to be so hard to get people to evacuate was because of all the "false alarms." They weren't really false alarms, of course, but only seemed to be when the 'cane didn't hit us dead center or cause loss of life. I wonder if it's not the same with elections. Many of us realize that this presidential election is perhaps the most important one in at least a half century. George W. Bush has the potential to devastate this country with debt, rolled-back civil rights, environmental protections and business standards, diminished financial security for the middle class, and a policy of all-war-all-the-time that bleeds the nation of capital resources, allies and, most importantly, the lives of our young people. But the citizenry, weary and fearful, has heard it all before, and somehow the USA has survived and prospered.

More and more I hear people espousing "Better the devil that you know than the one you don't." In hurricane parlance, that might be "I'd rather be at home where I'm comfortable." We have got to get these people out of their comfort zones, or we're lost.


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