the water can’t wash us away

07May10
I’ve spent most of this week looking at disaster pr0n.

Instead of getting work done, I’ve spent the week on Twitter, on Nashvillest, watching YouTube videos, and reading We Are Nashville over and over again.

Believe me, even I’m surprised by my reaction to this past weekend’s record rainfall and subsequent flooding. While it was raining, I just kept laughing about it. Libby and I ran around the Farmer’s Market and drove across the Korean Vets Bridge and barely gave the rain a second thought. I had rain boots and a rain coat, it was just water, what was the big deal?

The big deal was that in the span of 48 hours, some parts of metro Nashville received over 16 inches of rain. Averages across the city were 13 inches. Seem inconsequential?

Even using the most conservative conversion rate of 3 inches of heavy, wet snow to 1 inch of rain, that would be equal to more than THREE FEET of snow.

The big deal was that three hours after we left the Farmer’s Market, it was under six feet of water. Five hours after driving across the Korean Vets Bridge, it was blocked off to cars, having been turned into just another rapid in the Cumberland River’s ever-expanding flow.

If you’ve been following me on Twitter at all this week, you’ll know that this flood is pretty much all I can think about.

This city drowned in two days and stayed underwater for most of this week. Downtown is finally resurfacing. Opryland has been mostly pumped dry. Under the scorching rays of the sun (the sun, which promptly came out on Monday morning, almost mocking the previous two days’ oppressive clouds and rain) and the heat, Bellevue has finally dried out.

We’ve been under a mandatory water conservation order all week. I haven’t showered in two days. I’ve only flushed my toilet three times this week. I’m an habitual Nalgene drinker, refilling my 32 ounce water bottle at least three times a day at work, but this week, I bought a case of bottled water for the first time in my memory. I have hairy armpits and hairy legs, my hair is an absolute disaster mostly composed of excessive amounts of hairspray, I have very few clean clothes.

I’m not complaining.

Because I am just one of many Nashvillians who were unaffected by the flood but who are doing what we can for our neighbors.

I wish I had more money to give, because I would. I wish I were going to be here this weekend, because I’d volunteer.

I wish there was some way I could convey the absolute, gut-wrenching, gnawing, heart-aching response I’ve had to this situation this week. It’s consumed me.

And if you’re confused by that (coming from me), I can only say that I initially was, too.

But everything you’re hearing (or perhaps, not hearing) about Nashville and our response is true.

Yes, I’ve scoffed at this city, frequently, in fact, since moving here. I’ve even gone so far as to say I hate it here. I’ve complained about the South and Tennessee and the horrible Southern accents I hear everyday. I’ve even pitched hissy fits in downtown parking garages about how horrible Lower Broadway and those damn tourists are.

But in spite of all that, Nashville is where I live. Like it or not (and lately, I’ve been leaning a lot more towards like), I drive these streets everyday and I talk to these people everyday and when I drive back from Cincinnati and see that tacky, neon, self-conscious skyline, I sigh and think of how nice it is to be home.

Nashville is my home now. And as a Nashvillian, my heart and head are hurting for my city.

But even more than that, I’m swelling with pride at how well this city has conducted itself this week. When the sun came out on Monday, so did the volunteers and the calls to organize and rebuild and clean up. So did the donations and the charity events. Wednesday night, I went to Rebuild This City on Rock and Roll. Five local bands played (for free), cover charge was a donation of any amount you could give — some gave pennies and quarters, some gave $10, some gave $50, t-shirts and posters were available for a suggested $10 donation, tap water — normally free — was off limits. All told, in four hours, the broke hipsters and the hillbilly punk rockers and the scenesters raised over $11,000. And that’s just one event.

The telethon last night raised $1.7 million dollars, including a $500,000 contribution from our own Taylor Swift. CrossPointe church raised $10,000 in one day and got a matching contribution from a donor. Cool People Care raised $1200 in 45 minutes when their We Are Nashville shirts went online yesterday.

Maybe it’s a Southern thing, maybe it’s the fact that we live in the Volunteer State and it’s in our heritage to get out and help, but I haven’t encountered one person with a negative attitude or an unwillingness to help this week. Financially, physically, emotionally, we’re all trying to help each other out.

Mayor Dean expects damages to exceed $1.5 billion. The tourism industry (that I will no longer be able to scorn without feel guilty) on which this city’s economy is based is crushed. The 2000 room Opryland Hotel and Convention Center isn’t expected to reopen for 6 months. Yes, we’ll rebuild, and yes, we’ll be back on our feet, but at what cost?

I don’t think I’ll ever be able to look badly on this city again. I’ve ordered two We Are Nashville bumper stickers, one for my truck, one for the new car I’ll eventually get. I bought a Music City shirt at Rebuild This City. I ordered a We Are Nashville shirt this afternoon. All of that money I spent, because people in this city are just that amazing, is going directly to help with disaster relief.

I know this may not seem like a big deal to the rest of the country or to the rest of the world. And admittedly, there are bigger and more worrisome things going on in this world than a flood. But it’s happening in my front yard and I normally would never ask this of anyone, but if you’re feeling generous, please visit Hands on Nashville or the Community Fund of Middle Tennessee to learn more about how you can help us recover. We’re also collecting unused gift cards in place of cash, so if you have any gift cards you don’t think you’ll ever use, please send them to me and I’ll let you know exactly how they’re being used.

As East Nashville’s own Will Hoge says, “Down here, we’re washed by the water / the water can’t wash us away.”

We are Nashville.



3 Responses to “the water can’t wash us away”

  1. 1 Amberly

    I’m not surprised you’re moved by this. I would’ve been surprised if you weren’t.

  2. 2 Katie

    For what it’s worth, I felt the same way about Nashville (I think you know that) and I am equally moved by what has happened and by the response of the people of Nashville. As much as it didn’t feel like home to us, it WAS home to us for two years. Joey and I have many great memories together in Nashville and I was devastated to see some of those memories wash away in the flood. You are awesome, Whit. And yes, you are Nashville. xo

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