Natural Disaster Hits The Metro

House shopping in the aftermath of a natural disaster may be the single stupidest idea ever.

OK, so I can't compete with the stupidity of the second Bush term in office (or the first for that matter), but you get my point.

John and I had decided earlier in the week to dedicate the day to house shopping. When we woke up and the power was restored at our hotel, we threw ourselves out onto the roadways without a second thought.

For some odd reason, it never occurred to us to take a moment and check the news to get a lay of the land.

What we found was pandemonium.

DC traffic is horrendous on a good day. Today, with roughly 63% of the traffic lights in Montgomery County out, it was pandemonium pure and simple.

It is absolutely fascinating how people behave when the most rudimentary social constructs are removed. Something simple like traffic lights gives people mutually agreed upon rules to live by. Without those rules, the "humanity" in people quickly breaks down. We saw behavior that was shockingly basic in it's unacceptability, and yet we saw it time and again.

People ignored emergency vehicles with their lights flashing and sirens going, refusing to pull out of the way. They did not observe the law of taking turns at lights that were out, aggressively forcing themselves into intersections even when it was clear it wasn't  their turn. And I was shocked at how much leaning out of windows to scream at one another there was, even from parents with their children in the car.

I heard more colorful language today than I have in my entire time in the DC metro, and that is saying something.

Even more interestingly, people completely disregarded the few traffic lights that WERE functioning. It was as if the small chaos of no traffic lights gave people license to ignore all driving rules, without limit.

It took us a little over 6 hours to drive approximately 40 miles. Many of those hours were spent either sitting completely still waiting our turn to go through a dead traffic light, going way outside of our way to find an alternate path around a down power line/tree/other major detritus, or stopped dead within a mile of a gas station as cars lined up for gas to fill generators and gas tanks.

And going to the mall was especially unnerving. Even though the air conditioning was out, there was enough light for people to see by and it gave a large, slightly cool space for people to gather, stare dazedly at one another, and share stories like victims of some bizarre bomb attack.

 Finding somewhere to eat was another challenge that we hadn't anticipated. Since we don't currently live in the metro, we hadn't brought any food with us. All grocery stores, restaurants and convenience stores were closed. Which meant that we had to get extremely creative to find places to eat.

It really did make me wonder what would happen if there were a true emergency in our nation's capital.

In the overall scheme of things, the power outage was fairly minor. And yet people took it as a free license to tap into the worst parts of themselves and behave abhorribly.

I cannot imagine what would happen if something along the scale of Hurricane Katrina happened here, and it does somewhat explain some of the stories we heard coming out of New Orleans at that time.

No matter what your opinions are on government, it is clear that it helps to keep humanity in check. It gives us mutually agreed-upon rules to follow and a ruberick by which those who disregard the law are punished by.

Ultimately, it helps keep the beast inside most of us in check. And I am absolutely fascinated at how quickly that self control falls by the wayside when we are left to our devices.

Cars lined up to get gas for generators, etc. at a station.

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