Left behind by the storm

SUBHEAD: The irresistible force of our habit is about to meet the immovable object of reality. Image above: Abandoned Galveston, TX, beach house after hurricane Ike. From http://www.flickr.com/photos/therefore/3807669279 By Juan Wilson on 14 September 2009 - It's a year since the American economy collapsed with the bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers and the ensuing wreckage of capitalism. The efforts to rebuild the US consumer economy by saving the very institutions that brought us down (banks, insurance companies, auto manufacturers) would be funny if it were not so tragic. It is as if the golf playing CEO's think they are going to get a Mulligan on this hole. The video-gaming public, in the same mindset, is thinking that they are going to get a replay of the level they just got killed on. The America we find ourselves in today is a strange place. It reminds me of a sight I came across as a teenager a long time ago. Back then I lived on Long Island, New York. The southern flank of Long Island is protected from the ravages of the Atlantic by a thin series of barrier islands that stretch a hundred miles from Far Rockaway to the Shinnecock Inlet. These strips of sand protect and form Long Island's calm shallow southern waters. My family loved the beach. We had rented a house on Fire Island for the summer of 1960. Fire Island is about thirty miles long and in some places only a few thousand feet across. Our rented house was on the bayside, away from the ocean. High dunes and fewer houses faced the Atlantic. In those days people were able to build right on top of the dunes if they wanted to. The technique of anchoring those houses was to drive piles into the sand with a steam hammer on a crawling derrick. The piles were like what was used for telephone posts (about a foot in diameter and 30 feet long). The steam hammer had a specified weight and was dropped from a specific height. Boom -Shhsst - Boom -Shhsst - Boom. The hammer drove the pile down into the sand until the sand resisted the hammer by shear friction. Once the piles were driven, they were sawed off level a few feet above the sand and the house was framed onto a deck built secured to the poles. It was just after Labor Day, 1960, and we had just returned to our inland Levittown home. We had gone back to school and our regular lives. On September 11th, hurricane Donna was working its way up the east coast towards Long Island. The storm slammed into Fire Island head on. A lot of damage was done. After the emergency abated my parents were curious to see what had happened to Fire Island and the town of Salt Air we had just left. Our family had a small sailboat that we used for overnight sails to the barrier islands. On a Saturday late in September we took a sail to see what had happened to our old haunt on Fire Island. We sailed from Babylon, Long Island east under the Captree Bridge and followed the channel route over to Fire Island. We tied up at the dock and saw things looked pretty normal. Most debris had been swept up and there did not appear to be much damage on the bayside where the stores and ferry dock were. There were no roads for cars on Fire Island. People use raised wooden walkways and sidewalks to get around. The traffic is made up mostly of bikes, red wagons, and pedestrians. We walked along a boardwalk that crossed the island to the ocean. We saw more damage as we neared the ocean. Shake shingles blown off roofs; siding ripped off; snapped pine trees, and debris. As we reached the dunes things got really strange. We did not see the line of houses that had been strung out along the back of the dunes that last time we were there. Most had been totally destroyed by massive storm waves. The force of the hurricane actually had moved the dunes inland over a hundred feet. Fresh sand covered the boardwalk as we began to climb the newly positioned dunes. We waded through it to reach the top of the dunes and saw something that amazes me to this day. Certainly, some house were completely washed away, some were merely wrecked, but a few looked intact. They were still in place... but not on the dunes... they were on the beach... two stories above the sand. "What a neat place to live!" I thought briefly. If you had an extension ladder and didn't mind a little wading at high tide you could have still lived there, with an even more spectacular view of the sunset. Of course you would not have electricity, plumbing or running water, but what a location. And that's really the secret of real estate decisions. LOCATION! Seeing these houses intact, but obviously doomed by forces beyond the control of human effort was a disturbing and comic at the same time. The ocean and dunes had moved on in time, but the homes had not. How is this like the American economy today? Well, because we have not moved on with the forces that shape reality of our lives. We linger with the accouterments and paraphernalia of a previous life. With all the resources available to us we are still residing and repainting the old beach house that rests up on stilts and are wishing for the dunes, that secured and supported the place, to return to where they used to be. A better strategy would be to scavenge the old place for furniture, appliances, building material, and hardware and move on with the dunes... or even consider moving inland. But America now is not in a mood for change, even if it is inevitable. The irresistible force of our habit is about to meet the immovable object of reality. The results are proving to be melodramatic.

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