Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Flood Postlude: Disaster Congregating

I’ve lived in this town for almost 3 years. Seeing people walk down my street is a rarity. Stopping and having a conversation with anyone is even rarer. As the waters recede back to their normal dwellings, I can’t help but reflect on how strange it was to have spoken with dozens of strangers in front of my home during a single day.

There must have been hundreds of people who pulled up and parked in front of my house to witness the Raritan River spill over and completely cover a major road that cuts through the heart of New Brunswick, Easton Avenue. They approached with dogs, children, cell phone cameras, digital camcorders and even a Polaroid camera. This was an event to be remembered and shared.

Where normally these people would try to avoid eye contact, on this day every single person looked to catch your gaze and discuss what was unfolding. One person even stopped their car while driving away and opened his window to talk to me. “Can you believe this? I have been driving around for 3 hours trying to get to work. I live way up in Budd Lake and don’t work too far from here. I’ll never forget this.” They all had a story to share. Where they lived. Where they worked. How they felt about how the township was dealing with this.

There was a theme that unfolded as well. 9 years prior Hurricane Floyd did the same thing at this very same spot. People talked about the water levels of Floyd, how they dealt with it, what things changed as a result, etc. It was almost as if it was to calm everyone to know that we have been through this before and survived. It also felt like they were looking to see if anyone else remembered going through the experience of Floyd and wanting to be connected.

I hope that it doesn’t take another flood to talk to these people again. I'm pretty shy when it comes to talking with people. Now I know that all I have to do to strike up a conversation with anyone around town is to talk about the flood. We experienced it together.


Steve Portigal said...

Someone must have done a sociological study of what you describe. I would say it has something to do with this larger situation breaking down social norms, opening up new behaviors. But I'd love to see a study on what happens at fires, police scenes, or anything else shocking or stunning or out of norm. Have definitely chatted with people on our street during fires and power outages (the power outage when the line was down and we all watched the fire truck block off the sparking wire)...

Michael Grossman said...

I agree about others studying this. I need to spend more time searching as my first (brief) attempts didn't turn up any studies. The 'opening up of new behaviors' is what I'm trying to think more about here and how to harness it. Thanks for the insight.

Michael Grossman said...

People are doing this to some degree virtually with the tragedy in the Virgina Tech shootings: