Monday, August 29, 2011

Washington Social Diary

The night before Irene hit, Washington had a beautiful sunset.
by Carol Joynt

Washington is a city of wonks, Eagle Scouts, media junkies, drama queens, bureaucrats and every kind of geek. The last seven days tapped into the many components of the city’s personality. The drama in the aftermath of the 5.8 earthquake flowed seamlessly into the compulsive preamble to Hurricane Irene. The quake was such a shock the community simply discombobulated – almost everyone left their offices at once, causing an epic case of gridlock. While damage fortunately was minimal – but famously included cracks in the Washington Monument -- the fact a real earthquake could happen here left a lot of people with the jitters. Local TV gave it massive coverage.

How did Washington handle the anxiety as the week rolled along? Residents made a mad dash to the markets to provision for Irene, and then home to watch local stations, which had segued from news of the earthquake to news of the hurricane. Their staffs worked round the clock from Friday into Sunday morning, providing detailed reporting on every conceivable aspect of the storm. Imagine all that food, and all that television (at least for those who weren’t among the more than half million who lost power). A few businesses put up plywood, but most did not. Facebook pages were set up to give by-the-minute updates to communities on road closings, flooding, and so forth.

The night before the storm we had that famous calm, and a gorgeous sunset. The evening was warm and steamy but beautiful.
Along the Georgetown waterfront the floodgates went up the night before the storm.
The popular Apple store put up plywood.
The already deadly hurricane crept into the capital with bands of light rain in the late morning on Saturday. By nightfall it was upon us with heavy rain and gusty winds. The city fared okay. To the south and east and north it was much worse, especially along the Atlantic. When the storm was over the Outer Banks of North Carolina I talked to a friend in Hatteras, who said it was blowing 85 mph, but as a hurricane veteran he was less concerned about the wind and more concerned about the rising tide. Friends on the Eastern shore battened down. Friends who evacuated from the beach talked of an arduous drive back to Washington. Eventually the Cheasapeake Bay Bridge was closed.

People complained of media hype and government alarm, but in a post-Katrina world this is how all similar storms will be handled. As Mayor Michael Bloomberg said of his aggressive actions in New York: prepare for the worst and hope for the best.
Customers enjoy the rain swept view from Martin's window seats.
A martini at Martin's Tavern. Simon Jacobsen's potent "Dark n' Stormy"
Simon Jacobsen gives a toast to Irene.
Friends who were in town made the storm into fun. My neighbor Ellen Charles and I had a pre-hurricane party on Friday evening, having a dinner of delicious crab salad while switching channels between weather coverage and the Redskins-Ravens game. Saturday James Spellman met me for a martini at Martin’s Tavern. We sat at the bar and looked out at the rain swept street, and then walked to my house for lunch and more watching of The Weather Channel. Saturday evening, Ruth and Simon Jacobsen hosted a “Dark n’ Stormy” hurricane party at their Georgetown home.

Simon mixed up the Bermudian drink – rum, ginger beer, a wedge of lime – using Gosling’s potent 151 proof rum. At that strength one sips with respect. Inside the Jacobsens’ white on white house we were warm and dry; outside the rain pelted the windows.
Watching The Weather Channel.
Sunday morning I was up at dawn to get a first hand look at the storm’s aftermath in my neighborhood. Irene had moved on to Philadelphia and New York. In Georgetown there were trees down here and there, including one that smashed hard onto the top of a frame house, and some which landed on cars. The street trees of Washington, especially those that are older and big, have small root bases because there’s nowhere for their roots to grow. They go down easily in heavy weather. Still, I’ve seen worse damage in other storms. By all accounts, the Metro area got through this one okay, a lesser part of the billions of dollars of damage left in the storm’s total path.

Now, with the quake and Irene behind us, Washington can get back to its routine day-to-day function, which lately has been to make the country miserable. In comparison, the bouts with Mother Nature were a dramatic, if brief, distraction.
An unfortunate victim of the storm.
A small root base for a big tree. Fallen limbs on cars, a common sight in Washington after a storm.
Crunch: there's a car under all that debris.
This big tree came down at Georgetown University, where it also happened to be "moving-in" weekend.
This tree came down adjacent to the estate of the late Katharine Graham.
Near miss for a lucky Range Rover.
Not so lucky.
M Street in Georgetown at 7 o'clock Sunday morning, with Irene moving out of town.
Storm or no storm, the local coffee shop was open for business.
Carol Joynt's new memoir, Innocent Spouse, can be ordered from Amazon, HERE.