It was 1979, and Freddie Laker’s Skytrain was offering $100 flights to London. My best friend Linda and I were both wrapping up our senior years at college, and Europe on a shoestring beckoned. Unfortunately, Freddie’s fleet of DC10s was grounded (some sort of giant crack in the fuselage caused the engines to fall off midflight and hit Jake Gyllenhaal on the head, or something like that) just before we were due to leave. I graduated a week before Linda did, and managed to make my escape from the desertlike climes of LAX by sitting at the PanAm desk for 48 hours straight, until I reached the front of the standby line.
I’ve always been a planner. I was a girl scout for only a year, but “be prepared” sank in. When someone went on a journey in a book or TV show, I would carefully note what they put in their saddlebags or rucksack. Going to Europe would be the ultimate test of my finely-honed prep skills. Could I manage with only two pairs of shoes? (yes) Would I be mugged on a London back street? (no) Could I survive spending only $9 a day? (poor nutrition for the win.) Did I really need to pack a skirt for the spontaneous dinner date with a handsome Italian grad student? (a world of no).
Having planned for nearly every issue (the drunken English businessman who tried to drag me into his Morris Mini was, admittedly, unforeseen), my first week in London went pretty well. Then Linda arrived and blew my strategies all to hell and back. She lost a fair chunk of cash a week into the trip. We ended up staying in BnBs that featured cockroaches so large we could have employed them as bodyguards on our late-night dammit-we’re-lost-again-but-we-can’t-afford-a-bus wanderings.
Linda found it hilarious that my OCD had caused me to treat a trip to Europe as if it were a trek through the Amazonian rainforest; but I drew a solid satisfaction from being able to produce Excedrin, kleenex, or a packet of cookies at the opportune moment. Granted, I was unprepared for the food poisoning, but it turns out that miming abdominal agony in an Italian farmacia will get you some powerful OTC meds. (The colorful, hallucinatory side effects also made Milan look like Fantasyland, a distinct improvement over reality). After two months’ travel I got back home with $14 to spare.
The one thing we never had to do was beg strangers for resources. While I can see how having to do so might possibly have set our feet on an interesting path, my trust issues cause me to believe that we were better off for our preparedness. I haven’t had great experiences with relying on others to save my bacon, so I prefer to be the one offering help rather than asking for help that may not come.
So, hurricane Sandy (how’s that for a leap?). People with plenty of warning and time to evacuate, who found themselves sitting in their attics with the water up to their necks. People roaming the streets in the aftermath, literally yelling for someone to bring them food and fuel. People who, weeks later, were still pissed as all get out that no one had saved them from mother nature. And way too few people showing any guts, gumption or forethought, or creativity in dealing with the situation. There were some sterling exceptions, and they give me hope for the human race. But my overall impression was that natural selection sure as hell ain’t been working in the great state of New York.
The rest of us shouldn’t get all smug and superior. We are, most of us, far too dependent on an uninterrupted supply of electricity, clean tap water, waste removal, gasoline and heating oil, and groceries. With bizarre weather becoming more and more common, the smart money is on becoming more prepared for the excitement that is bound to come our way.