Friday, June 27, 2008

Right Flood, Wrong Place

Two weeks ago cities across Iowa were inundated by record floods. Now, as the waters recede, some Iowans are finding themselves victimized again -- by their state's self-destructive work ethic. Blogger / flood victim Dave Burge reports from the scene.

Iowahawk - As an Iowan and the proud owner of two big screen LCDs from Coralville Rent-A-Center, I've seen my share of weather disasters. But, even with full 1080p HD, I never really stopped to think that it could happen to me. So when the floodwaters of the Iowa River reached my own home this week, I suppose I was unprepared for the devastation -- and the aftershock that my fellow Iowans would sabotage my once-in-a-lifetime golden ticket on the FEMA gravy train.

I was enjoying midmorning cocktails on the patio of my estate a few blocks from the Iowa River when I first heard the flood warnings, and when I turned on the television I saw the shocking pictures of downtown Cedar Rapids inundated by the rising Cedar river. The implication was obvious: Ka-Ching!

As many of you know I am a victim of the subprime mortgage crisis, and have been battling eviction while our do-nothing Congress holds up my bailout money. With video like that -- and with a $2 million flood insurance policy -- your old pal Dave was 24 hours away from the mother of all disaster jackpots.

With the river rising by the minute it was time to spring into action and prepare. I went to the rec room and woke up my colleague Kyle off the pool table. We drove to the Wal-Mart Supercenter to stock up on a two-day supply of Old Mil and spray paint, which I calculated would last us until the start of post-flood "discount shopping season." While we were in the checkout lane, I realized the store was eerily quiet. "Where'd everybody go?" I asked the cashier.

"The radio said to orderly evacuate to higher ground," she said. "I guess they all did."

That seemed a little weird to me, but hey, I figured shorter lines for FEMA cash cards. And less competition for the weekend free laptops at Best Buy.

After we got back to the house I called up Randy and Chuck, and invited them over to celebrate with one last pre-flood tear around the back yard on the dirt bikes. But when we finally got down to the river, we saw a man-made tragedy unfolding before our eyes: a fireline of volunteers was reinforcing the levee with sandbags.

"What the hell are you doing?" I yelled.

And the guy is like, "hey, grab a shovel and help us fill some bags." I turned and looked at Kyle, and even though he was completely baked he couldn't believe these idiots either. Luckily they loaded up in a truck and went downriver after about an hour, so Randy and I borrowed a couple Bobcat loaders from the construction site down the block and knocked a big hole in the embankment. All that was left now was to spray paint some plywood protest signs for the TV helicopters, have a few drinks, and wait for that sweet watery windfall.

The next morning I woke up on the patio with a hangover which wasn't exactly helped by Tammi Jo kicking me in the ribs. When I looked up, she was standing over me, waving an envelope.

"You forgot to pay the flood insurance bill again, didn't you."

Shit. I mean, what am I supposed to do, woman? The freaking Big Game lotto was up to $250 million last month, for crissakes. When I rolled over I saw that the river was still 15 feet from the patio, so I figured I'd have enough time to call the insurance company and have my policy reinstated. But then they give me the old shyster rigamarole -- "I'm sorry Mr. Burge, but you have to have two consecutive months coverage," bla bla bla, like I have some kind of two month flood crystal ball that will magically remind me to pay the bill.

I told the insurance lady I could pay her for the back premiums next week after I got my FEMA credit card, but she's like, "I'm sorry, that's not allowed," and when I offered to pay her today with some unused lottery tickets, she just hung up. Tammi Jo stood there on the patio glowering at me, ankle deep in the river.

"Um, they're looking into it," I said.

Over the next 24 hours I floated around downstairs on little Dakota's inflatable Spongebob pool raft, figuring that was probably safer than going upstairs where Tammi Jo was. She eventually calmed down when I explained to her the insurance thing was just a temporary setback, and that the cash airlifts and class action lawyers would be coming any day now. And, if we played our cards right, we might be looking at a three year hotel vacation in Vegas. As a peace offering I volunteered me and Kyle to take the bass boat up the Coralville Strip to do a little "bargain hunting."

I was worried we might be a little late for the good stuff, but when we moored the boat at Chuck E. Cheese and waded over to Wal Mart we discovered that the parking lot was empty and the windows were still intact. Sweet! We grabbed a couple of carts and started ramming the doors, with little effect. Luckily a couple of Coralville cops pulled up in a cruiser. "How about a little help here, man?" I asked, handing the one cop a rock. "Those flat screens aren't gonna last all day."

Guess what? He hits his stupid siren. Kyle and I hauled ass around the back and dove through the underbrush by the railroad tracks and barely got away from the two cops, who apparently wanted the Wal-Mart inventory all to themselves. "Protect and Serve," my ass.

We walked along the railroad tracks behind the strip, and it was the same story at every damn store: locked up, and not a single shopping spree mob in sight. I was getting pretty worried at that point, because I promised Tammi Jo I'd be bring home some jewelry and electronic stuff, and you know how she gets. Anyway, we walked the tracks into Iowa City, when we saw a school gym with a big sign that said "REFUGEE CENTER."

Bingo! This was our chance to pick up some quick eyewitness tragedy story cash from the tragedy reporters. But when we got inside there wasn't a single TV camera, and it was half empty except for a few ladies with little kids.

"Where is everyone?" I asked.

"Oh, most of them volunteered for sandbag and cleanup duty," said the stupid old lady at the desk. "Isn't that nice?"

Oh, great. I looked over on her TV set and the reporter was talking about how all the "hardworking Iowans" were "quietly pitching in," and "picking up the pieces," and "stoically moving on." Frankly, I'm getting a little sick of being labeled with these kind of destructive stereotypes. Hey, media - what about the Iowans who aren't necessarily stoic or hardworking or self-reliant? Or don't we matter in your stupid media soundbites?

It was clear that somebody needed to take the bull by the horns and create some socko headlines to keep the media ball rolling. Kyle and I tried to get some of the little kids to start a riot inside the Refugee Center, but that fell apart when Dora the Explorer came on. Next we tried calling CNN to report possible cannibalism, but they just hung up. The only real violence I sparked was when Tammi Jo showed up at the gym with Dakota and Tiffani. And her 12" Maglite.

After getting first aid from the old lady at the desk, Kyle and I headed over to Chuck's to stay for a while.
We tried calling some Hollywood celebrities to see if they would organize a telethon benefit for us or something, but that was a gigantic waste of time. I probably left 30 unanswered messages at Scarlett Johansson's office. Kyle got through to Kanye West, who threatened to pop a cap in his ass. Even Sean Penn refused, like he's got anything better to do. The closest we got to any deal was Richard Gere, but he canceled after he found out Iowa wasn't part of Tibet.

After the third day the river had dropped and most of the TV trucks had packed up and left. Chuck's old lady Rhonda was yelling at us to leave, plus they were out of beer. I figured Tammi Jo was probably calmed down by now so me and Kyle walked back to my place. When we got there she was standing at the front plastic sheet, and handed us some shovels and mops.

"Get to work."

"Isn't FEMA suppose to ship in some Mexicans to do this sort of thing?" I ask.

She pointed down the street. All the neighbors were back, cheerfully cleaning crap out of their yards and basements.

"THANKS A LOT," I yell over at Gary, the moron next door.

"Any time, Dave!" He waves back with that stupid grin of his. "You betcha!"

So there you have it: a 500-year, gold plated, biblical grade flood, and all I have to show for it is a sore back and a basement full of soggy rental stereo equipment. This tragedy has been brought to you by a negligent government and an indifferent media. And most of all, my neighbors: 3 million stoic, self reliant, hard working morons who can't figure out a million dollar opportunity when they're waist deep in it.. And they wonder why they call us "Idiots Out Walking Around."

Screw this state. I'm moving to Vegas.

Oh, and Scarlett Johansson? Call me.