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Yes, Fargo, you have a problem

  • March 27, 2009

But you ain’t seen nothin’ yet.

I’m not trying to be unsympathetic. However, I live in a suburb of Des Moines, Iowa and having experienced first hand the floods of 1993, which were among the most costly and devastating ever to occur in the United States, I think I know what I’m talking about.

Yes, you’re experiencing massive flooding and property loss, but if your Red River doesn’t swamp your water treatment center, you’ll still be better off than we were.

In July of 1993, we experienced constant heavy rainfall which culminated in the Raccoon River overflowing its banks and flooding the Des Moines Water Works treatment facility. Sometime after 3:00 AM on July 11th, the plant was powered down and Des Moines would not have running water again until July 22nd. Water was not certified safe to drink until July 29th.

Imagine for a minute what it would be like if your home was without running water for ten days in the middle of the summer. Now I kinda understand why the Ingalls family only bathed once a week on Little House on the Prairie.

Dave and I had spent the evening of July 10th getting our drink on with Dale and Joan at Billy Joe’s picture show, a movie theater/karaoke bar on Des Moines’ west side.

It was raining, as usual, and at one point Billy Joe’s electricity went out which rang not one alarm bell in our alcohol-addled brains. We weren’t thinking about the loss of electricity signaling a larger approaching problem. We were patiently waiting our turn to sing and our karaoke fun was postponed while we sat there in the dark waiting for the power to come back on. (I’m still not sure what happened but I think the already encroaching floodwaters might have shorted out something important somewhere).

I just wanted to sing. I had already handed in my request card for Olivia Newton John’s “Let Me Be There” and was just waiting for my name to be called. And Dave and I hadn’t had a chance to sing our original version of The Starland Vocal Band’s “Afternoon Delight” yet either. Dave always added a special bomb noise sound effect after the words “sky rockets in flight” which was pretty much guaranteed to bring down the house.

The power finally came back on and I think the four of us closed the bar down. We went home and fell into a deep Bud Light fueled coma.

Sometime after 3:00 AM, L.D. McMullen pulled the plug on Des Moines’ water supply and the television stations went nuts. All the vampires watching the broadcasts immediately filled their bathtubs and sinks with the last of the water in the pipes and rushed out to buy every available gallon of water the grocery stores had on their shelves. Dave and I were still drooling and snoring.

As was our routine, we were still asleep the next morning when our phone started ringing off the hook. Both sets of parents and various friends were calling to warn us that no water would be coming out our taps and that none of the grocery stores had any water left. We ignored the ringing phone for several hours and let the machine answer all the calls. When we finally got up that Sunday morning, turned on the TV, and listened to all our phone messages, it was almost 11:00 AM. Since everyone else had been reacting to the crisis for close to seven hours, Dave and I were pretty well hosed.

I still had to go to work the next day. There was no longer a dress code and I showed up un-showered wearing shorts, a t-shirt, and my Birkenstocks. And in case you’re thinking, “oh my God, you didn’t shower?” No, I didn’t. Because there was no way to shower. The National Guard came and set up water stations and you could wait in line to receive two gallons of clean drinkable water. Whether you chose to bathe in it, drink it, or make iced tea was your business.

Luckily my dad, as a business owner, had booked some hotel rooms for his employees in a town fifteen miles away and Dave and I finagled one of them for ourselves so we had access to running water and showers, an amenity I will never take for granted ever again.

Dave worked in a high rise and was given almost two weeks off, with pay. The rationale was that, if there was a fire in his building everyone would die because the fire department wouldn’t have any water to spray on the fire. Dave spent the time wisely, drinking at the bars with all the other lucky employees who worked in buildings more than three stories tall.

The insurance company where I worked was not a high rise and until Governor Branstad MADE local businesses shorten their operations to half-days, I was expected to show up.

And even though I have a strict policy never to take a number two anywhere but my own bathroom, I was forced to take a poop in an overflowing port-a-potty at work when I couldn‘t hold it any longer. There was no running water to wash your hands afterwards and P.S.? Hand sanitizer is NOT THE SAME THING. Forcing a clean-freak (with borderline OCD ) like me to skip this important step in personal hygiene is like locking someone with arachnophobia in a small windowless room with thirty seven squillion hairy tarantulas (I also refused to shake hands with anyone in Des Moines until the water came back on).

When we finally returned to our condo and had running water again, Dave caught me throwing away the dishes and silverware that had been sitting in our dishwasher for ten days because they were covered with so much mold I could have made penicillin for every resident of our condo complex.

Dave insisted on soaking them in the sink and I ran them through the dishwasher nine times while repeating to myself, “I like blue cheese, I like blue cheese.“

So Fargo? I feel for you, I really do. And as a show of support, Amy and I will temporarily stop using our Fargo names of Marge and Barb, respectively, and we’ll quit talking to each other in our obnoxious Fargo accents which crack us both up (but sort of annoys Stef and Mindy).

But only until you dry out guys.

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