As John Branston points out in this week's cover story, the Memphis flood of 2011 may be the most family-friendly disaster in history. My family and I were downtown Sunday for a Mother's Day lunch, and the streets were packed. You'd have thought it was Sunset Symphony day or the Fourth of July. People were everywhere — the River Walk, Harbor Town, at the foot of Beale, and even in what is left of Tom Lee Park.
There was a holiday atmosphere, as people took turns waiting to stand in front of — or in — the Mississippi River for photos. It was almost as though Memphis in May had created a new weekend event, one that proves Memphians will use any excuse to gather at the river and party. I know the downtown restaurants were grateful.
Yes, it's true that 400 or so people are in local shelters, but unlike with a sudden flash flood, everyone has had a couple of weeks' warning. This flood has come on slowly, inexorably, about a foot or so a day.
It amuses me when the national media uses the tired, inevitable cliché "the raging Mississippi." This flood is not raging; it's pushy, taking territory slowly, like a fat person in the seat next to you on an airplane. The truth is, as natural disasters go, this one hasn't been all that disastrous — yet. Of course, a levee could give way and sudden catastrophe could befall many people, but at this point Memphis' luck is holding. You wouldn't know that if you watched or read the national media. ABC news anchor Diane Sawyer came to town Monday to broadcast the nightly news. On her Facebook page, she posted: "Very tense week ahead — all people can do now is watch, wait, hope, and pray." To which I would add: "... and drive around and take pictures."
This flood may have at least one positive aspect. At the margins of all the flooded land is a line of garbage and debris. That stuff will still be there when the water is gone. If nothing else, the flood will have made cleanup easier by pushing the trash out of our rivers and into our backyards and parks.
I suggest we take the opportunity to rid our environment of that stuff while it's relatively easy to do so. Lots of Memphians volunteered to fill sandbags. It would be great if we could get an army of citizen volunteers to do the same with trash bags.