‘Snowpocalypse’ proves southern hospitality is alive and well
OK, OK. Go ahead and make your jokes now. Make fun of the South all you want for completely shutting down because of 2 inches of snow last week. Call us backwards hillbillies who don’t know how to drive in the snow. Tell us that our city officials are all paranoid rednecks who freak out over a tiny, insignificant cold spell. Criticize our inability to prepare for snow storms to your heart’s content—I’m not writing this column to defend the South for what was a major logistical failure on the part of city and state governments. But when talking about the 2014 “Snowpocalypse,” I think it is very important to see the other side of the story—the overwhelming displays of kindness and Southern hospitality in the aftermath of the storm.
Last week, the whole country was laughing as the major metropolitan areas of Atlanta, Ga., and Birmingham, Ala., (my hometown, by the way) descended into chaos due to an unexpected snowstorm. Weather forecasters in both cities unanimously predicted a light dusting of snow that probably wouldn’t stick for the evening of Jan. 28. However, the storm came in much earlier and much heavier than expected, and snow started accumulating at 10 a.m. while everyone was still at work or school. Hundreds of thousands of people left work to drive home or pick up their children from school on roads and highways that had not been plowed or salted in cars that did not have snow tires.
The results were predictably chaotic. Cars skidded off the road everywhere. Interstates backed up for miles, forcing many people to abandon their vehicles and seek shelter from the cold at other places nearby. Highway 280, the main commuting highway through Birmingham, looked like something out of an episode of “The Walking Dead.” Thousands of children were forced to spend the night at school because their parents could not make it to pick them up and school buses could not drive safely on the icy roads. My own grandmother had to spend the night on the floor of her lawyer’s office in downtown Birmingham because she couldn’t make it down the highway to get home.
In the aftermath of the storm, as thousands of people were forced to sleep in cars, offices, schools, or hotel rooms, there were predictably a few examples of manipulative behavior by businesses and other people. Several hotels and tow truck companies were accused of price gouging. A family friend of mine who had to sleep in his office reportedly paid $30 for a bag of chips and a jar of salsa at the only place he could find food, a nearby gas station. But for the most part, the good people of Birmingham, Atlanta, and other cities across the Deep South responded in overwhelmingly positive and inspiring ways.
Everyone I know has a story of a Good Samaritan with a four-wheel-drive truck (this is Alabama, after all) towing someone out of a ditch, giving someone a ride home or delivering food and drinks to stranded motorists on the highway. Trey Edwards, a resident of Florence, Ala., created a Google Doc where stranded drivers and people looking to help with communicate. The page received so much traffic that any request for help was picked up by someone within seconds. The staff of the Highway 280 Chik-Fil-A in Birmingham stayed at work without pay to make and deliver free sandwiches for stranded drivers and offered up the restaurant’s booths and floor for anyone to come in and sleep on.
Perhaps most famously, 62-year-old Dr. Zenko Hrynkiw of Brookwood Hospital in Homewood, Ala., walked six miles mostly uphill through the snow to a hospital in Birmingham to perform emergency life-saving brain surgery. But Hrynkiw was not the only physician who lent a helping hand—almost 1,600 staff at St. Vincent’s hospital in Birmingham stayed overnight to deliver babies and perform surgeries. The University of Alabama at Birmingham Hospital served 10,000 meals to people stranded downtown. While Birmingham was not prepared to handle a snowstorm from a logistical standpoint, we were absolutely prepared to step up and lend a helping hand.
Mock us Southerners all you want for not knowing how to drive in the snow. But don’t for a second try to tell us that we don’t look out for each other. While there were definitely cases of people trying to use the disaster for their own greedy motives, the majority of people across the South did the right thing and lent a helping hand to their neighbors. The Jan. 28 snowstorm showed us that the South is clearly not prepared for winter weather—but more importantly, it reminded us that the spirit of Southern hospitality is alive and well.