Our Cedartown evacuation experience

St. Augustine, where we live, issued a Hurricane Irma mandatory evacuation order that was to become effective at 6:00 am Saturday, September 9, 2017. My wife and I, both being well up in years, determined we best adhere to the order. By Friday noon, with hurricane preparation of our home completed (with help from a very generous and caring neighbor), we left for a Best Western motel located in Cedartown, Georgia.

What commended that motel was that it is located well north and west of St Augustine, and had the only open registration we could find. That it would require a seven-hour drive was worrisome. Optimistically, we thought we could better the time by taking backroads out of St. Augustine instead of immediately jumping onto what we knew was an already congested Interstate. Driving the backroads was especially appealing because it took us through some of the vast expanse of well-groomed, pastoral, eye-pleasing Florida cattle farmland, the existence of which is unbeknownst to most transplanted Northerners who hug the Florida coasts.

Our timing was good until we ultimately had to get onto Interstate 10, and then onto Interstate 75 to Atlanta. The Interstate phase of the trip was not nerve-racking simply because the mind was necessarily occupied with the hours-long process of driving bumper to bumper at 70 MPR hour, and with little warning having to rapidly drop to under 30 MPR. Then only a moment later, having to accelerate back to 70 MPR to keep up with the traffic flow. The constant fear was that I wouldn’t slow-down in time, and/or the driver behind me wouldn’t be fast enough to slow down, resulting in his plowing into my car. I have yet to understand this “stop and go” phenomenon of traffic on congested highways. Anyway, thirteen hours after leaving home we arrived at the motel.

From that point on, what we experienced was so amazing, so unexpected that, on our return drive home, we decided that we would do two things. We would write this letter to the local Cedartown Standard newspaper expressing our enormous gratitude to the people of Cedartown, and that our Christmas trees going forward would be cedar evergreens.

Entering the motel lobby at 3:30 a.m., we witnessed an incredible scene. All the lobby chairs were occupied by persons who were in animated conversations as one would expect at a party. Surrounding them, filling the entire lobby were tables piled high with every imaginable type of snack, soft drinks, fruit, bags of dog food, toys for children, clothing, and more. One would think that at that hour the motel staff would be just one person. Not so.

There were several Best Western personnel engaged in the animated discussions. And each one encouraged us to take whatever we wanted or needed — it was all free, and we were told that the people of Cedartown would take care of feeding all the evacuees. Cedartown was determined that, while we were in the town, we would not spend a penny for food. We didn’t fully believe it. For the record, we did not spend a penny for food during the five days we were in Cedartown.

It wasn’t until daybreak that, to our pleasure, we discovered that the view from our motel room was a majestic scene of gracefully tall cedar trees. Around noon that day, a Best Western person knocked on our door to invite us to lunch in the lobby. At least 50 pizzas from Papa Johns and Little Caesars had just been delivered, and we were invited to partake. At dinnertime, 150 orders of Sonny’s barbecue, including baked beans, potato salad, cole slaw, and all the usual accompaniments were provided. Another day it was turkey with lots of sides; hot dogs and hamburgers appealing to the children were offered. Each day thereafter was just as bountiful. Additionally, an array of cakes, cookies and other baked goods were available every day.

We are unsure of the source of most of the donated foods, and therefore are unable to provide complete attribution to all the generous individual, and large and small business donors to whom we express an unbounded and forever remembered gratitude.

We are fairly certain that the Cedartown Baptist Church was a major donor. Yet, never once did a Church member claim credit for the Church’s generosity. Herein, to the Church, we wish to extend a special heartfelt thank you. And, knowingly being what some would say is politically incorrect, we can’t help but note that the Church exceeded by far the practicing of Christian teaching of loving and caring for each other.

The motel staff and the parents of children staying at the motel did a marvelous job of occupying the children and offsetting as much as possible the fear that the evacuation had to have imposed on the very young. There seemingly were continuous voice-reading of children’s stories, the playing of Bingo and other games, and even a birthday party for a 4-year-old girl. We know this is very important because we know of three children who experienced Hurricane Sandy and who, to this day, exhibit pangs of fear every time it rains.

Freed from having to go out for food, many of the evacuees spent the time striking up friendships. One man we met is a person I would describe as a natural philosopher. In his mid-seventies, he brought his entire family to the motel. I say natural philosopher because of his innate ability to appreciate the potential ramifications of the kind of consequences that the Cedartown-like actions could trigger on a larger scale. He made a good case that, because of the Cedartown experience, each evacuee is likely to extend to others in their home environment comparable loving and caring, a trend that, along with similar caring exhibited by Hurricane Harvey residents in Texas, may move the nation away from the bickering, mindless protests, and lack of civility that our nation is currently experiencing.

Our philosopher took the thought one step further. He suspects that, were enough communities to have a Christian rebirth of interpersonal caring for each other, such deportment could spill over to politicians running our government in Washington. When the smile on my face suggested doubt that such exemplary Christian behavior could overtake current political antics, he simply suggested I keep my eyes open. Sure enough we watched on TV, the next day, a live White House press briefing where we saw a dramatic change in tone. The interplay between the White House press person and the press reporters, for once, took on non-confrontational deportment. Instead of the usual “gotcha” questions from the reporters, there were substantive questions about how to deal with the Harvey-Irma tragedies. And, the answers to the questions were responsibly substantive. But that briefing also showed something about new governance staffing in Washington of promising importance.

At the briefing, it was announced that an aircraft carrier was on its way to St Thomas. Not as a military ship, but akin to a well-stocked Amazon-like floating warehouse and floating hospital. Anyone who has had the opportunity to tour an aircraft carrier knows just how enormous these ships are. Ergo, their ability to carry massive amounts of food, clothing, medical supplies, operating room facilities, etc. It is a brilliant way to bring rapid-response aid to St Thomas. But not to be overlooked is that the government we generally maligned is now staffed with some very competent and innovative governance personnel. The head of FEMA an excellent example.

Also supporting our philosopher friend’s prediction was that, on the same day, the retired Seal, now Governor of Missouri made known in no uncertain terms that persons in his state would be protected to be able to say anything they want, but anyone who perpetrated any act of violence would be immediately jailed. If all Governors adopted and announced the same posture, as opposed to letting free-rein destruction of property and/or harming of persons under any pretext, then loving and caring would have the potential of a promising rebirth.

If all this continues, we may be forced to conclude that we needed the hurricanes to blow and wash away the decay of our interpersonal behavior that we allowed ourselves to accumulate — especially on social media. And, if the new caring truly takes hold, credit for the change in how we interact with each other in no small part has to go to the Cedartowns of this country. With fervent devotion, we thank you Cedartown.

Thomas A Polizzi, St. Augustine, Fla.

Thanks Cedartown for being friendly

In evacuating Hurricane Irma, I got to see the best of this country. We headed up to Cedartown, Georgia, a little ways outside Atlanta, and no doubt the deep south.

You’d expect to find KKK rallys and Nazi flags based on what the media portrays this country to be, instead we found a community banding together to help those in need.

People of every race and background filled every hotel room in town, and you couldn’t go anywhere without someone stopping you and telling you about a church or business opening their doors to feed evacuees for free. No one cared who you were, just that you needed help.

That’s the real America, the one I know and love. Don’t forget that this country is more than what you see on the news.

Orion Moquin, U.S. Army

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