Clicking on banner ads enables JWR to constantly improve
Jewish World Review Sept. 12, 2000 / 11 Elul 5760

Bob Greene

Bob Greene
JWR's Pundits
World Editorial
Cartoon Showcase

Mallard Fillmore

Michael Barone
Mona Charen
Linda Chavez
Ann Coulter
Greg Crosby
Larry Elder
Don Feder
Suzanne Fields
James Glassman
Paul Greenberg
Bob Greene
Betsy Hart
Nat Hentoff
David Horowitz
Arianna Huffington
Marianne Jennings
Michael Kelly
Mort Kondracke
Ch. Krauthammer
Lawrence Kudlow
Dr. Laura
John Leo
David Limbaugh
Michelle Malkin
Jackie Mason
Chris Matthews
Michael Medved
Kathleen Parker
Debbie Schlussel
Sam Schulman
Amity Shlaes
Roger Simon
Tony Snow
Thomas Sowell
Cal Thomas
Jonathan S. Tobin
Ben Wattenberg
George Will
Bruce Williams
Walter Williams
Cathy Young
Mort Zuckerman

Consumer Reports

Leave a light on for us
children of the pioneers -- KANSAS CITY | On the night I arrived here I was told, in this order:

1. To boil water before I tried to drink it.

2. Not to eat any food that any restaurant in my part of town might be serving, because the restaurants had been told to close, and those that disobeyed might be imperiling the public health.

3. Not to expect to eat any food in my hotel, because any dishes that had been washed might be contaminated.

4. To forget about ice -- the ice in the icemakers was considered suspect.

5. Go ahead and shower, but don't swallow any water that might splash in my mouth.

But this is not a column of complaint -- far from it. If any city is made for dealing good-naturedly with a water emergency in the middle of a hot summer, it is Kansas City, which has the nicest people in America, and which is undoubtedly the most underrated large city in the United States.

Instead, this is a reminder of how much we take for granted in our advanced culture of the 21st Century -- and how much worse off we might be.

The Kansas City water emergency happened when a 48-inch water main broke, and cut off service to 150,000 people. City officials called the water-main break the worst in local history; in the center of the city, water pressure became nonexistent, air-conditioning units shut down, and all buildings more than four stories tall were advised to evacuate because of fears of problems in the event of fires.

Water pressure was restored within hours -- but the boil-water order remained in effect for an entire day and night because of the possibility of contamination in the wake of the breakage.

So no water, no prepared food, no ice was the rule in a big portion of Kansas City -- including the portion where I was staying.

And -- the next afternoon, when it was all over -- here is what I figured out:

We are all lucky beyond imagining. We count on certain things, because as Americans during our time in history we have become accustomed to them:

We turn a handle, and fresh, cool water, safe for drinking, comes out; we turn another handle and the water is as hot as we want it.

We pick up a telephone receiver, and within seconds we can reach family and friends in any part of the U.S., and in most parts of the world. It's surprisingly inexpensive.

We flick a switch and lamps illuminate our homes and offices. We flick another switch to cool things down, yet another to warm things up.

Fresh food -- meat, dairy items, produce -- is readily available wherever we are, conveniently packaged and guaranteed safe to consume.

If we want to be on the other side of the United States, we can be there within a few hours -- jet airplanes are regularly scheduled so that if we leave by the middle of the day, we can be on either coast by dinnertime.

We become frustrated and angry when any of these things break down; when the water stops flowing, or the lights stop working, we act as if the world is coming to an end. The reason we behave this way is because we have it so good -- these amazing facts of our lives have been with us for so long that it strikes us as outrageous when they are taken away from us for a day, or for a week.

Thus, when Chicago has had its problems with electricity in recent seasons, the rage has been understandable: When you become accustomed to something being there on demand, you will not accept its absence -- you are more perplexed that it is gone than you are astonished that it is always so easily available. When airplane flights are delayed for five or six hours, or are canceled, you say you can't believe it -- when perhaps the truly unbelievable thing is that the planes are usually there to take us to so many places so quickly and so frequently.

Now . . . I am able to bring this kind of perspective to all of this because, as I write these words, the water crisis is over. I don't think I could have been as calmly reflective during the boil order, when no one knew when the water would be back.

As for food: For dinner the first night I had a bag of spicy peanuts from my hotel room mini-bar. For breakfast the next morning I had a Butterfinger candy bar. The pathetic thing is that I realized later these were probably the two most nutritious, well-balanced meals I have eaten in months.

JWR contributor Bob Greene is a novelist and columnist. Send your comments to him by clicking here.


09/09/00: River banks? How to turn water into an endless cash flow
09/06/00:Oh, give me a home, where the megabytes roam . . .
09/01/00: If this works, it can literally change young lives
08/30/00: From inside all those screen porches, one more cheer
08/24/00: Who will make your life better by August of 2004?
08/24/00: Four men running -- Why do we have to throw out two?
08/16/00:The certain way to measure the Lieberman factor
08/10/00: Can a library be a library without books?
08/08/00: Can't they spare eight nights every four years?
08/04/00: Cheney, Abe Lincoln and Ricky Martin -- do they add up?
08/02/00: Convention aside, you might want to tune in
07/27/00: How to make a killing
07/25/00: 'If we didn't do it, no one else would'
07/24/00: The executioners who walk among us
07/20/00: On Main Street, signs of the times tell two stories
07/18/00: Have the choices changed, or have we?
07/14/00: Gable, Hepburn, Zanuck--you wouldn't find them at HOJO's
07/13/00: The Great Lie about political conventions
07/06/00: If this is victory, what would defeat feel like?
06/29/00: A bright moon and a missing person on Orange Ave.
06/26/00: They're not singing our song
06/22/00: The name game
06/07/00: It's like knocking on a revolving door
06/06/00: Steven who? A close encounter of mistaken identity
06/02/00: Of summer days, summer nights and pebbles in a jar
05/31/00: The best laughter, the truest voices, will never fade
05/25/00: Of distant visions, close views, and Bobby Knight
05/24/00: 'The luckiest thing that ever happened to me'
05/23/00: 'It's funny how you remember the little things'
05/22/00: 'The whisper of a generation saying goodbye to its children'
05/19/00: The place to find life is not a keyboard
05/18/00: A problem of suds but no duds
05/17/00: Are those lazy, hazy dot-com days fading?
05/16/00: The truest things in life require not a single word
05/15/00: 'Evidently he didn't like the way she dusted the house'
05/12/00: Why news executives are hoping this 'woman' is a hit
05/11/00: Ted Koppel, Hitler, Mellencamp . . . and words of love
05/10/00: Maybe it's time for the right people to hear our cheers
05/09/00: The lesson that they always learn late
05/05/00: 'Excuse me, but there seems to be something in my water'
05/05/00: When your first dream turns out to be your best dream
05/04/00: Even baseball couldn't make light of this superstition
05/03/00: The ringmaster who looks back from your mirror
05/02/00: There they go, just a-yappin' down the street . . .
05/01/00: You must remember this (Unless you don't)
04/24/00: Now that casino ads are allowed to tell the truth . . .
04/13/00: The man in the seat across the airplane aisle
04/11/00: A star is born, but do you know where it's @?
04/06/00: Through the eyes of Norman Rockwell
03/21/00: 10 good reasons to avoid making this list
03/21/00: 'I tell myself that they've gone on vacation'
03/21/00: Monday Night Football memories
03/02/00: This report card deserves an 'A' in every subject
02/29/00: What really happened on New Year's eve
02/23/00: Of paste pots, Denver sandwiches and finding Dr. Sam
02/17/00: What would you like to stay exactly the same?
02/04/00: Politics: When did the stagehands step onto the stage?
02/01/00: An awesome idea to make you sound better
01/26/00: Y3K already? We haven't yet recovered from Y2K
01/21/00: Watching the pot that always boils
01/19/00:The story behind the men on the museum steps
01/13/00: Here's to the students who never hear a cheer
01/11/00: The oh-so-sweet sound of modems in the morning
01/04/00: The person in your mirror just got wiser
12/31/99: A lesson -- and a memory -- to last a millennium
12/29/99: Racing the clock, even when it's running backwards
12/13/99: The right to bear coffee
12/08/99: From teen idol to ink-stained wretch: Can you Dig it?
12/02/99: Human 'search engines'
11/30/99: Here's looking at you -- now hand over the cash
11/23/99: Who'll say 'I'm sorry' to the other Decatur students?
11/18/99: "From bad things, good can come"
11/16/99: The man who didn't know the meaning of 'whatever'
11/12/99: Is this progress? We have made the weekend obsolete
11/09/99: Today he would probably be called Kyle Kramden
11/04/99: And you thought the IRS was heartless
11/02/99: When it's free, what will the real price be?
10/29/99: The tissue-thin decisions that define who we are
10/26/99: One way to cut road rage down to size
10/22/99: Asking all the right questions takes a special pitch
10/18/99: The signs are talking to you; Are you listening?
10/12/99: Even Capone would be disgusted
10/08/99: Don't ever look your neighborhood bear in the eye
10/06/99: Land of the free and marketplace of the brave
10/04/99: German warplanes in American skies
09/30/99: While you fret, something is sneaking up on you
09/28/99: In these busy times, why not bring back a certain buzz?
09/24/99: The storms whose paths no one can track
09/21/99: Who's minding the store? Oh . . . never mind
09/17/99:Here's another place where you can't smoke
09/14/99: As certainly as `lovely Rita' follows `when I'm 64' . . .
09/09/99: Why is patience no longer a virtue?
09/07/99: Once upon a time, in an airport close to you . . .
09/03/99: The answers? They are right in front of us
09/01/99: Up the creek with a paddle--and cussing up a storm
08/30/99: $1 Million Question: How'd we get to be so stup-d?
08/27/99: Fun and games at Camp Umbilical Cord
08/25/99: How life has been changed by the woodpecker effect
08/23/99: If you don't like this story, blame the robot who wrote it
08/20/99: A four-letter word that has helped both Bob and Rhonda
08/18/99: They have picked the wrong country
08/16/99: From paperboy to stalker--how the news has changed
08/12/99: Why wasn't anyone watching his brothers?
08/10/99: Come to think of it, stars seldom are the retiring type
08/05/99: The national gaper's block is always jammed
07/29/99: 'Can you imagine the gift you gave me?'
07/27/99: A view to a kill -- but is this really necessary?
07/23/99: Some cream and sugar with your turbulence?
07/21/99: When your name is JFK jr., how do you choose to use it?
07/19/99: The real world is declared not real enough
07/15/99: The real victims of cruel and unusual punishment
07/13/99: A 21st Century idea for schools: log off and learn
07/09/99: Are life's sweetest mysteries still around the bend?
07/07/99: Of great minds, cream cheese and Freddy Cannon
07/02/99: The perfect spokesman for the American way
06/30/99: 'He's 9 years old . . . he trusts people'
06/28/99: A $581 million jackpot in the courthouse casino
06/25/99: A nighttime walk to a House that feels like a cage
06/23/99: At least give men credit for being more morose
06/18/99: On Father's Day, a few words about mothers
06/16/99: If work is a dance, how's your partner doing?
06/14/99: Should a dictionary ever tell you to keep quiet?
06/10/99: A story of Sex, the SuperBowl and your wife
06/07/99: Take a guess where "California Sun" is from
06/03/99: Of summer days, summer nights and pebbles in a jar
06/01/99: Putting your money where their mouths are
05/27/99: Pressed between wooden covers, the summer of her life
05/25/99:The lingering song of a certain summer
05/24/99:We could all use a return to the Buddy system
05/20/99: Now, this is enough to make James Bond double-0 depressed 05/17/99: It's midnight -- do you know where your parents are?
05/13/99: And now even saying "thank you" creates a problem
05/11/99: The answer was standing at the front door

©1999, Tribune Media Services