We were out having dinner when the warnings started: Flash floods in Ellicott City.
The warnings, however, weren't coming through on our phones via weather service alerts, but directly from our waiter, who was running from table to table making sure everyone knew: don't drive through downtown Ellicott City. I don't know how he found out, but we thanked him for the heads up and assured him we'd take an alternate route home.
We were in downtown Catonsville, which is a little over three miles away from downtown Ellicott City. We'd driven right through it an hour or so earlier. Despite the not-great weather, the sidewalks and bars and shops all seemed typically packed with tourists and locals. In my head I imagined some rising river water clogging up one of the main intersections and causing a traffic snarl, which we avoided by taking the long way home. We only live a mile away from the historic district, but we're both farther away from the river and higher in elevation (not to mention our neighborhood has significantly more modern sewers and drainage compared to an area first built in 1772), so our house and street were predictably Just Fine when we arrived home.
Jason and I got into a stupid fight about politics (or more accurately, about my current inability to stop obsessing and worrying about politics, to the point that I've worked myself into full-on General Election Anxiety Disorder) and went to bed without thinking much more about it.
Sunday morning, though, I awoke to a string of worried texts from friends and family. Our little sleepy town was all over the news. Were we okay?
Yes. Just Fine. But it would be quite a few more hours before it fully sunk in just how NOT FINE the downtown was.
These photos. I just. I burst into tears. That's the street we fell in love with late last June, where we took the kids for pizza and ice cream and poking around vintage toy and comic book shops. The street they STILL consider to be made of magic, their favorite place on earth, and the words "let's go to downtown Ellicott" STILL elicit a round of cheers because no matter what, going to downtown Ellicott means fun and adventure.
This video. The man at the front of the human chain is the owner of All Time Toys, our kids' favorite store. They save up their allowances and James always knows to go right over and open the Bionicle display when they walk in. The store is completely destroyed (here's a GoFundMe to help) (there are actually quite a few), but that woman is alive, and he's now officially a goddamn superhero.
(If there was any sliver of a smile yesterday, I admit it came from the woman screaming "PUT YOUR SHIT DOWN AND GET OUT OF THE FUCKING CAR!!" That's my town, right goddamn there.)
I don't know either of the two people who died. I can't even imagine. We were warned by a waiter a few miles away; obviously the people on the sidewalks and in their cars had no warning, no time. A summertime visit to a quaint scenic area suddenly went upside down and under water.
Before we saw the photos (and thus understood just How Fucking Bad Shit Is Downtown), Jason made an attempt to drive down, hoping to take the kids to an ice cream shop on the upper edge, thinking it escaped the floodwaters and could probably use some patronage. Not a chance. All roads in are still blocked off, and the side streets are packed with parked cars of volunteers trudging in for the clean-up effort. Which is going to take awhile.
We're fine. Our house, our cars, our livelihoods are here and fine and completely unaffected by what happened a mile away.
But I still can help feeling like we lost something important. Something we truly love and care about. I hope we can get it back.