New disaster insurance: don’t go.com

My husband, Jim Barron, and I have finally hit on a way to finance our eventual retirement. Let’s call it don’tgo.com. Here’s how it would work. If you’re worried about a pending natural disaster, or even a financial one, pay us a hefty fee, and we’ll cancel whatever travel plans we have on the calendar.

Why, you ask?

There’s a pattern of terrible things happening when we go out of town. It doesn’t matter whether we are travelling for business or pleasure. Here are a few examples.

It started the year we were married. We left for Aruba just before the Great Blizzard of ’78. We were on the first plane to land at Logan, after it reopened. The eerie quiet and the mounds of snow made it seem like landing on the moon.

In October 1987, it was “Black Monday.” We sat in the lobby of the King David Hotel in Jerusalem, watching American visitors rushing to telephones to call families, brokers, who knows who else? Their stricken faces said everything about the news of what remains, to this day, the largest-ever one-day drop (22.61 percent) in U.S. stock market history.

In 1992, we were travelling home from New Zealand when a nor’easter socked the state, leaving homeowners without power, surrounded by downed trees, ocean surge and inches of ice on everything. The storm sheared off the tops of several in a row of hemlock trees in our back yard. You can still see the effects today.

My husband was in Brussels and Paris on business while the rest of us suffered through the March 1993 “storm of the century” that paralyzed New England.

The system isn’t foolproof. Sometimes the cataclysm when we’re away isn’t bad. We watched the fall of the Berlin Wall from a newsroom in Quito, Ecuador. And sometimes we stay home and share in the trouble. I do know we were here for the April Fool’s blizzard of 1997 that dumped one to two feet of snow on our daffodils and left us without power for three days. But, on other occasions, I vividly remember returning from trips abroad, our ceilings dripping from ice dams, or our basement flooded and listening to neighbors’ horror stories of what we had missed.

On September 11, 2001 our bags were packed for a flight that very day to Paris from Boston, on American Airlines. Needless to say, the wedding we were to attend happened without us, with 300 present from the bride’s side and just three from the groom’s, a resident of Rhode Island.

In 2007, we were at a friend’s place in Florida, sitting by the pool in 80-degree weather, using our laptops to work from a distance, when heavy rains swelled the Charles River not far from our home. The MWRA pumping station failed, and our neighborhood joined the ranks of others across eastern Massachusetts that were under water. We were at the same (very generous) friends’ home in Florida last year for yet another “storm of the century.”

And last week, as you may have guessed, we had just arrived in California en route to a family wedding when Irene hit the North Carolina coast. We spent the day of the rehearsal dinner glued to The Weather Channel and Sunday, the day of the wedding, when the storm hit Massachusetts, supplementing our TV watching with laptop streaming video of NECN, checking thebostonchannel.com, wickedlocal.com and other websites, or on the phone with neighbors.

You get the idea. We leave. Disaster strikes. So we’ve been thinking: why not capitalize on it and get people to pay us to stay home?

I don’t mean to trivialize these events, most immediately Irene. There have been real tragedies. Lives have been lost and property destroyed. I don’t think the media over-dramatize (well, maybe a little). Dan Kennedy and Howard Kurtz  joined a cadre of commentators asserting that it was a tropical storm named hurricane and a category 5 deluge of cable TV warnings.

That may be a question of style. I think the coverage was thorough, and I would rather be over-prepared by information than caught off-guard. Irene was not Katrina in general, but, for some people in the affected areas in several states, it was every bit as disastrous.

The politics of Irene are predictable, if discouraging. Congressman Eric Cantor says that federal aid to victims of Irene should be balanced by cuts in other programs.Presidential candidate Ron Paul goes even further, saying there should not be a federal response at all to a disaster of this ilk.

I guess that’s all the more reason to offer our disaster protection. I’ll let you know when dontgo.com is up and running.

Please let me know your thoughts in the comments section below.

Photo of blizzard of ’78 by Ric Werme of Marlboro
Photo of Irene in Vermont by Burlington Free Press

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