It's going to be a long, hot summer for so many flood-ravaged Tennesseans. For them, the layers of mud and trash are inescapable. It coats their bedroom walls, hangs beneath Nashville's stately trees, is caked in mailboxes and smeared up chain-link fencing. You might consider it hardly a place to think about fun or the break from routine that summer affords many of us, but it's a place where that message could not have been more welcome as Teams of Southwest Employees aimed to spread a little sunshine surrounding our new service from Nashville to the beach (Panama City Beach to be specific).
Ana Schwager, Southwest's Corporate Community Affairs Manager who lives life from a Tennessee zip code, compiled a daunting list of affected neighborhoods for our Teams of Volunteers: Pennington Bend, Boudreaux, The Nations, Bellevue, Franklin, Antioch. In any other time, that list could be a great tour of all the Nashville area offers. Right now, they are datelines for high-water rescues and lives lost and the range of devastation in between.
Ana and her pal Stephanie Kinghorn, another big-hearted Southwest Warrior on Marketing's Brand Enagement Team, wrangled a group of us to stuff yellow, 'It's On' beach bags with the same goodies enjoyed in other out-Market celebrations in Baltimore/Washington, Houston, and Orlando. But unlike those cities, we knew a party wasn't the right fit for Nashville, not now.
As we set out to distribute the bags and some trips, Nashville Ramp Agent Mark Byers shared his own flooding story. The phone call came while he was on the beach in Mexico, "Your neighborhood's being evacuated," he heard and found hard to believe.
Station Leader Eli Rodriguez said the rising water touched everyone in our Music City operation, even if they never actually got wet. Two Nashville Station Employees lost most everything and their Southwest Family rallied to lift them above the water line.
We teamed up with one of our new partners in NW Florida, Jon Ervin of Cottage Rental Agency in Seaside, to drop off a half-dozen air + lodging packages to people like newlywed Betty Belle Nicks who's now, thanks to Southwest, going to get a honeymoon. She clung to a tree as the water rose and eventually swam to her roof. She and her new husband saved three small dogs but the bigger dog, Ben, swam away in the flood water.
Across town, Andy Smith and Debbie Wilson have a similar story. They climbed into the boat in their driveway hoping it would be an arc to their safety. As it turned out, the tow line held tethered to their now-condemned house, even as the water reached their gutters and swallowed up everything in their one-story home.
At the end of the day, we'd left behind a lot more than just yellow bags, a couple dozen free tickets and a half-dozen vacation packages. We also took away fresh impressions of American resilience.
Even though the journey to rebuild will be far from easy, for a time-- where a tear of relief and joy rolled into cascading sweat on a smiling face-- it was easy to see: they'll get there.