The Hot Beat


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2008: the woman in the bus

The city bus idled just off First Avenue West, 10 blocks from the Cedar River, less than a block from the edge of the water.

Mary Lou Conlan was the lone passenger. She sat with her hands folded. Sunlight streamed into the dark bus through the window behind her and the air conditioner hummed as voices called back and forth outside.

Moments earlier, Conlan had been rescued from her house at 420 Sixth St. SW, where she’d been marooned upstairs for 24 hours. A red boat had floated up to her home. She stepped in, the boat floated the eight blocks back to dry land, and firefighters carried her to the pavement. But she was not frantic, or desperate looking. She was neatly dressed. She carried a purse, and she awaited the arrival of her daughter, who remained at the house until firefighters could return for her.

Stretched out before Conlan was a stunning scene. First Avenue, the lifeline of urban Cedar Rapids, was covered in water from 10th Street SW to Fourth Street SE. Firefighters and Coast Guard officers chugged down the avenue on rescue boats in a continuous cycle. Their boats kicked south in the brisk currents shooting down Sixth and Fifth Streets, and they wouldn’t go much closer to the river than that. It was as if the heart of the city were a lake, strangely populated with buildings. Interstate 380 ribboned over the astonishing panorama, conveying a slow cargo of traffic in the bright, sunny distance.

Conlan looked down at her hands.

“It makes me sick,” she said, her lower lip trembling. “Here I am, retired. I lost everything.”


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