Hurricane Reconnaissance

I wrote this three years ago but never posted or published it anywhere. I found it tonight while going through old clips and queries. Since it’s unlikely it will ever see the light of day anywhere else, I’ve opted to post it here. Enjoy. We have 21 days left in this year’s hurricane season, and I predict that if we do not see “THE BIG ONE” in that time, all the fervor will have died off completely by June 1, 2008. See you then…
If it’s not a phrase, it should be. Maybe not the most appropriate one, but I’ve grown to despise the tired phrase “hurricane preparedness”.
My Thursday began with an early morning phone call –in my world, “early” means anything before 10 a.m. – from the Advertising Air Force. You know, the banner planes that wiggle along the beaches touting “Get Your Ass To The Pass” and “Chubby’s- World’s Best Burgers”. Seems they were worried that the planes, tied down in a field at Whitted, could blow over if either Bonnie or Charley hit. Could Tom come help move the planes into the hangars? As a member of the media, I have an almost frenetic fascination with how easily people scurry about at the direction of a talking head. Fascination wins out over fatigue, and I go along for the ride.
Next Tom’s sister Cheryl calls from Mad Beach, wondering if he can help secure the three sailboats behind her house.
So we clear out the hangar, Tom and the other pilot taxi the planes into the hangar, where we then try to make a pickup truck, banner transport van, and –don’t ask- a limousine fit next to fifty foot long and seven foot tall banners. Henry, a relatively recent transplant from Canada, tries to decide what to think about the weather. He seems torn between his everyone else’s borderline panic and my and Tom’s “the media loves a good story and this is it” attitudes.
As we leave the airport, I get a call from my mother. When it gets windy I should make sure our dachshund puppy ONLY goes out on a leash lest he blow away in the gale. Do we have enough water?
Cheryl’s backyard teems with sailors; three cherished sailboats and two hurricanes have driven all else from their minds. Cheryl’s friend Donna watches Bay News 9, reporting periodically “the winds are over 90 miles an hour” and “they’re gonna probably close the bridges soon”.
The empty house next door has logs piled up on a dock that looks like something out of Captain Ron. Next week the dock reconstruction starts, but only if the logs don’t launch themselves at Cheryl’s boat tomorrow. The water reaches my chest and we have plenty of line. We push the wood in the water and Tom lashes them together a la “Escape From Gilligan’s Island”. The puppy has yet to blow away in the as-of-yet-nonexistent winds and has a great time birling on the logs while we work.
The first casualty of “Bonnie and Clyde” hits when I try to get back on the dock. The right way to do this involves swimming around to where the water comes almost to the dock. I, of course, don’t do this the right way. Instead, I decide to use a large barnacle to briefly support my left foot while I hoist myself up to the floating logs and climb out.
Hurricane readiness was temporarily abandoned while Sue gets the first aid kit and Cheryl gets the peroxide.
Once the boats have enough lines of them to double as a prop in the next Spiderman movie, Tom drops me off to do an interview for next week’s issue while he gets some food.
My interview, inside Boca Ciega Center, will have to wait. The nursing home, anticipating patients from an evacuated nursing home, has cleared out part of their great room and has nurses and aids scurrying about. I get a few photos, chat with the Trib reporter about the storm, and head home.
Tom has done his part to prepare for the storm; he put gas in my car and gotten hamburger meat, Neosporin, red wine, and chips. He sits down to work on Reef Dog’s web site while I look on the Internet Movie Database for some good movies to rent. Putting our heads together, we come up with a good list of Florida hurricane movies:
Sunshine State
Gone Fishin’
Forces of Nature
The Deep
Curse of the Erotic Tiki
Blockbuster has men working outside to board up their windows. Luckily, they haven’t closed yet. Unluckily, the Pasadena Blockbuster has only three of our movies. We head to Wal-Greens, where I buy gauze. I also succumb to “hurricane fever” and stock up on Starbucks Mocha Frappucino- just in case. On the way home, I snap a few photos of boarded up shops downtown just in case Ken wants to use them in a story.
Hurricane reconnaissance complete, we order a white cheese pizza, mix up some sangria, and settle in with Forces of Nature. We fall asleep on the couch while Sandra Bullock and Ben Affleck frolic at South of the Border.
Bonnie never materialized. Charley… well, Charley actually made to shore. Just not here. In blatant disrespect for the law, we did not evacuate. Neither, it seems, did most of our neighbors. We did not tape our windows, we did not buy gallons of water.
The short version? The breeze felt good, I have perfected the perfect pitcher of sangria, and our windows don’t have sticky gunk all over them. The dogs did not blow away. The mobile home residents in Punta Gorda didn’t have the same luck.
I guess I’ve gotten jaded from the perpetual media hurricane blitz. It also helps that we canceled Direct TV and listen to iPods instead of the radio. Any weather news came from or; when you don’t hear bulletins every nine minutes suggesting that “this could be the big one”, it’s hard to get whipped into a frenzy. Yup, it was a big-assed storm. We did prepare- we bungeed the lids to our garbage cans and we moved the patio furniture to safety. But the storm, on NOAA’s web site Friday morning, didn’t look that bad, as hurricanes go. By the time I knew Charley had turned into a category four it had also turned, so I never really worried.
And you know what? I had fun. We watched movies, ate pizza, and got a day off from work. I loved it. When people called us from out of town, worried, we repeated our hurricane mantra: turn the TV OFF. I do understand securing boats, but not much else about this “hurricane fever.”
Just for fun, let’s say we did have a category four or five bearing down on us; then what? We may have stayed with my parents up-county, but probably not done too much else. I don’t honestly believe tape on windows does a bit of good when a real storm hits; after all, what good are windows when you don’t have a roof?
And- I know it’s not a popular sentiment (at least, not one most admit to)- I would love to see how the beaches look without all the t-shirt shops and McMansions, although most of the Punta Gorda damage involved boats and (surprise!) mobile homes. If my house offends nature by its location, then so be it. Maybe I need to live somewhere else.
Of course, we’ll see how I feel when we do get “the big one”. I may be out there with everyone else, fighting over plywood and frappucinos.

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I write. I take pictures. I love my dog. I love Florida. My 2016 book, 'Backroads of Paradise' did really well for the publisher and now I feel a ridiculous amount of pressure to finish the second book.