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Sunday, September 5, 2004

From the Eye of Hurricane Frances 2

This is the second installment of my friend's story. If you've missed the first one, you can find it here.


Wednesday (September 1, 2004)

On Wednesday morning, the morning news had a much greater focus on the weather. The hurricane track was more decidedly heading our way. In fact, the weather people were now willing to say, “Well, it looks like the hurricane is heading our way - people should start their hurricane preparedness, get a plan in order, be ready to evacuate if necessary. It may not hit us; these things tend to veer off at the last minute, but you should start preparing like it will.” I translated this to, “People should be ready to get the hell out of town anytime soon!”

Normally, my husband drives to work and takes our car with him. On this day, I decided I’d have a lot of running around to do, so I dropped him off and started running. First place I went was to the area of the DoubleTree. One problem we faced was that if there was to be a call to evacuate, we’d have to drive ourselves to the hotel, but the hotel itself had an open parking lot. We don’t drive a giant, weatherproof Hummer H2 - we drive a tiny Z3 roadster, which most of the time is the ideal car to have in Florida - great on gas and when the sun in shining, you can throw the top down in an instant. What’s not to like? Well, in order to keep the car from getting scooped up by the first breeze to come along when the hurricane strikes, I definitely needed to find covered parking. As luck would have it, the Embassy Suites across the street had a three story covered parking lot. I drove through it and scoped out where the best place would park might be. The lot had parking spots against the interior concrete walls on two sides, as well as spaces on the open, outer edges. Obviously, a space against the wall is what you’d want.

With this in mind, I strolled into the Embassy Suites and decided to play ‘sweet, helpless person.’ “Hi,” I say to the Front Desk Officer. “We’re booked to stay at the hotel across the street during the hurricane, and I’m wondering - will it be possible to park our car over here in your lot?” Well, the Front Desk Officer had probably been hearing questions like this all day, so she gave me the unsurprising answer of, “No.” Given that I didn’t really have any good arguments as to why we should be allowed, I said, “Okey dokey,” (which can be translated to, “Screw you,”) and went back to the car. At this time, I notice that the parking garage is actually split between spaces for the Embassy Suites, and spaces for the adjacent office building. Given that these two buildings had to share parking, how would anyone know whether we were guests of the Embassy Suites, or people from the office building. It gave me a glimmer of hope. I called my husband with the good news and went home.

Back there, unfortunately, the weather reports were increasingly grim. Hurricane Frances was now three times the size of Hurricane Charley, which struck Florida only three weeks earlier. The eye was still heading straight for us, and storm surge was sure to wash out our whole neighborhood. It wasn’t looking good. If we weren’t going to stay at the DoubleTree, we’d have to cancel by 6 pm today, but it was looking more and more like we’d be staying at the DoubleTree - unless of course, the DoubleTree wasn’t even far enough away. I did my first grocery stock-up run, and tried to think of what food my husband and I could eat if we had no way to cook. I came out with things like Goldfish crackers and bananas. None of it could actually be what anyone might consider a meal, nor could it even be combined to make a normal meal, but I decided to move on and figure out food later.

My next stop was the Staples. For months, I’d been meaning to buy a fireproof, waterproof safe. A few years ago, my brother told me a story of a friend of his who was completely cleaned out because there was a fire in her apartment and not only was everything inside destroyed, but she also lost all her important documents because they weren’t in a fireproof, waterproof safe. She also didn’t have renter’s insurance, which didn’t help matters, so I also had it in the back of my mind to get some of this too, but I never actually got around to either one. It was too late for the renter’s insurance - and thankfully, our landlady has insurance to cover all of her belongings, which is largely what is in our apartment - but I was still determined to get the safe.

Well, it turns out that enough other people in the neighborhood also had the same idea. Fireproof, waterproof safes had suddenly become a Staples hot commodity. The service guy offered to order one from me. I pictured the delivery guy turning up at my smashed up house next week wondering where among the rubble my doorstep is so he can leave his pristine safe there for me. I decided to pass. I got home and started the evacuation preparations. I e-mailed friends to warn them that I might go offline for a while but that they shouldn’t worry, and that for news, they should call my home message machine, which I’d try to reach so I could change the answering message to things like, “Hi - this is ..., and I’ve safely checked into the DoubleTree now,” and, “Hi - this is ... - our home is under twelve feet of water, but at least our documents are secure in a fireproof, waterproof safe.”

At this point, I have to say that our neighborhood looked peculiarly unchanged. No one seemed to be out, boarding up their windows. No frantic rushing around. Nothing. My neighbor came along. We’ve lived in our house for a good eight months now, and have probably waved at this neighbor who lives directly across the street approximately three times. This isn’t bad, considering that the rest of the people who live on our cul-de-sac, I haven’t seen at all. It’s one of those places where people drive home and drive straight into their garages and bring the door down behind them. Unless they’re like me, and get out on a bike, or have a dog to walk, or decide to stroll to the beach, you’ll never see them. Anyhow, I figured that now’s a good a time as any to introduce myself to the nrighbor. Turns out his name is ... which will be easy for me to remember, being ... He’s doctor and he’s not planning to board up his windows, although he is planning to stay in his house during the storm. This idea sounded like pure insanity to me. For one thing, these houses were made with wood frames back at the end of the 70s, and for another thing, we are so close to the ocean, we were sure to be getting an evacuation order anytime soon. Was he planning to defy it? Seems so. I decided that ... might be one of those kinds of doctors who might dip into some of the prescription medicine when no one’s looking, if you know what I mean. Back to my own plans.

By this time, it was late afternoon, almost time to pick up my husband, so I decided to do one more errand: Return the Blockbuster videos. I wasn’t sure what their policy would be on late returns in the event that we aren’t allowed back in our house for a few days or weeks, or whether they’d hold us liable if we returned the tapes a tad more waterlogged than they were when we took them out. There was one hitch I needed to sort out, though. “Hi,” I say to the Blockbuster Rental Guy. “I’m bringing these videos back because I’m expecting that we’ll be evacuating tomorrow, but… well, I haven’t seen this one movie yet (Lagaan, if you’re wondering). So, is there any way you can give me a credit to come back and get it again after this is all over?” I tried the sweet, helpless look I’d used on the Embassy Suites woman the day before. It worked better on this guy than it did on her. He never did stop chatting to whoever he was chatting with on the phone, but he gave me the credit, and took enough time from his call to tell me so. Yay!

From here, I opted to go to a grocery store in the same complex. I wanted to get a few more food items. Looking around at other patrons, I wondered whether I was the only one rushing around like a crazy person. As I said before, I’ve only been around Florida for a short while and have never experienced extreme weather, so maybe I was overreacting. On the other hand, the TV weather people were much more concerned than before - it is still a Category 4 hurricane. Weirdly enough, though, shoppers were walking around shopping like they were just picking up minor items for dinner. While I’m frantically looking to stock up on dried fruit, another guy is strolling through the aisles carrying a dozen red roses. I could only think that maybe he had some plan to present the roses to a woman with a heavily reinforced house that he was hoping to stay in.

Picking up my husband, it seemed his company was busy re-routing their business so as to avoid disruption. Lucky for them, they are a software security business, so what they sell is something that can be sent over the Internet to other places, and they can re-route customer service calls to other offices as well as sending some local staff out to help with the call overflow. It all seemed to be fairly organized. To find out more about Authentium, Inc, his company, click here.

Back at home, I started sorting items and locating our critical documents (insurance papers, title deeds, etc.). Through all of this, we kept an eye on the weather reports, where many of the reporters had a tone of, “This is really serious, but I’d better try to sound calm or else we’ll cause mass panic.” I stayed up until I was exhausted, packing up stuff.

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