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Sunday, September 5, 2004

From the Eye of Hurricane Frances 5

This is the fifth installment of my friend's story. If you've missed the first one, you can find it here. For the second one, go here. For the third one, go here and for the fourth one, go here.


Still Thursday (September 2, 2004)

At the Hotel.

The room my husband picked turned out to be great. It faces the interior courtyard, and is blocked by a bunch of palm trees. Around the other edge of the courtyard are more bushes and trees that will break up the wind. Of course, there’s the possibility that the trees themselves could pose a danger to us, but I feel better that they will be helpful. I’m told that the hotel was recently re-built to increase its hurricane resistance, and am fairly sure that this could be true. Only strange thing is that the hotel hasn’t boarded up its sliding glass doors. We’re on the second floor, so I’m not worried about flooding, but I am worried that if something comes flying at us, it could come smashing through these doors. Anyhow, the official plan here is that if we don’t feel safe in our rooms, the hallway is supposed to be safe, and if we don’t feel safe in our hallway, the ballroom is supposed to be safe. We’re a long way from the ballroom, but I think either the hallway or the concrete stairwell will be safe enough for us. We decide to go and withdraw more cash from an ATM, and buy more food, as well as some missing supplies - another cooler, batteries for another flashlight we found, more snacks. My husband is convinced that I’ve overbought supplies, especially food and water. I’m not sure we have enough water. Every time he asks whether we need anything more, I say, “Maybe we should get some more water.” He’s not convinced. We have about 9 gallons of water for two of us. I think the fundamental difference between us, is that he’s thinking, we’re staying at a hotel - they’ll have everything, meanwhile I’m thinking, we may get evacuated from there to a shelter if this gets any worse, in which case we’ll need everything. Also, the hotel is not entirely clear about what they’ll have. I’m told that if the power goes, the kitchen will be largely closed. He talks to the chef who says they’re stocked and ready for anything. I’m starting to wonder whether I really have over-prepared.

Anyhow, we find both a grocery store and an ATM across the street, seeing a Red Cross Disaster Relief van whiz past on the way over. News stories have been reporting that ATMs may run out of money soon (do you see a theme here?). Lucky for us, there’s a Brinks truck at the bank, refilling the ATM. The grocery store has lots of food that we want, and more coolers (though not exactly one that I wanted, but still - at this point, a cooler’s a cooler). This is also the first time I’m among people who are all preparing for the hurricane. Again, everyone is helpful, patient; anxious, but hopeful. One guy wants to know where I found the coolers; I show him. An older lady is trying to use the ATM. She declares that they’re out of money, which disappoints everyone, but then she gets help using the machine, and it turns out that everything’s fine.

From here, our next task was parking the car in the Embassy Suites lot. We drove over there, with our fingers crossed. Would the lot be full already? Would there be a guard preventing us from coming in? Would our car get towed away if we did park there?

We got to the lot. So far, so good. The entrance is still open. No sign of any guards or staff. We drive in. On level one, there’s no spaces left. On level two, there’s no spaces left. It’s really disappointing, not to mention worrying. If we can’t park here, we need to find an alternative quickly. Leaving the car back at the house is not something I want to do. Having the house fill with water is one thing, but having our little Z3 underwater would be the death of it. We only bought the car in January - it was a great find on eBay. We paid for it in full, so really, it’s our biggest asset in Florida. I really didn’t want to see it destroyed. I said to my husband, “Try the next level up.” He says, “There is no next level up.” Thanks to my recce the day before, I was pretty sure that there was another level. We circle around, and sure enough, find the ramp up to the next level. This level is designated for cars relating to the office building. As we drive up it, we see a security guard who gives us a dirty look. I tried to look nonchalant here.

Sure enough, up there, there are still a lot of spaces available against the concrete wall. We drive along, looking at what they’re allocated to - Cunningham Trust… Lewis & Shuster Law Firm… Fisher Brothers… Fisher Brothers… Fisher Brothers… There are a whole bunch of Fisher Brothers spots. I figure that it’s probably some kind of big company, not that one family has so many brothers. I also figure that at least one of the Fisher Brothers people who usually uses this car lot has left town and won’t mind if we use the spot instead. This is what I say to my husband. He’s still worried about the “Violators will be towed” sign. I say, “What kind of people are going to call a tow truck with all of this going on?? And furthermore, what kind of tow truck is going to bother coming all the way here to tow our car?! And hey - being America - if they tow our car and anything happens to it, we can probably sue!” He’s convinced, so we select a good Fisher Brothers spot and lock down the car there. We then stroll through the Embassy Suites Hotel, like we might check in there, but then make a surreptitious slip out the front door, and we dash across the street, back to the DoubleTree. Muahh ha ha ha haa haaaaa!

Back at the hotel, we then get busy arranging our stuff. Evacuated belongings we don’t need go in the closet (ie. my wedding dress). Dry food goes into the drawers. Food that needs refrigeration goes into either a cooler or into the bathtub. It’s all pretty orderly. I take some of the plastic shopping bags out to the ice machines to fill them up with ice. Ice is also at a premium already in the grocery stores, but here at the hotel, the ice machines are working fine. I take eight bags. In the bathtub, I lay four down, then a layer of food, then four more and another layer of food. It’s all good. We settle in and watch Jeb Bush on TV. He’s far more convincing a leader than his brother, and comes across as genuinely reassuring and in control. As he talks, his sign language translator makes hilarious signs in the background. She isn’t just signing what he’s saying - she’s adding her own facial expressions in, at times seeming sort of reminiscent of Elaine from Seinfeld, dancing. I can’t help but giggle.

At this point, one of my husband's staff, who might stay with us, turns up. We meet for drinks down in the bar, and then have dinner in the restaurant. The restaurant is running on a skeleton staff, and some lady is chewing out the harried Hostess for having served them smelly fish. The lady causes a scene, advising us all to stay away from the fish. She’s grumbling about the service and whatever else she can think of. I couldn’t help but be baffled by her: There are people who are sleeping in gymnasiums, eating God-knows-what, and she’s upset that the restaurant staff didn’t bring her her smelly fish fast enough. When the Hostess seated us, we told her not to worry. She seems sweet.

I run out of steam sometime around after-dinner coffee. My husband reminds me that I’ve actually been awake since 3 in the morning. I go back up to the room, take one last look at the news (which by now isn’t new at all) and konk out.

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