I go because I take care of what’s important to Steve. Mom Nancy. Dogs Lola and Gracie. And this time, one more friend Dustin.
Last year during Matthew, I scooped up the dogs and traveled to Fort Myers and camped out for one night at a family owned condo. Two hours drive. One home cooked meal. Storm passed by. And the next morning we were on our way home.
This year by Tuesday, it was clear we were going to get whacked. By Tuesday night we started making plans. By Wednesday the storm track was right up the center of the state so we couldn’t just dash over to Fort Myers. We couldn’t even dash up to Orlando. To keep the plan’s intent, we had to go pretty far. Atlanta, maybe? Then a friend called. He arranged to drive to Adel, Georgia on Thursday, and onward to Nashville, Tennessee, on Friday. Stay in Nashville until home was habitable. The thing we knew is that even if the house is fine, electricity and gas and water and sewer and fuel could all be out, broke, disconnected, or unavailable for days. Weeks. A month?
He had the same agenda as we did. Grab the elders and the pets, and get them someplace safe and someplace comfortable. The official evacuation plan for the State of Florida says you move dozens of miles (if necessary.) Not hundreds. If you’re in a storm surge zone, you head west and hunker down with a friend or family farther from the coast. You’re not supposed to clog up the highways. There are really only three main roads out of Florida and they can’t handle millions of people in time. But what do you do with your elderly if the house is without electricity (and air conditioning) for days or weeks? Our friend had lived through Wilma without electricity for six weeks. You can’t really live like that. Obviously a lot of people thought the same thing as the official estimate was six and a half million Floridians left the state.
The plan had a few good points. Several of our friends were following the same plan so we had camaraderie in the group. The old folks could take care of the pets if we decided to have some fun in Nashville (which we did.) The location in Nashville placed us close enough to Chicago to make a mad dash north if necessary so that we didn’t keep running up hotel bills. Two rooms for four nights got expensive! But it turns out being cooped up in an air conditioned hotel room for days on end is also mind-numbing. We reminded ourselves that the most important thing we were doing was being safe, but that was not much comfort as all we had to entertain ourselves was CNN and local coverage of the storm affecting our homes and loved ones working in it.
We toured the museums. We listened to live music. We ate the BBQ. We sang show tunes into the night. The storm came and went and it became apparent that the storm was both more and less of what we expected. The Keys were left uninhabitable. Broward County was left largely without power but mostly undamaged. The storm took a wiggle west and severely damaged our friends on the west coast near Fort Myers and Bonita Springs. Strangely, Tampa and Saint Pete were fine. But the storm was still barrelling towards us. Atlanta and Nashville were expected to experience tropical storm winds and rain in a couple days.
We decided to head north. We dropped Mom at her former home in Davenport, Iowa, and then headed to my family home in Chicago. The hotel charges were certainly cheaper and having the comforts of home and family seemed enticing. We rode the EL. We saw the sights. We ate some pizza. We hit the museums. We walked the dogs. We visited the suburbs and the relatives. And we shopped. Oh boy, did we shop.
Meanwhile, Steve was working 13 hour days, fixing pumps, managing cranky residents, chasing elevators, harassing vendors, and generally working miracles. Then he started working on the house. Mostly unscathed, but plenty of trees and branches and debris to clean up. Ultimately, power was out for nine days at the house. Tauntingly, homes across the street got power in 5 days. But their sewers backed up so I suppose we got the better end of the bargain.
Nancy’s condo was completely undamaged, and power remained blissfully unaffected. She was furious to learn that she could have stayed home and been perfectly fine. Her cable TV even remained operational. Steve dutifully emptied our refrigerator and moved “the good stuff” to Nancy’s, along with himself as the condo was calm, cool, and comfortable while the rest of our friends in Fort Lauderdale, Wilton Manors and Oakland Park sweat it out in the dark. Nancy can’t sit for long periods of time, so the 1,700 mile journey was agony for her. Finding herself in Davenport and learning that her place was perfectly habitable, she promptly booked a flight.
As one of our favorite nautical authors says: “Nothing goes to windward like a 747” she was home on Tuesday. Nancy says her lesson is that she won’t do that again. She’d rather meet her maker in the condo. So there’s one opinion.
- We could have flown away. But by the time you know you have to go, it’s too late to get a flight. And how does one fly away with two big dogs?
- Stay put? But what would living be like in a 90 degree house with 90% humidity for a week or more?
- Hope the next storm allows us to drive, but not leave the state? We have friends or family in Naples, Fort Myers, Bonita Springs, Tampa, Saint Pete, Orlando, and Jacksonville. Surely the next storm won’t traverse the entire state like Irma?
One thing for sure, the 2,200 mile round trip took its toll and when it came time to head back for home, the looming drive caused us to hesitate for a couple extra days. Certainly one lesson learned – not quite THAT far.