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Throwing stuff at the internet to see what sticks

Thursday, September 18, 2003  

Hurricane? Her I hardly know!

I’ve been reading about all the people evacuating because of Hurricane Isabel bearing down on the Carolina coast. I evacuated because of a hurricane once. Yes, I live in Minnesota. But this was years ago. I lived in Minnesota then, too, but I was visiting South Carolina.

Trash and I had had the remarkable foresight to schedule a visit to Myrtle Beach around Labor Day week in 1996. Apparently this is bang in the middle of hurricane season. We didn’t know this, of course. Living in Minnesota, one rarely has to think about hurricane season. A Minnesotan hears the phrase “hurricane season” and wonders how you catch one.

Our worldview was changed significantly when we arrived at our friends’ townhouse. They’d left us a key to get in because they weren’t home yet when we got there. Our hostess had also left us a note on the kitchen counter. It welcomed us to South Carolina and told us the exact location of the spare keys, the bathroom, and three tropical storms queued up over the Atlantic, any one or all of which were potentially in a position to come and give us a good thumping.

“Life is different here,” Trash and I remarked to each other.

Over the next couple of days we watched the Weather Channel as the biggest one, Fran, approached the coast. The original prediction was that it would make landfall somewhere in Florida. Then the storm began turning north, and we watched as the predicted landfall point started sliding up the coast. Northern Florida became southern Georgia, then Savannah, then Get In The Car.

It wasn’t hard for Trash and me to pack up, because we hadn’t brought any more stuff than we could carry on the plane. While our hosts worked one last day, we went to the grocery store and bought bottled water and batteries, frustrated in our hope to witness panic and looting. We helped them secure the place, putting masking tape on the windows, breakable stuff under the furniture, wall art in the closets, pets in the refrigerator, et cetera. Then we hit the road.

There’s something sort of incongruous about joining an unbroken line of hurricane refugees on a clear, sunny afternoon. You think of hurricanes and you think of stock footage from Gilligan’s Island with rain like diagonal machine-gun fire and palm trees bent parallel to the ground. You don’t think of a traffic jam that looks like ten minutes after the end of Woodstock ’94. Or maybe you do, if you spent yesterday trying to put a few miles between you and the coast.

Our hosts suggested that if we were going to go out of town, we might as well go somewhere nice. So we headed for Asheville, North Carolina. It’s about a 300-mile drive, so we didn’t make it before dark.

Asheville is also further north than Myrtle Beach. So we were heading north. So was Fran. She wasn’t going that fast. 12 miles per hour, maybe. But, as our host pointed out, Fran wasn’t going to stop for gas, or spend the night in a hotel, or get stuck in traffic. If she did, we’d probably hear about it on the news.

We spent the first night in some small town further north and inland. We considered just waiting the storm out there, but the desk clerk at the motel explained how Hurricane Hugo had knocked out their electricity for two weeks. Way to screw yourself out of a couple nights’ rent there, dude.

Of course, we watched the Weather Channel in the motel, too. Some smarmy forecaster was acting all smug because it was looking like Fran was going to miss him and hit further north instead. Specifically, our friends’ living room. Screw you, buddy. You’ve got a national audience, okay? Quit gloating. Just because the people whose homes are in the crosshairs are on the run doesn’t mean they’re not watching you. Dickweed.

I learned a lot about hurricanes that week. I learned that when local news stations wrap up some petite chick in polypropylene and make her do a live report from the weather-lashed coast, they like to send a couple of beefy guys along with her so they can pick her up when she gets blown over. I learned about the Weather Channel’s John Hope, a hurricane expert they dragged out of retirement every time a big one hit until the poor guy died last year. I also learned about something called a storm surge. This is what happens when a hurricane comes ashore, and the northern half of it—the part that’s rotating inland—blows most of the Atlantic Ocean into your kitchen.

Fortunately, the eye of the storm hit farther north than their house, which meant that the prevailing winds were blowing out to sea. Our friends only got a little water in their house. Apparently, when a hurricane hits you, only a little water in your house is good news. These friends live in Albuquerque now.

Meanwhile, we had a lovely time in Asheville. We saw the boyhood home of Thomas Wolfe, who is famous for saying “you can’t go home again.” My whole life, I’ve been hearing people say he was wrong, and it turns out the only reason he said it in the first place was that his mother was kind of an asshole. We visited Biltmore Estates, a huge, castle-like house that belongs to the Vanderbilt family. One envies the ability to build a house this huge and beautiful, until one realizes that overextending oneself like that will eventually force one’s descendants to open it up to tourists and put in a gift shop. And we had the best meal we’ve ever had in our lives—in our lives, people—at the Flying Frog, a French-Cajun East Indian restaurant that I hope is still there. Our airline let us change our tickets free of charge so we could fly home from Asheville instead of the Myrtle Beach airport, which probably had 737s scattered on the tarmac like Legos™. Best of all, even though Fran killed 24 people, none of them were us.

Although we were a couple hundred miles inland, the leading, ragged edge of Fran caught us as she died on our last day. More specifically, it rained really hard. That was about it. So I’ve sort of been in a hurricane, as long as one avoids using the phrase “in a hurricane” in any sense that is at all accurate.

Best of luck to anyone who’s dealing with Isabel today.

* * *

Do you know a guy named Don whose birthday is September 11 and who probably lives in Jersey City? Tell Sars. She might have beer for him.

Today’s best search phrase: “Coolest shit on the web.” Sometimes I feel bad about people finding my site even though it has nothing to do with what they’re looking for. In this case, I can only say: welcome home.

posted by M. Giant 2:23 PM 0 comments


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