Charley: A Surviver’s Tale

For days the threat of double header hurricanes hitting Florida coastlines has dominated local news channels. Bonnie struck the panhandle on Wednesday with a smattering of rain and some strong winds. It bearly maintained hurricane status as it beached and quickly dwindled off as it headed into Alabama. Charley on the other hand kept a beautiful, tight center as it wound its way through the Carribean and actually picked up strength as it headed for Florida after hitting Cuba. People in Tampa Bay were told to knuckle under or evacuate. Hundreds of thousands of people fled, many of them to Orlando. When I played tennis Thursday night, one of the guys was on a cell phone much of the time trying to convince his parents to leave for Avon Park (just south of Orlando) from their home in Tampa. He was finally successful and they left for Avon Park early Friday morning to stay with a relative.

Rockwell Collins said Thursday afternoon that, since the storm was headed for Tampa and the panhandle there was no reason not to come into work Friday. So we all showed up. Most people had stories to tell of past hurricanes and the horrors of shopping for plywood at the last minute to board up windows. Jim sat out Pamela (220+ mph winds) in Guam in 1972 and had the most exciting stories. Everyone’s computer had at least one window open to a weather site and pictures of Charley as he progressed north. A bunch of people who were in Cedar Rapids for the week and were supposed to come home Friday were in a kuffufle since Orlando cancelled all its flights Friday morning. Desperate not to have to spend a weekend in Cedar, they booked a flight for Jacksonville and decided to drive back to Melboure from Jacksonville Friday night. At about 1, when it became clear that his path was changing and he would land long before he got as far north as Tampa, people began to get a little nervous. The boat owners called it a day and went to lash up their boats. By 2 pm a mass exodus began in Orlando as many of the people who had fled there from Tampa as well as many Orlando natives took off southward. At 2:30 Rockwell Collins sent out a global e-mail saying that we could all go home and take care of anything that needed to be done at home in case the storm headed even farther east. We all laughed at the people who were going to be driving right through the new path of the storm and headed home.

My neighbors were all outside putting plywood or storm gear of some kind on their windows. I turned on Bach and began reading “American Evita”. My phone rang. It was Ray (the guy who convinced his parents to go to Avon Park). He had been planning to go to Fort Lauderdale for the weekend but didn’t dare leave now that the storm was threatening. The third story apartment he’s renting also made him nervous and he wanted to come over here and hide out. I told him to come on over. The German family across the street (with the pig) were now nailing designer slats over their windows. They almost looked decorative in an Alcatraz-swank kinda way. I think they finished in about 15 minutes. The next guy down (who spends most of his evenings yelling at his wife and small daughter) had just finished the 3 hour process of nailing a hodge-podge of plywood cut in numerous sizes and shapes all over the sides of his house, covering most of his windows. When Ray arrived he refused to park in front of the garage because there are three little papaya trees about 8 feet from the drive way there and he was afraid they would blow into his car. My incredulous laughter had no effect. He also refused to pull onto the protected side of the house because he was (rightly enough this time) worried that if there was a lot of rain he might get stuck in the grass. He compromised by parking at the end of the driveway. I told him the plywood on the house across the street was likely to blow loose if a big wind and would be much more likely to damage his car than a stray green papaya, but Ray was adamant. Inside he ensconced himself in front of the computer and began tracking the storm.

His family had all headed for West Palm after the storm turned east and started tracking towards Avon Park. After dinner I decided to head for the beach and see if there was anything to be seen from over there. Ray laughed nervously and then decided he would go home and sit out the storm in his apartment after all. Better that than spend the night in a mad-man’s house without AC. So Ray went home and I went to the beach. I felt a little bad to have run him off, but the drive over was nice. The breeze had begun to pick up but there was very little rain. The causeway gave the first little sense of a hurricane as the wind roared over my Echo and the chop in the deserted river rolled against the tide. Beachside there were only a few hardy souls on the boardwalk. The beach was “closed” but the cops making rounds were pretty regular on their 5-6 minute intervals so those of us looking for the possible water spout and enjoying that odd green-grey that the ocean turns in a storm could slip onto the beach for as long as we could stand the blinding sand whipping along the beach. One young couple had their little kid out with them. It was funny to watch the eager little bundle of clothes plop over the gate and waddle out into the sand storm each time the police went by. The surf was breaking nearly perpendicular to the beach and the tops were whipped off in the wind, cutting a deep cliff into the sand along the breaker line. It was actually a little dangerous as parts of the beach would suddenly collapse into the churning surf but the wild intensity of it was well worth it. However, after a half hour or so it was clear that it was going to be dark long before the wind got strong enough to do anything very exciting. I came home and read for a while longer as the electric flickered on and off. I went to bed early and was only awakened once during the night. The wind was strong but didn’t do anything in our neighborhood other than blow some twigs and trash around on the street. I left at 5:15 to drive down to the Beisners and do some plant shopping. It was sobering to hear of the deaths and massive damage that the storm did do to many of the homes directly in its path.

Today I got the plants stuck into the ground (except the roses and lilies) around going to church and am now enjoying a quiet afternoon as the steady rain waters in the bananas, pineapples, sugar cane, passion flowers and bromeliads. Tomorrow I’ll find out if the troup from Cedar Rapids wound up stuck in Atlanta for the night or braved it out driving on Friday. I hear the hurricane was still pretty strong heading through Daytona.

I’ve made some progress on the house stuff. Some “before” and “so far” photos.

Pond before:


Pond so far:


Trees/Porch before:


Tree/Porch so far:


You can’t see in this picture but the trees are both topped off right above where you can see. I’m going to use them to grow vines on and maybe put a swing in the middle.

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