August 20, 2008

Polly wolly doodle all day

Just toss it up in the air... I'll grab it as it goes by.

Bolixing forecasters, Fay chasse’d east at Cape Romano and rumba’d around us before crossing northeast, trailing rainshowers all the way. Thanks for the good wishes, my friends. There was so little clean up, that undoing our preparations took longer. We got dampened and blow dried, and not a lot more.

I have no idea how many hurricanes I’ve lived through or watched unfold on television. The first was hurricane Andrew, the second most destructive storm in U.S. history. It decimated Homestead, south of Miami, a year after I moved to Florida. The weather is actually very predictable here, and normally uneventful … except when there’s a hurricane. We lie, daydreaming, twixt tiger's paws.

I stood in an eye once. On Staten Island, when tropical storm Chris swept up the east coast back in 1988. My friend Pat and I went up to the roof and there it was, like one of DeMille’s biblical miracles, a solid wall of dark, dark clouds, a few miles out, surrounding the perfectly sunlit, sky-blue void where we stood.

Most of the Florida storms I’ve seen have passed south or north of here, and were hobbled after crossing the state, dripping wet, out of the late summer Atlantic hot tub, where they'd drunk too much rum. Gulf storms were less common, though dangerous. Then in 2004 hurricane Charlie buzz-sawed up the southwest coast before trouncing Captiva island and bowling into Port Charlotte, thirty miles north of here, as a category four storm. I was a staffer at the local newspaper. With electric power out all over the city, reporters and pj’s huddled in a flashlight-lit newsroom over volunteered laptops, trying to put together an edition of the paper.

I’d come home at night and stir-fry leftovers, in the fading light, over a Sterno camp stove on the kitchen counter. The condo itself was unscathed. An impromptu sort of festivity emerged. Friends and neighbors huddled around radio broadcasts or played games of flashlight-lit Scrabble… in the conviviality and set-asides that accompany a natural crisis shared and weathered.

The next year, 2005, shattered all previous records. Of the twenty-eight storms, seven became major hurricanes, the five worst of which, including Katrina, came up through the gulf. There were 2,280 storm-related deaths that year, and damages estimated at 100 billion dollars. Hurricane Wilma, the most intense hurricane ever recorded in the Atlantic basin, caromed off the Yucatan peninsula on October 21 and slammed into Cape Romano (as did a much daintier Fay) with a 120 mph landfall two days later. From there Wilma raced across the state, stone rolling pin brandished overhead, reaching Jupiter on the east coast just four hours later. Flintstone jokes, most of them lame, abounded. Wilma tore off a corner of the roof, the only storm damage the condo has received since it was built 36 years ago. She was the last big storm in our nabe.

Fay is living up to her name, flitting faerie-like in a capricious loop that could alight on Florida no less than four times before her fare thee well. If she drifts north, drought-busting rain will fall on Georgia. Her windy, rain-swept chiffon wafted far and wide around Fay's raggy waltz, raising floods in several counties. We were but brushed. She left my motorcycle standing, a few leaves in the pool, a few Heineken in the fridge, and enough peanut butter and potato chips to last for weeks. And blue skies as far as the eye, and Sky Cam Power Doppler Radar, can see.

Anybody got ranch dip?