I'm back, sort of.

Right now I'm sitting in Amy's truck in a Winn Dixie parking lot in our neighborhood. We still don't have electricity, but this plaza does, and I'm posting from a local coffee house's WiFi network. They aren't open, but their network is up, so here I am. What follows is a long day by day of the hurricane and aftermath from my very limited vantage point.

1:00 Tuesday afternoon

Wilma has come and gone, and it was a nerve-wracking experience. Even though I grew up in hurricane-prone Louisiana, I’ve never actually been this close to a major storm. I’ve often felt the after-effects—flooding, loss of electricity, living conditions far more primitive than I’ve become accustomed to (which is not the same as primitive living conditions, no matter how tv talking heads try to portray it).

We’re better prepared than many, simply because we’ve been campers in the past, and many of the basic tools of camping come in handy. We have a small propane camp stove so we can cook, we have a small but efficient cooler for perishables, a battery operated radio, fluorescent lanterns and candles for lighting, etc. We also have a propane grill that, fortunately, survived the storm, despite it being outside and unceremoniously dumped over. So for dinner last night, we had grilled chicken and the last of our Publix-brand potato salad/cole slaw/noodle salad—quite a feast, considering that we had no electricity or running water.

It disturbs me greatly when tv (or radio) talking heads describe the conditions after any natural disaster in these hyperbolic terms, not only because it reflects how spoiled we’ve become by modern convenience and how dependent we are on technology for comfort, but largely because it causes average people, those who have been caught in the middle of it, to think that they’re experiencing something far worse than they really are.

For instance, I’ve already heard, on the radio, callers describing the destruction in their areas as resembling a war zone. That’s ludicrous. For starters, in a war zone, once the destruction occurs, you don’t often get a quiet respite to be able to rebuild what you’ve lost, and you certainly don’t get local and federal government assurances that you’re going to get help rebuilding. Generally, you’re dodging bullets while you continue to try to get what you need to survive. Even the damage from Katrina (which I’ve heard more than one commentator call Wilma) isn’t like a war zone in those terms, even though it’s far worse than anything we’ve experienced with this storm.

Local tree damage has been spectacular to see, and I’ll post some pictures as soon as I get them developed. A huge mango tree in the yard adjacent to ours was snapped in half, and the trees in Victoria Park were devastated. According to our neighbor (who lost part of his roof), the old jet in front of the War Memorial at the park took another flight during the storm, so we’ll be going to check that out soon. For us personally, we lost a patio table. The wind picked it up and shattered the glass, and then jammed the frame between our two cars, leaving some scratches on the pristine (hah!) paint jobs and a very interesting series of scrapes on my windshield right where I gaze through while driving. I bet that’ll prism into some amazing disco-ball like rays just before sunset someday.

We lost electricity of course, and water power, which didn’t happen during Katrina. We just got water back, although the pressure is still a bit low, but that makes a ton of difference in terms of comfort. Fortunately, a low pressure system followed this storm, so the temperatures have been glorious—70s during the day and 50s at night. After Katrina, I slept on the tile floor in order to stay cool.

But I’ve been far more uncomfortable at other points of my life. All I’m really experiencing is inconvenience—no internet connection, no way to recharge my laptop battery when it dies (Amy’s been writing on her old manual typewriter for the last couple of days), no cordless phone (but we do have an old, junky, corded phone that we keep in the closet for just such occasions), we have to recharge cell phones in the car, no tv/dvd/videogames, and no air conditioning (which could be an issue if we’re without power for more than a week).

This storm could have been so much worse. The nerve-wracking part of it was about 12 hours long, which is incredibly short for a hurricane, and it happened in daylight, so we could keep an eye on what was happening, and that really helped. No school for any of us this week—no word yet on whether that means FAU will add on another week to make up for this one or if I’ll have to readjust my syllabi again. Doesn’t really matter, I suppose. I’ll add to this as the situation warrants.


10:20 p.m.

We were outside talking to our neighbor when one of out other neighbors came home—she works in a hospital north of here and she told us that the local police informed her that since the hospital was at the top of the list for power restoration, they’d be back online by Friday. Holy shit.

Amy’s on the phone with her brother who lives in Boulder—he’s giving us the lowdown from what’s available online. 98% of the tri-county area (Broward, Palm Beach and Miami-Dade) is without electricity. The Mayor of Fort Lauderdale said that he doesn’t know of a single home in the city that has power. There’s a curfew from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. and there are no alcohol sales permitted between those hours until further notice. About 80 planes were damaged at the Boca airport, which is right next to the FAU campus. But take heart—according to the Sun-Sentinel, the basketball courts and roller hockey rinks in Davie are apparently (and the article used the qualifier here) undamaged. Thank the gods.

We’ve also heard some tragic news. The Mai-Kai’s roof has apparently collapsed, which is sad because we were planning a visit there this Friday before the Wilma hit. It’s one of my favorite cheesy places in south Florida. Too bad it couldn’t have been the sucky Coral Ridge Ministries church, the one run by Dobson’s assistant demon, Kennedy.

Amy reminded me just now of an abomination we saw yesterday while walking around after the storm—a Lamborghini SUV. It wasn’t damaged or anything, which actually made it worse, I think—just the notion of a Lamborghini SUV made me nauseous.

Perhaps the most shocking thing I saw tonight, however, was the night sky. South Florida has beautiful night skies, but it’s because of the light pollution. The clouds put off this unearthly glow most nights. But tonight, it’s as dark as any night in west Oklahoma, and you can see almost as many stars. It’s actually eerie, considering what I’m used to since I’ve been here.

More pictures today. The fighter jet atop its little concrete pole has indeed eaten sod, and I took a lot of pictures I hope will come out. Pine trees bowed in half. Cars at the staging area where water and ice was supposed to be given out with windows smashed out. Given the number of coconuts we saw on the ground right across the street, I’m amazed that none of them wound up in my back seat. We’ll go check out our friend Don’s house tomorrow. He said he lost a major avocado tree and had some other yard damage. We also want to try to make our way north to Amy’s folks and see what happened up there.

One last thing. The lesson I learned from our little brush with Katrina was that the object is not to try to avoid having technology fail—it’s that when that technology ultimately fails, it needs to fail well. The best example I have is our junky corded phone, upon which Amy is talking with her brother. Amy’s parents and sister both have houses filled with cordless phones, not to mention cell phones, all of which depend either on electricity or batteries, neither of which are available (for power or charging) after a storm. Since our junky little phone depends on the power that comes through the phone line to operate, as long as they work, we have an outlet. Too bad we have so few local people to talk to.

1:00 p.m. Wednesday

Finally heard from Amy’s mom today. Apparently, cell phone service in Coral Springs is non-existent, and Deb was only able to call us once she was on her way back to Margate. Rob and Debbie are taking their son Payton to a hotel in Miami, and big Deb will be going with them—Rob drove all the way to Port St. Lucie yesterday in search of gasoline for his generators and couldn’t find any stations with power. Payton has to have electricity for his breathing apparatus, so since they can’t find gas, they’re relocating to someplace in Miami with power. Amy’s dad will stay behind to take care of his own cats and their dogs.

The local radio station coverage seems to have improved from yesterday. It’s less sensational, less filled with aggravating solipsisms and suggestions to not beat your wife or kids (seriously—that was part of the talk yesterday). I heard the Mayor of Miami expressing some aggravation at FEMA and the feds this morning about the problems they’ve had getting water and ice to affected areas in Miami-Dade county. FPL is saying that they’ll have 95% of the area restored by Nov. 15, and everyone online by the 22nd. I hope they’re pulling a Scotty here, saying it’ll take three weeks and then getting it done in one so they look heroic, but my bet is we’ll be closer to the 15th than, say, Halloween. That will make teaching, umm, challenging, to be sure.

The local news coverage has been dominated by Wilma, of course, and I wouldn’t have it any other way, but I’m still curious about what’s going on nationally. I got a glimpse last night that Fitzgerald had sent out his target letters and that indictments would be handed out today in the Plame matter; hints were that Rove and Libby were going to be hit with at least one count each. But I’m having trouble finding out anything more substantial—my cell phone’s internet won’t connect and the battery is running low on that as well—time to spend a few quality minutes in the car, I guess.

1:00 p.m. Friday

Yesterday we remembered that the hot water heater for our section of the complex is run by natural gas, which means no more cold showers. I tacked up the sections of the privacy fence which came down in the storm (with Monkey’s help)—I wouldn’t give it thirty seconds in another storm, largely because I used finishing nails for the last part, due to the fact that my cordless drill gave up right at the end. My laptop is on its last battery legs as well, so if we don’t get electricity soon or if we don’t find somewhere to plug it in, I’ll be reduced to keeping these notes on paper.

Speaking of electricity—neighborhoods close to ours are getting power back, which is encouraging. Downside is that on the Sunrise side of our neighborhood, huge trees are still blocking roadways and they took down major power lines, so if we depend on those lines, we’ll be down for a while yet. Fortunately, the local FEMA ice and water station is just across the park. We picked up four bags of ice and a couple of liters of water, and if the boil order hasn’t been rescinded yet, it should be soon.

I think my laptop has ants.

Our most precious commodity is still gasoline. Lines run for blocks, and the end result is often that a station will run out of gas before everyone fills up. On the turnpike, drivers are limited to 20 bucks a shot, which at nearly three bucks a gallon amounts to approximately the amount of gas it takes an SUV to get to the station and wait in line. We’re hoarding our gas, because we’re afraid we’ll have to start driving to Boca next week and won’t be able to fill up again without great difficulty. Living in San Francisco really helped when it came to picking out this place—Amy wanted a place that would offer us the ability to walk to get whatever we needed, and that has made this situation far more bearable than it could have been.

Speaking of work, I have no idea what teaching will be like when we get back—how many of my students will be in class? how many of them will be without power? will I still be without power? how much will I have to readjust my syllabi again? should I adjust my grading criteria to allow for the added difficulties brought on by the storm?

One last thing—Amy has invented a new cocktail I have dubbed the Katrilma. It’s the kind of drink that comes from whatever you have left over. Vodka, cherry juice and ginger ale over ice if you have it—dangerously sweet and powerful.



Saturday 6:00 p.m.

Power returned to the homes a block south of us, with a crackling transformer and flames popping out of the wires on the pole in the parking lot of the Greek Orthodox Church across the street. I walked over there to make sure a fire hadn’t started when I heard the howls of glee from down the street. Of course, that means we’ll get power back in two weeks—I’ve gotten a bit cynical about it lately.

I don’t really have much to complain about. We have hot water, we still have propane, we have plenty of canned food and restaurants are opening up all over the place, so it’s getting better. We’re still on a boil order, but with the FEMA water/ice drop right across the park, we’re in no danger of running out any time soon. The lack of power has gotten us all a lot closer—nights spent playing rummy by candlelight, breaking out our musical instruments and playing together. I’ve really become impressed with Monkey’s talent on the flute—she was improvising around my strumming and singing last night.

Rob and Deb brought Payton back from Miami today—they still don’t have power, but they filled their gas tanks down there and are back on the generator, and they have other options if that becomes an issue again.

We’re going to dinner tonight with some friends, and we’ll stop off for a beer and hopefully some pool afterwards (if the tables aren’t taken). The curfew has been extended to 11:00 now instead of the dusk to dawn one we were under.

We found out today that Monkey’s school situation will be day-to-day after Monday, while we head back for a meeting on Tuesday, with classes to resume on Wednesday. Here’s hoping we’re up and running at home before then.

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