Garrison Keillor once said that he felt a peculiar form of exhilaration when the temperatures dipped far below zero degrees in Minnesota. He knew that Nature was trying to kill him and wasn’t succeeding. Hurricane Matthew is about three hundred miles away from my Orlando home and is due to arrive sometime early tomorrow morning. I’m not feeling exhilaration right now.
A forecaster on one station keeps showing the worst possible track that predicts that downtown Orlando will be plowed. He reminds me of one of my great aunts who only shook off her lethargy when someone was about to die. (She seemed to feed off of other people’s misery.) Other meteorologists are holding onto a coastal track that will sheer alongside Melbourne and Cocoa Beach and Titusville. That would put the eye of the storm about seventy miles away. Neither of these possibilities gives me a “Keillor”.
What I’m feeling instead is a sense of resignation spiked at odd intervals by a fluttering in the pit of my stomach that I recognize as an incipient wave of panic. I’ve been through a couple of hurricanes before including Charlie, Jeanne and Frances in 2004. Experience does not bring comfort in this case. I know that tomorrow I’ll be sitting with my wife in my hall with the bedroom and bathroom doors closed listening to debris pinging off the sides of my house while the wind and rain roars outside. This could last twelve hours. The storm is moving forward sluggishly at 10 m.p.h. and will have plenty of time to pummel our house and spawn mini tornadoes. The upshot is that we’ll have a good long time to sit and ponder our mortality and to wonder how well our house is surviving the onslaught.
Floridians typically handle hurricane news by going into denial. Newscasters with microphones in hand show up at beach front communities and ask stubborn residents why they’re not evacuating. Sometimes the daredevils will smile weakly and downplay the danger, but some of them have a haunted look in their eyes. They just can’t bring themselves to leave their homes, but know deep down that they might be making a fatal decision.
When I was out running errands yesterday to get ready for Friday I saw a looked of hooded desperation on the faces of fellow customers. They seemed very determined and intent on completing their tasks. Folks in traffic were fairly well behaved, but there were times when someone would take a desperate chance to dart from a side street onto a main drag, to shift lanes abruptly and make a sudden turn. There was a palpable sense of tension in the air, and I realized that no one I met was taking this one lightly.
Right now the sky has cleared off a bit and the rain has stopped. A light breeze is rustling the leaves on my magnolia, and all appears tranquil. An old guy wearing a power blue baseball cap and baggy shorts power walked by my window a few minutes ago. Judy and I just had lunch together and watched a detective show, our midday routine. The normal banalities of our daily life seem a bit more precious and comforting at the moment, and I hope that come Friday evening we can fall back into the rut of a normal progression of days.
Folks move to Florida to retire in the warm sunshine. I’ve joked with Judy for years that we should be contrary and move north for our retirement. But I’m not kidding when I say that Minnesota is looking better and better.
Postscript: 10/7–The storm veered about 30 miles east on Thursday night and we were spared the full onslaught. On Friday morning we’re getting strong gusts of 50 to 60 m.p.h. and we occasionally hear a transformer blowing out. But for now we have power. The rain and wind won’t really ease off until 3 or 4 p.m., but I believe (and hope) that as of 9:30 a.m. that the worst has passed us by. Folks on the coast in Volusia and Flagler counties are taking a beating right now, and I wish them the best.