There are three things about hurricanes that stick in my head. The third is that hurricanes, like tornadoes, are a reminder of just how fragile we are in the great scheme of things.
You can have loads of money and an important title. You can own boats, cars, pickups, jet skis, designer loafers and all that other silly stuff and some storm with a dumb name can up and take it all away in a heartbeat.
When it comes to Mother Nature it’s best not to get too cocky. I suspect for a lot of folks that notion is like closing the barn door after the mule got out, but maybe it’s not too late for some.
The second thing about hurricanes is you never really know what they’re going to do until they do it. Which makes them a lot like everything else these days.
Still, as of Wednesday afternoon while Florida was in the process of getting smacked hard, and one obviously hopes everyone comes out on the other side none the worse for wear, it looked as if we hereabouts were going to fare much better.
But hurricanes have changed their mind before. Floyd did in 1999.
It was supposed to do a number on coastal Georgia but instead made a last minute turn north. While it seemed half the state evacuated – and some spent a dozen hours or more trying to get from, say, Midway to Statesboro at 2 mph, – I was pre-evacuated to Macon already, covering the Dexter Palmer murder trial for the Coastal Courier, which in those days had a Sunday edition. And reporters!
When the trial ended and Hurricane Floyd had headed north and I knew my folks and wife and her folks were OK, I stayed one more night at my hotel to catch some college football. But first I went out to a nearby convenience store and got some beer and pork rinds – two of my three major food groups at the time – and came back to the hotel.
As I walked through the lobby with a 12-pack of cold Miller Lite in one hand and the pork rinds in the other and headed toward the elevator, I noticed a bunch of folks standing around, smoking and drinking coffee. They looked kind of haunted and seemed to be trying not to stare at me. Then, as the elevator doors slid shut I spied a giant banner in the lobby.
It read, in all caps: WELCOME, GEORGIA STATE AA CONVENTION.”
Then came Hurricane Irma in 2017. That’s the one that caused us the most damage and prompted my wife to utter words I never thought I’d hear her say: “I’m going to sell this place.”
In her defense, she was tired. And frustrated. And as I have learned over the years through trial and error, my wife, who stands maybe 5-foot and weighs about 100 pounds, is not someone to be trifled with when she is ornery. Irma made her ornery.
We thought we’d made it through a second hurricane in as many years mostly unscathed, but then around 10 p.m. the water started coming in – first in the kitchen and a nearby bathroom, then into the hallway and living room and the downstairs bedrooms. It got to be ankle high at one point. “#*#@(@@)” said my wife, and I think she growled at me. “#(*#)@)@)(#())!!!.”
We spent most of the rest of the night bailing water, her and I, and over the next few days talking to our insurance agent – fortunately we carry flood insurance – and renting giant fans and water extractors and ultimately ripping out carpet and living on a concrete slab until we got the damage repaired. Truth is, we got off light in the great scheme of things, while also being reminded of just how fast things can go sideways.
For years between Floyd in 1999 and Matthew in 2016 I was of two minds about hurricanes. Part of me was tired of near misses and wanted to be like Jim Cantore and go stand on a beach while 100 mph wind blew through my lack of hair, just so I could say I covered one. And part of me, wishing no harm to anyone, thought a hurricane up Georgia’s spout every now and then might blow some Ohio State and Michigan fans back where they came from, or at least dissuade a few hundred thousand more from coming down here trying to say “y’all” and eating all the oysters. Hurricane Matthew cured me of that, and I hope to never see another hurricane in my life even though I know I will.
As for the first thing about a hurricane that sticks with me, it’s those good, brave souls who no matter how bad things get always rush to help, the first responders and linemen and volunteers who don’t ask for help, they give it.
They’re a reminder that the worst things that happen bring out the best of us, and sometimes, the best in the rest of us, too.