This week, I went on an adventure with my new friend, Irma. Although “friend” probably isn’t the right word for a catastrophic hurricane. Not that my encounters with her were all bad, but as a general rule, a natural disaster is not a cake walk. Although we did have a cake… But I’ll get to that later.
When you live in Florida, you get used to people telling you that the entire state is going to be wiped out every hurricane season. And inevitably, it drizzles for 15 minutes, everyone is frantic, and then they realize that the storm has changed course for the 63rd time and everyone is saved. It’s a miracle. Apparently, Florida gets a lot of miracles. So this year, when the reports started coming in that Hurricane Irma was headed straight for us, the only ones to panic were the inexperienced out-of-staters. Most Floridians took the opportunity to act all cool and knowledgeable: “Don’t worry, it’ll be just like Matthew last year. That was nothing!” and “This’ll be nothing like Wilma. Now that was a real storm.” But at the same time as we try to brush it off, we keep that slight possibility in the backs of our minds that this one will actually come and normal activities will be cancelled. This creates a difficult internal struggle. The most common prayer becomes, “God, let just enough destruction reign so I don’t have to get out bed for week, but no one dies or is seriously injured.” It’s the only way to justify the irrepressible excitement in the air.
And my class, in particular, seems to attract this excitement. Before we arrived, my school had not had to evacuate in over a decade. But we show up and two years in a row, they kick us out. We are becoming hurri-pros. So we watched the radar. We listened to some professors tell us the world is ending. Others were not as convinced, warning us that we better not leave town because we had busy classes coming up. Regardless, we kept up hope and started preparing for the worst. And the worst was coming… Or so they told us.
On Tuesday, it was announced that classes would be cancelled starting Thursday. So while we still had classes on Wednesday, everyone was too busy trying to figure out how to stay alive to really learn anything. Is it safe to stay in town? Basically every prediction said that our campus would be underwater but this did not stop some of my friends from deciding to stick it out. I definitely thought they were goners, but every man for himself, I guess?
So if staying isn’t a real option, do we go to the other coast of Florida or leave the state, altogether? It took three days of back-and-forth to finally make a decision on this question but a couple of friends and I drove to Tampa to wait in the meantime. Even after the fact, there were so many potential paths for the storm that it is hard to say whether we made the right choice in staying in Tampa. Two of my friends left Tampa for Virginia, spending 6 extra hours sitting in evacuation traffic. At that point, Irma looked like she was going to waltz right by us so it seemed wise to spare ourselves an endless road trip and the possibility of being stuck in the middle of the interstate, with no gas in sight when Irma decided to come say hello. In these situations, you can’t help but fear the worst scenario. And the incessant warnings of the news only reaffirm that the absolute worst can become a reality.
For a day, it seemed like we were in the clear in Tampa. Although, my West Palm Beach home looked like it was going down the drain. But who needs education, anyway? My friends and I started to talk about where all of us could transfer if PBA became a school for the fishes. But I soon decided that it really wasn’t worth all the trouble of effectively starting over. Instead, we could all just stall our lives right there and never grow up. It was a good run while it lasted.
But then the storm began to slowly and steadily turn our way. We knew that Sunday and Monday would be the worst so we did our best to live it up until then. And our way of living it up is the aquarium and Panera Bread. It was a real party. We spent all of Friday doing homework because, according to professors, running for your life give you lots of time to do extra assignments. That’s not what my experience has taught me, but what do I know?
And after two straight days of Irma turning toward us, the strongest Atlantic hurricane in history was coming right for our door. My biggest problem with this realization was not the possibility of flooding or no electricity. I was peeved that my friends in West Palm who I had been checking on every few hours, warning about mandatory evacuations, and updating on the status of their coming death, were suddenly in better shape than I was. Now I love my friends and I am super happy they are alive. I really am. But now they have leverage to say I was overacting and I also REALLY love being right…
But anyway, our preparations began to take a more serious turn. Except they didn’t. We bailed water out of our pool, only to have it fill back up after the first feeder band. So we went back out during a lull with our mini trash cans to dump more water, but it soon turned into a water fight which ended with everyone in the pool. Proof that you can still have fun in the face of imminent doom!
To make matters even more exciting, my friend stayed with my family during the hurrication. As it turned out, her 19th birthday was right when the storm was scheduled to be at its worst. So I had my sister run to Wal-Mart one hour before it closed its doors to grab cake mix. Who else can say they had a hurricake? Irma may or may not have stolen all of her presents which were shipped to our college campus with an unknown future. But I rummaged through my mom’s stash of my future Christmas presents to find her some substitute gifts. You can never go wrong with candles and dog slippers.
And just before Irma’s arrival, she weakened to a Category 1 storm and once again, all that worrying was for naught. But Irma did her fair share of damage in other places. It is important to be prepared for the worst on the off-chance that the meteorologists actually know what they are talking about. So let’s say I’m still right for not choosing to stay in West Palm Beach. Because while it was already pretty bad, the potential was disastrous and that is a risk I would rather not I (or my friends) take. But I guess in the end, our prayers came true. We got a week off school, our campus was mostly spared, along with the rest of Florida, and we all have a really great story to tell. What does panic, adventure, near-death, and 12 hours of Lord of the Rings equal? Happy Birthday, Corrine!