My fiancee Dana and I just moved from Los Angeles to Palm Beach County a month and a half ago. We have our wedding planned for next week, September 17th. Last Wednesday we decided to flee Irma’s wrath sooner rather than later to beat the mother of all traffic jams of fellow fleers, which was sure to come by morning light on Thursday when all the schools were closed.
I tried to get airline tickets but they were disappearing fast and what was left was going up in price even faster. I figured we’d drive. I started looking for hotel rooms in Atlanta Georgia. I was certain that based on the storm tracks there was no way Irma could get her fangs into us there. It seemed like a lot of people had decided the same thing because rooms were disappearing faster than twenty dollar bills on a sidewalk. I became panicked and grabbed the best option I could.
Dana teaches dance at a school of the arts. As soon as she got off work at her school, we thru a bunch of things in our Chevy Volt including water and emergency food then headed north. The goal was Savannah for a couple of days and then Atlanta. Since it was my birthday, while driving we started singing “Cra-happy Birthday to me! Cra-happy Birthday to me! Cra-happy Birthday dear me. Cra-happy birthday to me.” While laughing our heads off. It’s kind of a catchy tune. What do you think?
Even though we bugged out early, we ended up mired in the tides of a first wave of fleers. Traffic on I-95 was miserable, but I knew that tomorrow it would be far worse, so we pressed on. Many of the slowdowns were due to construction which reduced the number of lanes. It seemed like every county and town wanted its own bite out of the construction dollars pie. Their failure to coordinate construction projects with their fellow counties to limit the amount of work at any one time would now cost lives.
There were also lots of accidents due to stupidly fast driving in wet weather. Since moving to Florida, I’ve learned many Floridians think it is their god given right to tailgate at high speed and dangerously cut off anyone doing less than 100MPH. Imagine a redneck in a brand new jacked up pickup doing 100MPH racing a crazed angry person in a Rolls Royce, and you have the picture. Mayors and the police have repeatedly acknowledged that South Florida has the most dangerous aggressive drivers in the country. Traffic fatality statistics appear to bare out their claim. The police need to hand out a lot more tickets and have promise to do so, but seem to do next to nothing probably because they are understaffed. So while there were a lot of respectful people fleeing from Irma on the roads, the cast from Mad Max was determined to ruin their lives if Irma didn’t get them first.
By midnight we were exhausted and the drivers on the roads were getting even more medieval, so we decided to stop for the night at the next random spot. At a hotel in Titusville—home of the Kennedy Space Center—we were greeted at the lobby door by a full sized replica of an astronaut in a spacesuit. I wondered if the universe was telling us we needed more protection from the elements? I started humming “cra-happy birthday to me” and smiled. I was really starting to like my new improved version of that song.
By the evening of the next day we’d finally arrived in Savannah after two days on the road. We have friends in Savannah and were spending a couple of nights at their home. When we arrived, we learned two things. Our friends live on a barrier island and that they had just received evacuation orders! So we all decided to flee together. We were going to head to Atlanta but by then so was Irma. It was starting to feel like the crazed monster was stalking us. So we decided to pull a fast one on her and head to Fayetteville North Carolina instead. We think we’ve given her the slip. So please don’t tell Irma.
On Friday at 5AM our little band of wanderers formed up into a two car caravan of refugees as we parted the not-so-red seas and made it to the promised lands of North Carolina. At our hotel in Fayetteville we found the parking overflowing with powerline trucks and the lobby filled with linemen and women. They are staging here for the aftermath in Florida.
Today, Saturday, we are sitting in Fayetteville looking at the grim news. Irma has not even taken her first bite out of Florida and almost a million people have lost power, and too many have lost more than that. Irma may be one of the most destructive hurricanes ever, and yet she will also perversely provide a great deal of jobs and livelihood for countless thousands and thousands of people who will clean up and rebuild after Irma is gone leaving death and destruction as her gifts to humanity.
I hope we learn from this and only rebuild or replace with structures that can withstand future Irmas. How many times will we rebuild the same vulnerable home? Even if dollars and cents are all you care about, it’s still far cheeper to help people rebuild something sustainable than to keep paying for them to rebuild.
I feel very privileged that I was able to celebrate my cra-happy birthday on the road and that we are safe and dry for now in a rundown hotel 700 miles from home. Even here in Fayetteville the shelves in the stores have been emptied of water. So the fear of Irma extends far beyond her greedy reach.
Dana and I are thinking about all our wedding plans in Florida which could be very waterlogged, wrecked, and blacked out when we return hopefully and hopeful on Wednesday. The venue we picked was on an intercoastal in Fort Lauderdale right next to the ocean. Yikes! Who knows we may end up married under a tent like our ancestors. I feel so unbelievably fortunate. It’s been a birthday and will be a wedding that we will never forget.