Where was I?
Since I wrote my last post from Big Pine Key, let’s go back to that awesome day.We spent the morning snorkeling for lobster. After lunch, my brother and Toby headed back out. I glopped aloe on my sunburned back and sat at my mom and stepdad’s blue table, the same place I wrote my first post years ago. I typed up the lobster roll recipe and hit publish. Then I simmered guavas, juiced key limes, and threw together a slaw to go on our grilled fish tacos.Later on we sat outside and watched the key deer family walk by. The adults stopped to smell what we were grilling. The baby stayed back, watching us cautiously. There’s no place like Big Pine Key.
The next day a spiral in the Atlantic was named Irma. An awful name, apologies to any Irmas out there. We closed the hurricane shutters, put the boat on the trailer, and headed back up the west coast.
Back in Tampa, I dusted off the hurricane supplies, stocked up on water (after striking out at 3 stores) and waited in line for fuel. I’m still kicking myself for not buying a Hurricane Irma cake from Publix. Yes, while Rick Scott was telling us to get out now or we’re all gonna die, Publix was making us hurricane cakes.
As Irma spun toward Florida, every forecast looked worse for the west coast. A mandatory evacuation was ordered for our neighborhood. Toby was back to work piloting ships, and he’d keep on until bad weather forced the port to close. Once the storm passed, come hell or high water (or both), ships needed to move around Tampa Bay, and he’d be right back to it. We couldn’t join the masses heading north. We decided to ride it out at his office, a strong building near the port. I moved carloads of supplies there and set up camp.
Irma’s eye was heading straight toward Tampa Bay, along with a storm surge that could swamp us. I thought of how Homestead looked after Andrew: Leveled. Gone. Irma was Andrew on steroids. My stomach was in knots. On Friday Toby was on the last fuel tanker in Tampa before the port was set to close. The interstates were clogged with evacuees. Gas stations were running out of fuel. The pressure was on for the tanker’s captain to stay at the dock discharging fuel as long as possible. All mariners know how dangerous hurricanes can be, but the captain of this tanker lives in Houston, and for him Harvey is an open wound. His parents were rescued from a second-story window onto a boat. Among his family alone, they lost two homes and 6 cars. He wasn’t sticking around Tampa for another hurricane no matter the fuel shortage. Soon he was off to sea, and Toby was finally on his way home around midnight Friday night.
I was ready to talk him into leaving Tampa when he got here, but I didn’t have to. I helped him move furniture and a chest freezer and we took down 3 heavy gates, adrenaline fueling my strength. We loaded a car with jugs of water and moved it to a high spot in a parking garage. We packed the other car with all we needed to live on over the coming days, weeks, who knows. Then we drove east on Route 60 in the dead of night, completely alert without a wink of sleep.
By the time we made it to Vero, we were driving through gusting wind and rain. Irma was still a few hundred miles away, but bands of foul weather already encompassed the entire state. We hunkered down with my parents and our friend Jimmy at Angela’s (even though she was in North Carolina. THANK YOU, ANGELA!!!).As Irma neared, the metal shutters thundered against the house. The intercom on the street echoed with tornado warnings, and our cell phones blew up with alerts to take shelter in the middle of the house. I thought about grabbing my cat and heading for the bathtub, but I looked over at the guys, all slumped on the couch. And there was my mom, cooking dinner before the power went out. So I made myself a gin and tonic and got to work on a salad.
After dinner we watched the weather channel. Irma was lined up to knock out Big Pine Key, Pine Island, and then Tampa. We hoped the moron standing in the wind with a microphone would get taken out by flying debris.
The wind sounded like a freight train heading toward us, but we couldn’t see outside. Someone on the couch decided we should open the garage door and take a quick look. I kinda wanted to see what it was like out there, too, so we gathered in the garage, hit the button, and watched the door slide open. The wind whooshed in and just at that moment, I kid you not, it went dark. We lost power. I tried to stay calm but WE’RE STANDING OUTSIDE IN THE DARK IN THE MIDDLE OF A HURRICANE. And then the lights came back on and we all went back inside and laughed.
It took two days for big ol’ Irma to clear out of here. On the drive back on Route 60, all the traffic lights were out. Signs and trees were toppled over. There was a car wrapped around a telephone pole. Turtles and rattlesnakes in the middle of the road. Pastures flooded, cows gathered on the only patches of grass left. I thought about zombie apocalypse movies.
A few texts trickled in from friends. Our house is okay. A grand oak tipped over on our street, taking power lines down with it. We spent the next 6 days without electricity, cleaning up the yard, cleaning out the refrigerator, sweating it out in 90-degree heat, but we didn’t complain. We were so thankful to be home.
Back on Big Pine Key, it’s a much different story. The road to the Lower Keys is finally open, and right now my brother and stepdad are dealing with water intrusion, spraying bleach on the mold, cleaning out freezers of rotten bait and last season’s catch, and assessing all the repairs. It’s devastating, disgusting, and overwhelming. That’s the waterline. There’s a little drip from the outside shower, and a baby key deer is drinking from it. We’ll carry on, too.