Gathering Storms

Playing dodgeball with hurricanes

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click to enlarge STORM SHUDDERS: Some frazzled locals are in - no hurry to undo their hurricane-proofing. - scott harrel
scott harrel
STORM SHUDDERS: Some frazzled locals are in no hurry to undo their hurricane-proofing.

At this time — Monday, around noon — it's looking like Ivan's going to give us a miss. For the third time in less than six weeks, the Bay area has avoided facing the full force of a hurricane. It started to seem like we'd dodged this one around Saturday evening, actually, but everybody's nerves were still ratcheted up tight. Shelter openings and school closings were still being confirmed as late as Sunday night, and today, no one's in much of a hurry to pull the plywood off their windows.Ivan got far more conversational time than Charley or Frances. Everywhere I went this weekend, strangers horned in on other strangers' reports, rumors and assumptions. In the bathroom at Tijuana Flats. At the bar in the Uptown Café. Out in the hallway during a poorly attended music-business seminar at the Masquerade. Not everyone was willing to give Ivan his due — a few of my friends told me dismissively that they'd stopped watching TV and listening to the radio, that they were sick of all the hoopla. But those people had the same flighty, desperately confused look in their eyes as everyone else, and were perfectly willing to join the unending dialogue about the storm.

It was to be expected, of course. Three storms (consecutive or not) haven't hit the state during a single hurricane season in longer than half of the average human lifespan. Ivan reached Category 5 status. It killed more than 60 people on its way to the Gulf of Mexico. And the area is still smarting and vulnerable after Frances — rivers flooded, gas supplies low, power only recently restored, "D" batteries a serious pain in the ass to locate.

But it's more than that, too. There's a power to the number three, and after two near-misses (which is not meant in any way to downplay the plight of those for whom Charley and Frances were both a hell of a lot more than "near-misses"), some folks are naturally inclined to suspect that the third time might be the charm. What's more, the two that have already been here were both, well, weird in their frustrating behavior. Charley barreled straight for the Pinellas County coastline before making an extreme and wholly unanticipated jog to the right. Frances, on the other hand, slowed to a menacing, deliberate walk, like the masked killer from some slasher flick who takes his time, but always catches up with the fleeing nubile coed. (More than anything, Frances reminded me of that Simpsons episode wherein Sideshow Bob attempts to murder Krusty the Klown by crashing into him with a full-size replica of the Wright brothers' slow, wooden prototype aircraft — Krusty panics, dives through a window and cowers on the ground, but after a while stands, checks his watch, lights a cigarette and wonders irritably, "What is the freakin' hold-up?")

Both storms were unnerving. The familiar course of our lives has been consistently out of whack for a month now. We're tired and disoriented, and beginning to wonder exactly what we did to piss off Neptune, or Poseidon, or Shiva, or Whomever. Some of our businesses are taking a hit. Some of our yards are trashed. Some of our meals ended up contributing to the stench emanating from alley dumpsters. We have been more than inconvenienced, and our patience is gone.

As a direct and eventual result of a major lapse in judgment on my part earlier this year, I spent Saturday on a Hillsborough County Parks Department cleanup crew, picking up and hauling trailers full of blown-down tree limbs out to a landfill. Man, there was shit everywhere. And every time we pulled away from a property with a trailer full of it, people came running out of their houses to flag us down and demand that we take their woody refuse away before Ivan could turn it into a mess of lethal projectiles.

It was completely understandable. It was also completely unreasonable ("Sir, do you really see any room in that trailer for your trees?"), and some of the homeowners were irrationally angered by the prospect of having to wait another couple of hours, or maybe a day.

This is what prolonged discombobulation can do to people.

And that's all most of us are — discombobulated, as opposed to newly homeless or suddenly spouseless or catastrophically injured. We'd do well to remember that. If you have trouble doing so, just channel-surf for a bit and take in some of the ubiquitous footage of Jamaica. Or Port Charlotte. Or West Palm, and remind yourself that we got off pretty easily.

Then take a deep breath, and go back to watching that new tropical depression swirling around down there somewhere.

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