So there was this weather thing called Michael. Maybe you've heard of it.
It was massive and it was mean and it took a disliking to the Florida Panhandle. Storm surges of up to 12 feet or more. Perhaps a foot or more of water. Winds of up to a gazillion miles an hour. The weathermen were disappointed when it finally made landfall in Panama City because it was only a Cat 4 storm, so they said it was nearly a Cat 5 storm and they were right. The winds were at 155 miles an hour and a Cat 5 needs winds of 157 mph. ("Missed it by that much!")
And here we were, living on a little mile-wide sandbar on the Gulf Coast. Jessie and the girls were inland where there has not been a flood in like forever and their house is solid -- more than 75 years of storms and nary a bit of damage. Christina and Walt also live in a big, solid home and were not expecting much damage. Their only worry was if the power went out. Jack is on a feeding tube and requires electricity. Kitty and I are both rather slow-moving and could be at risk. (All weather forecasts showed Michael to land somewhere near our front driveway.) So it was decided that Kitty and I would take Jack -- feeding apparatus and all and head north to wait out the storm. Jessie and her girls were fine hunkering down in place. Christina and Walt would wait and see what happened and might join us later. Erin would go with us as a sort of dogsbody and help with Jack. (Mark, BTW, was safely ensconced at college.)
Kitty got on the computer to look for a place north of us with easy highway access. She found a spot in Dothan, Alabama. Kitty is directionally impaired. She booked us Tuesday and Wednesday night at a motel which shall go nameless but rhymes with Notel Nix.
Turns out Dotham and Notel Nix are north of us but are also east of us and were in the path of the storm. We loaded up and off we went, with Kitty driving. and a very unhappy cat in a carrier between Erin and Jack.
After an hour or so, Kitty needed a caffeine fix so we stopped off at a McDonald's for a large cup of black coffee for Kitty and a caramel something-or-other drink for Erin. Turns out when there's a big storm coming and there are a lot of mandatory and voluntary evacuations, few place are open and those that are open get slammed. This McDonald's was live a beehive with what must have been seventy-five percent of the population of Florida waiting to get their orders. The restaurant was running out of food and the lone person at the cash register (her name was Betty and she was very old and very befuddled) was running out of patience. It took close to an hour to get that coffee.
Caffeined up, we headed off again.
Kitty picked Dothan because on the tiny map on our computer it looked like it was just off a major highway. It wasn't. Maps are funny like that. We ended up on some long country roads with big patched of cotton fields and not much else for almost an hour. There may have been banjo music in the background. I expected to come across various signs, saying, "Welcome to the friendliest small town in Alabama -- 78 (or 32, or 112) days without shooting a Democrat!"
We ended up in Dothan and found the Notel Nix just before it started to rain. Not heavy rain, mind you, just a little, almost gentle, rain that Mother Nature gave us to throw us off our guard. (In case you're interested, Dothan, Alabama's middle name is "City of many Waffle Houses.")
About this Notel Nix: turns out it had no amenities other than a closed swimming pool. It room was supposed to have two queen-size beds. It had two double beds. There was a mini-fridge that must have been on defrost or something because when we opened it, water poured out. There was a questionable looking microwave and a rickety television. There was an ice bucket but no ice machine. There were no vending machines. There was an overflowing trash barrel on the walkway two rooms down. No little rate-our-service cards, no local information, no complimentary pad of paper, no shampoo (but there was a tiny bar of soap), and not much of anything else. Someone had punched a hole in the bathtub, them someone else tried (and failed) to patch it. There were cigarette burns on the top of the tub. And there was hot water for a shower -- sadly, there was absolutely no cold water to regulate the water temperature to something under a lobster boil. Just above each bed were large stains on the ceiling.
The beds did have sheets, thin blankets, and thin covering blankets. The next morning we discovered that Erin's blanket had over a dozen cigarette burns, some more than an inch and a half in diameter. The blanket also had a dead bug...luckily not a bedbug.
So there we were. Stuck. Every hotel, motel, and chicken coop in the area was booked to capacity. Being of hardy pioneer stock, we determined to muddle through. It was only for two days, right?
In the meantime, back on the Florida Panhandle. Christina and Walt were drafted to move a neighbor's household furniture from a large U-Haul truck to a storage facility. I don't know why this had to be done and Christina and Walt are not sure.either. One town over, Jessie's cats started going psycho over the incoming storm.
Back at Notel Nix, at 6:30 in the morning I went search of coffee. Most motels offer coffee and some sort of little nibble as a "continental breakfast." Notel Nix had no nibbles but there were two large coffee urns. One was empty and the other had very little coffee in it. Just as well because Notel Nix had only three very small styrofoam coffee cups. (How small? you ask. You know those teeny tiny coffee cups that detectives in the European police shows on Acorn Television drink out of? That small.)
Anyway, it's still raining. And still not much, just enough to keep the weathermen excited. The storm doesn't come until 1:00 in the afternoon. Trees and bushes were swaying. The rain was coming down sideways. It wasn't too bad since we were situated at the outer edges of the storm.
And then the lights flickered. A little while later, they flickered again. And again. And again. And at four o'clock, we lost power completely. Losing power is not a big thing normally, but when you are in a close, breathless, small room in Alabama and the air conditioning goes off, it becomes a big thing. We persevered. We put chairs out on the walkway and watched the storm. So did a lot of other guests at Notel Nix. The other guests did not care who heard their conversations so we ended up with a lot of information and opinions we did not really need or want. But the storm was pretty.
Turns out only our side of the road lost power. On the other side of the road some five hotels/motels had power; all of course were booked up. All businesses were closed (even the various Waffle Houses!) and further down the road both sides were out of power. We went to bed about 6:30. We locked the cat in her carrier and kept the door open in the vain hope of getting some air. We also had a vain hope that power would be restored. And we were fairly confident that looters and neer-do-wells would not bother with the invitation our open door signaled.
And then the alligator sauntered in...
No. Just kidding about the alligator part. Nothing sauntered into our room, especially not a breeze nor any sign of air.
By 1:00 a.m. we had had enough and decided to pack up and head for home. The storm was well over and was bringing its destruction to Georgia and the Carolinas. Have you ever tried to pack in complete darkness? It's not fun. But we were finally ready and a car pulled up to give us a warning. We were under a mandatory curfew (possible looters, you know) and would either be sent back to Notel Nix (as these people were) or be arrested if caught by the police. But we could not stay any longer without electricity (Jack's feeding tube pump, remember?) so we decided to risk becoming outlaws. And off we went.
We saw no looters or downed trees or any sort of damage as we left Dothan. We also saw no traffic and no lights anywhere as we drove through town. About ten or fifteen miles outside of Dothan we began to encounter downed trees and power lines. A lot of downed trees. But road crews had already cleared a lane through those trees, so we just spent forty or fifty miles weaving around the trees and over the downed wires. We saw only tow damaged buildings -- a storefront whose overhang had crumpled up and a shed which was completely destroyed. As we got closer to home the damage was minimal. We dropped Erin and Jack off a little after 5:00 a.m. and headed home, making the cat (and Kitty) very happy.
There's little else to say. Please do not think I am disparaging Alabama (state motto: At least we're not Mississippi!) or Alabamans in any way. It's a nice state and has some pretty nice people. I will admit that throughout the past two days I kept humming an old Tom Lehrer ditty to myself:
I want to go back to Alabammy/Back to the arms of my dear old Mammy/Her cooking's lousy and her hands are clammy/But, what the hell, it's home...
Oh. Did I mention that yesterday -- the day of the storm -- was Christina and Walt's twentieth anniversary? Congratulations, you guys!