Thursday, January 19, 2012

Pop Tarts and Hurricanes

I bought a house in 2003, in the nice Florida town of Port St. Lucie. A modest 3/2/2, 1600 square foot slice of suburbia. It was built from scratch and I moved in on December 17, 2003.

Nine months later, in September 2004, I was directly hit by two hurricanes. Frances and Jeanne.


I had never been through a hurricane before, and then – double wham – Frances, a Cat 2, hits on September 4, and exactly three weeks later, Jeanne, a Cat 3 followed the identical path. The eyes of both passed right over my nine-month-old house, as I stayed inside scared out of my wits armed with candles and a loaded shotgun. See, I had heard that after Hurricane Andrew hit Miami in 1992, that there was widespread looting. Well by God, nobody was gonna loot my house!

There was the first lesson. Nobody robs houses during a hurricane, dumbass. They do it afterwards, when the power’s out and the police are busy with other things…and if you live in Miami.

So the loaded shotgun was kinda unnecessary.

The days following the hurricanes were really crazy. You don’t realize how much you depend on electricity until you don’t have it. And I’m not talking about the obvious stuff like for air conditioning or cooking food. It affects everything. For example, gas stations. After the hurricanes passed, gas stations had plenty of fuel in their underground tanks, but you couldn’t get it…because it takes electricity to pump the gas into your car. Street signals don’t work, so each intersection was like a miniature demolition derby where playing chicken was the norm. The radio said to ‘treat each intersection like a four-way stop’ – yeah okay. Tell Earnhart Junior that as he tears through it at 60mph.

Life gets very boring without electricity. No television, no internet. You better have good batteries in your radio because that’s your only connection to the outside world. Which in retrospect, was not that big a deal, since all you are going to hear are 24/7 reports about intersections without working signals.

It is amazing how quickly our mightly country degenerates when there's no electricity. You kind of get glimpses of what Haiti must be like during these times. As we got to our third and fourth day of no power, people started getting desperate. And pretty ripe, from four days of no bathing (which is, by the way, why you are supposed to fill your bathroom tub with water prior to the hurricane coming). Reports of FPL repair trucks, and rumors of where they are restoring power, become the dominant conversation. Hand-made signs at intersections, directing the power trucks to specific locales with the promise of lemonade, food...or other basics needs (use your imagination) were constructed. "FPL...WE ARE ON ELM STREET...FREE BUDWEISERS!" You know how in New Orleans during Mardi Gras, women flash for beads? They were flashing for electricity after the hurricanes here.

Which brings up another phenomena that occurred in the wake of the storms. The electric dance. Not to be confused with the electric slide. Or the atomic dog. No, this was a spontaneous celebration of individuals when the power finally came back on. In my instance, it was a late afternoon as I was lying in my recliner with all the windows open, trying to get my house down to a comfortable 87 degrees. It was Day Five after Frances. I had my eyes closed, trying to force another break from harsh reality, when suddenly, I heard a 'whirr...POP' sound outside. Then there was a flicker of my lights...then off...then...ON! My cable box fired up, my a/c kicked on and my fridge started humming. Power! Overcome with relief, I took to the streets - "WE HAVE POWER!!! POWER I SAY!!! MWAAAAAHHHH HAHAHAHA.....!!!!" And proceeded to do a dance that confirmed my permanent whiteness:

The Electric Dance.

Eating obviously becomes a challenge. To this end, you are advised to stock up on non-perishable foods. MREs – Meals Ready To Eat – were distributed. And that’s another lesson learned. If you see a line of people anywhere, stand in it. Because it meant they were giving out something – ice, bottled water, new fenders…whatever. Get in that line.

You got nothing better to do anyway.

But back to food. Here in Florida, they advise residents to have a ‘hurricane kit’ at the ready, stocked with batteries, first aid kit…and non-perishable food items. I had one. It was stocked with Pringles potato chips, Planters nuts, and pop tarts.

Pop tarts. I had never in my life ever eaten a raw pop tart. They have to be heated in the toaster don’t you know – gotta kill all those preservatives. Well let me tell you – I ate so many GodDAMN unheated pop tarts in those days after Frances and Jeanne that whenever I see them now in the grocery store my mind immediately flashes back to those days after those hurricanes. I cannot even stomach to look at them, much less consume them. Even heated.

The plus side of the Hurricane Season From Hell of 2004 experience was my neighborhood grew closer. My next-door neighbors fired up their charcoal grill and cooked up food for everyone. And everyone brought their meats from their without-electricity refrigerators to cook up before they spoiled. We had a grand time.

But eventually thing got back to normal. Power was restored, and we got back to our lives.

Then Hurricane Wilma hit in 2005.

And I didn’t eat a single damn pop tart.

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