Wednesday, October 26, 2005

As I Was Saying…

The power came back on about ten minutes ago.

First, thanks to Brian for braving his first trip into blogging on my behalf. It was partially out of my concern to let you know that all was well, and also to make sure that I kept my blogging habit fed, even if I had to do it long-distance to Albuquerque. I’ve been trying to convince Brian to start his own blog; maybe this will be the impetus.

Second, thanks for all the good wishes and thoughts. It was gratifying to know that you were out there…especially those of you who went through it too or have been through it recently. MKH, I hope you get your power back if you don’t have it already, and Bryan, I had a chat with my neighbor about the avocado tree. It is so denuded that the only thing it can throw off now is bark.

I can report officially that I came through the storm with virtually no damage to the house, the Mustang, or the landscaping other than a broken limb on a tree that was easily removed. Most of the damage in the neighborhood was arborial, including my neighobors on both sides who lost trees in front, and to the houses with the Spanish tile roofs; none seemed to escape the wrath of the wind. Fortunately I have flat tiles and they all survived.

As you probably know, the rest of Miami-Dade County got slammed pretty hard, but the worst was reserved for Broward and Palm Beach Counties to the north; Downtown Fort Lauderdale especially took some hard hits as did points north. The damage figures are still coming in, but it’s going to be somewhere between $3 to $9 billion for the entire state; this hurricane touched 20 counties, which means basically anything below a line from Tampa to Cape Canaveral got some damage. Getting power back in Coral Gables in less than 72 hours says a lot about the people at FPL; they are saying that they should have full power restored to the 2.5 million that lost it in two to three weeks.

I don’t need to go into the minute-by-minute description of the last three days, but suffice it to say that there were some very impressive moments in this experience. The peak of the storm hit about a half-hour after the power went out, and I was able to watch it roar by mainly as a wind event with gusts up to 90 or so recorded at Miami International Airport, which is about five miles north of here. As the eyewall passed around 10:30, I went out onto my front porch, which faces north, and watched the clouds go by; it was like something out of a Steven Spielberg movie with them roiling by like paint spilled in water. (“Close Encounters of the Third Kind” comes to mind.) The most interesting thing was the smell; the bands had come over the Everglades and picked up the scent of the marsh and swamplands and for a while it was like we were in the middle of Shark Valley. After the eyewall passed and went on out to sea the winds turned and came back from the north, hammering the front of the house as hard as they had the back just a half-hour before. Fortunately most the the debris had been pushed away, so the only thing that landed in the front yard was a ton of leaves from the live oak across the street.

By 1:30 p.m. it was over, and by 3:00 I was out in the backyard pulling the limbs and the hundreds of little palm branches and avocado leaves to the debris pile in the alley. The immediate cause of the power outage was apparent; a tree in someone’s back yard to the west had fallen south-to-north across the line and blocked the alley as well as pulled the plug. The phones worked the entire time as did my 1976 Panasonic AM/FM/8-track radio with batteries. The cable TV is, of course, whacked, but like during Katrina and the week afterward, no great loss.

Without power, going to bed when it gets dark is about your only choice. I was reading One Fine Day in the Middle of the Night by Christopher Brookmyre (which I heartily recommend), and so I took to bed with the flashlight, something I haven’t done since I was 14, and read myself to sleep. Getting up in the morning was easy; the alarm in my head would go off — that doesn’t require FPL — and I’d lie in bed listening to the ceaseless nattering of the folks at “Hurricane Central” until it got light enough to see. Fortunately there was enough residual hot water to take a Navy shower both Tuesday and today. There was no hot coffee, of course, and none of the local places were open yet, so yesterday I made do with a can of warm Diet Pepsi. Desperate times…. This morning I stood outside Einstein’s on the corner of Ponce de Leon and Miracle Mile with a group of fellow caffeine addicts, panting at the sign that said they would open “as soon as power was restored,” and that part of Coral Gables got it the night before. After twenty minutes the manager came to the door with genuine fear in his eyes and said they couldn’t open until “later in the day” and promptly locked the door again, perhaps envisioning being pelted with paving stones. We found a Cuban restaurant down the street that was selling cafe con leche, and with that and the Miami Herald — and the crossword puzzle — I had my morning fix set. We did get some entertainment, too. Some idiot (in an SUV, of course) blew through the intersection of Ponce de Leon and Miracle Mile without making a full stop. The rule is that when the stoplights are out, you treat it as a four-way stop. This numbskull decided he was too important in his big old Ford Exxon Valdez and did what we call a South Toledo Slide; barely tapping the brakes before gunning it through. He did it, however, right in front of a Coral Gables police car. Well, there’s $198.50 that asshole won’t get back.

The cavalry in the form of two trucks from First Illuminiation — the power company from Cleveland, Ohio — showed up at two p.m. today to repair the line. They were greeted with hearty cheers from me and my neighbors and offers of Gatorade. They took it in stride, and as you can see, the power is back, I am back, the freezer is empty, and if I never see another can of Dinty Moore beef stew served cold out of the can again…. But compared to what the other people in harder-hit places like Broward County where they have to boil their water and they’re talking weeks to get back their power, I made it through very easily, and I really am counting my blessings.

Life will get back to normal slowly around here. School has been cancelled for the rest of the week in Miami-Dade, Broward, and Monroe Counties, so I will be doing not much other than writing and reading. The local news has carried nothing national, even pre-empting NPR news on the hour for the latest updates on ice and water deliveries.

So. What did I miss?