Hurricane insanity: from the archives

August 28, 2011
Hurricane Frances, Sept. 2004

Glad to hear most everyone’s done ok through this weekend’s huge hurricane. It brought to mind 2004, when over a period of weeks, west-central Florida in the direct path of hurricane after hurricane –four. I was living in both Tampa and Pacific Grove, CA and was stuck in Tampa for eight weeks due to the weather. Never got a direct hit, thank God, but each time, we ran the overnight media center for one of the big Florida power companies. Which means the power company communications operation shifted to our office and we each took an overnight shift answering reporter phone. calls from all over the state and country. I dug this Hurricane Diary out of my 2004 archives for your reading pleasure. Back to the Going Home series tomorrow.

Hurricane Frances Diary


5AM Tossed, turned and couldn’t get back to sleep. Got up in the dark, made coffee, cranked up Mary J. Blige’s “No More Drama” (new motto for my personal life) and padded around the house aimlessly, rapping with her. Put dishes away, washed cups, folded towels. Who knew I’d one day find comfort in domestic activities?

6AM Now that I’m awake, I remember that I’ll be working late tonight, doing a customer workshop for a client. We expect 75 pissed off customers and it’s in a rural county, about an hour in traffic from Tampa. It ends at 9pm so it’ll be a late night for early-to-bed me. Wander into my closet and pick out something non-threatening to wear.

6:15AM Oh yeah–I remember that there’s a hurricane coming. Turn on Weather Channel. They predict it’ll probably miss Tampa, but cut a swath through the rest of FL. Hmm. We’ll probably be asked to work overnight shifts managing the Media Center for our power company client –that’s 8pm till 7am every night of the storm…but much of our staff is away on vacation. I’m on call.

Guess I won’t be returning to Calif tomorrow after all.

Leave for work. Hmm. Maybe I’d better get gas. If the port closes, we’re likely to run out during hurricane day. Great idea: the sun’s barely up and lines are already forming at the pumps.

At work. Yep, I’m on duty tonight. I’ll be leaving my workshop at 9PM and going straight back to the downtown high rise I call “work” in Tampa, where I’ll stay all night, till 5:30 or 6AM. My colleague Dave will work with me. It’ll probably be a quiet night. Wow–maybe I can actually get some other work done or even work on the book.

8AM Email my Tampa nephew to bring in the patio furniture, buy me more water, cheese and batteries (I already have the wine). Last week we had a bad storm and the roads home were flooded. I drove (foolishly) through two and three foot waves on Bayshore Blvd. Later I found out that it was mostly overflowing wastewater. No wonder it stunk and thank God the rental car didn’t stall out, forcing me to wade through it. I’d probably be in the hospital now with sepsis.

Flooding’s a risk so close to the Bay. I call my nephew and add sandbags to the list.

8:15AM Our office manager walks in with three big honkin’ flashlights and a bag of batteries. This is a bad sign. A VERY bad sign.

9AM Conference call with the power company. Their emergency communications effort is well organized, with the company plane flying people hither and yon. I’m impressed.

9:30AM Am on hold with Orbitz for 2 hours to cancel my ticket home to California and never get them. Send an email.

Noon Have lunch with my friend and colleague, Andy. We discuss our Oct 1 weekend company retreat in Orlando, a re-do of the one that became hurricane evacuation, to which I brought the man named after my cat. This time I’m bringing a relatively new beau who lives in Atlanta. Andy tells me his wife, Belinda, is going to make spa appointments while we’re there and I tell him I’m in. I get her email address so we can plan.

He says he’s going to Orlando a night early and I say I am, as well. We agree to go dancing the night before his wife and my beau get in. We are definitely partners in crime, but we DO have to get some sleep so we can present at the workshop as well as be ready for our company.

He, Belinda, my new man and I are having dinner at my house the weekend before and I hope they will like him. He is verry sweet, one of the nicest I’ve been out with in a long time, which means I’ll be through with him soon. And I do have to pull back some IQ so as not to scare him.

“Baby,” he drawled sweetly on the phone the other night, “you know what I want to do with you? I want to cuddle up and read a book.”

Sigh. Reading a book would NOT be on my top 10 list of things to do with a 6’2” ex football player who can bench-press 400 lbs with the help of the 54-inch chest contained in his 2X shirts. . I mean, I do support my boyfriends advancing themselves through their relationships with me. Some years ago a 23 yr old who lived with me got his GED during the relationship. So I’m not completely against it. It’s just that life is so short. Can’t they read on their own time?

“I hope you speed read,” I told him. On the other hand, there is something to be said for a man who’s gone to culinary school.

1PM Time to leave the office for my workshop. If power goes out in our office as it did the night of the big storm last week, we may have to drive to St. Pete to work out of the power company’s office. Or we may have to evacuate somewhere else. This is a problem: I am geographically impaired and without a local mate to provide directions. I head to Border’s to buy an assortment of maps. I also slug a huge Starbucks and then head out to the country for our workshop.

Free tolls on the Suncoast Parkway– Instead of taking our money, the toll collectors are waving us through the lanes. They did this last month during Charley, as well…. it makes evacuation easier. Jeb’s probably doing it to help his dunce of a brother get re-elected.

4:30 PM We have 10 staff members working this complex workshop and logistics have been perfectly executed. I LOVE my workshop team! Customers were invited to come at 5pm but registrants begin filing in early. They do not look happy. Or very nice. This meeting will be more contentious than the last. A tough way to begin a long night. I go around making nice with them. Oh, the reporter’s arrived. God, guess I have to go converse with him. I’d sooner drink bleach, but I do it.

8PM I get a cell call from my honkin’ big beau. He’s watching TV. The hurricane has taken a turn and is heading straight for Tampa. He’s worried about me. Oh dear. Well, nothing to be done about it now, we have a workshop to finish. My beau is very cute: he wants me to fly immediately out of harm’s way. I daydream for a moment…yes, it would be nice to fly out and into his very muscular arms. Even if it meant we had to read for a while. I could manage. But…better sense prevails. I tell him I’m not going to do that, and reassure him I will be fine. After all, I have sped-read the hurricane preparedness manual.

My stricken look catches the attention of my client, the company president. “What’s wrong?” he whispers. I tell him about the new storm track. He tells me he’d just seen the same news on his Treo.

8:45PM The workshop is still going on. Q&A is going well until my client just has to get one last zing in at a customer-activist. While it’s true this customer is not really sane and has made my client’s life hell for several years, my client knows he shouldn’t engage in payback activities. We have had many discussions about exercising self control and the need to resist the urge to get back at customers verbally.

He does it anyway.

Then he strolls away from the podium toward me. His back is to the audience and he smiles boyishly so that only I can see. I know that smile. It’s one of those “I know you don’t like what I just did, but I just had to do it” smiles. Oh, they are so charming while they cut their own throats. I try so hard to keep them from it, but I can only do so much. Sometimes the urge to self-destruct is just too strong.

He stops in front of me and whispers “So do you still love me?” “I do,” I sigh, “but you’re completely incorrigible.” (I would like to take him out to the woodpile and whup him…but he pays very large monthly fees and we are not allowed to beat those clients up.)

9:01PM The meeting adjourns and Dave and I rush back to Tampa. He offers to get me some Red Bull on the way. I decline. Boy, a line of coke sounds good tonight. I think it’s been 20 years since I’ve had one. Or wanted one. Fortunately, I’m not an addictive personality.

9:45PM At the office we relieve Steve and Andy, who are playing video games on the flat panel screen in our big conference room. Clearly, things have been quiet in the media center. Steve, my boss, says to Andy, “Don’t you think this is a good way to teach people strategy?” I shiver in horror. God, it’s hell to have a younger boss. I am NOT playing a violent video game as training. I’ve learned all the violent strategy I care to learn in Silicon Valley. It’s been my plan to coast through the rest of my career without attending a single training more. I hope he doesn’t mess it up.

When Steve finally releases the joy stick, he briefs us on key messages for the storm. They leave. It’ s just me and Dave. I change into jeans and a tshirt and start going through the emails I missed while I was out. I’m actually working.

The TV’s on in the conf room and we view it periodically. The guy in the baseball cap on the Weather Channel is a little hysterical about what’s coming. Jim Cantore. I remember him well from Hurricane Charley. Looks great in his cap but when he removes it, he’s bald, and although I do like bald, he is not an attractive bald. Or maybe I just hate the way he hypes the weather. Yes, that’s it. It’s his scare tactics that bother me. Bald is good.

1AM I’ve gotten a lot done without the distractions of phone and arriving emails. The storm is down to a category 3 but we’re a little punch drunk. When the animation shows the storm heading straight for us, Dave and I burst out laughing. It’s not funny…except that we went through this same thing just a few weeks ago in Orlando. We can’t believe it’s happening again. It feels like Groundhog Day (the movie).

Neither Dave nor I slept much last night, either. We’re starting to get very giddy, so he makes us some iced coffee. We’re watching the Weather Channel again. God, that pink lipstick the weather girl is wearing is getting on my nerves. I want to wipe it right off her lips. With a brillo pad. I mention it to Dave. He agrees. God, we MUST be tired. Or maybe it’s that on our big flat panel screen, her lips are a foot across. That is wayy too much pink for this time of night.

Only a few hours left. It certainly is boring to get NO emails and NO phone calls all night. No wonder it’s easy to get stuff done. In the rest room I notice my mascara is flaking off and I’m beginning to look like an aging stripper.

Now they say the storm will hit us Sunday morning. Sh it. I was hoping to see my most clever male friend Sunday after I got some sleep. He’s a smart engineer who can deal with my whole brain, and who doesn’t want to read with me. I hate it when acts of God get in the way of a good time.

3:30AM Dave and I discuss how boring it is to get no emails or calls. Where IS everyone? My email dings. From Dave. “just thought you’d like to hear the sound of an email hitting your inbox”, he writes. “Back at you”, I ding. Our offices are about 40 feet apart.

Baby’s been a bad bad girl–I’ve gotten into the carbs that are ubiquitous in our office. I can’t help myself–I want carbs when I’m sleep-deprived. God, I wish I smoked–it would be something to do with my hands besides stuff my face. Someone needs to spank me….I’d like to be wearing a French maid’s outift…Oh dear, I’m getting giddy again.

I go back into the conference room and watch the Weather Channel. Nothing new. Those pink lips are dominating the screen again and irritating us big-time. Dave suggests we send her hate-mail. Sounds good to me. I go looking for her email address. It’s a bad thing to work in a PR firm where we have access to this data.

A couple of media calls come in. Dave handles them. I observe.

4:30AM We turn on CBS morning news. The blonde anchorwoman also has big pink lips. This is a trend I want no part of. I vow to throw away all my pink lipsticks when I get home this morning.

4:55AM The Weather Channel reports that a new hurricane has formed in the eastern Pacific: Howard. I asked Dave why he thought we didn’t have a hurricane named Tamika or Jamal. “Yes, THAT would scare the s hit out of people,” he said, “Hurricane Jamal’s coming up the coast to kick our ass!” We think that’s the funniest thing in the world and collapse with laughter. Perhaps that tells you how exhausted we really are. God, will 5:30 AM EVER get here?

An email dings in… it is clearly a new genre called Spam Poetry.. It has all sorts of prescription drug photos and says, and I quote:

Now and then, related to mortician play pinochle with defined by avocado pit.When wheelbarrow near is muddy, over chess board plan an escape from minivan beyond reactor.When around clock sweeps the floor, chain saw near ruminates.Eric, although somewhat soothed by nation defined by and chain saw living with.mirrors remain snooty.delaney refereeing axiomatic grandson homestead Eric and I took mortician of (with scooby snack near dahlia, toward philosopher.medea ct chortle consummate tangy celerity cursory botulism

I ponder its meaning.

The phone rings. It’s my Atlanta beau. He certainly is attentive, but has a disconcerting habit of filling dead air with “Wow” in a very soft voice. I can tell that this will drive me crazy…it is already driving me crazy…yes, we SHOULD read together and if he starts that “wow” stuff I’m going to stuff the book in his mouth.

5:30 AM We’re supposed to be off duty. I hope I can get home soon and sleep..I’m starting to hallucinate. Big, pink-lipsticked lips smacking away on a TV screen, like so many flying toasters….

5:35AM Cut loose! Going home to collapse. And as my spam poem said: chain saw near ruminates. Off to bed!

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