Many Floridians feel that they dodged that old falling anvil in the wake of Hurricane Irma, and I know the sense of relief of my own family members in that area is immense. Anyone lucky enough not to be flattened by the falling anvil,
or the falling safe,
or the falling piano…
…is bound to feel relief, though sometimes there is guilt too, or at least a heightened compassion for the folks who were not so lucky.
I’m thinking of the people of Cuba, of St. Martin/St. Maarten and Barbuda and Antigua. I’m thinking of the people of St. Thomas and St. John – any of these places where things are very bad indeed right now, with no power and scant food and structures that look as though a gaggle of elementary school kids just walked away from a giant game of Pick-up-Sticks. The New York Times described things most vividly in their lead story yesterday: “The wind whipped the tops of palm trees around like pompoms in the hands of a cheerleader,” it said in part. “The flooding in Key Largo had small boats bobbing in the streets next to furniture and refrigerators like rubber toys in a bathtub. Shingles were kidnapped from roofs; swimming pools dissolved into the ocean….”
Here’s a picture I took a couple of winters ago when, due to promised financial inducements, we got talked into staying at the Ritz Carlton in St. Thomas, a hotel the likes of which I have not been a guest at before or since. (I posted about it back then if you’d care to take the detour.) Until last week, this was their pool. That’s the ocean in the background of course, but the whole foreground is pool. I had never seen a swimming pool this lovely where, on the ocean side, the water brimmed up clear to the rim, as on a spillway, and did in fact trickle gently over.
I don’t know what this pool looks like now. I only know the hotel’s website advises the world that the hotel is closed until further notice.
I can only think that the vast cleanup effort to get back to where folks were before the storm must be keeping them in that unhealthy-over-time state where the stress hormone cortisol just keeps pumping and pumping.
I felt stress myself this past summer, though in a very minor key by comparison. Back in the first part of the summer while we were on a ship in Russia for two weeks, our hot water heater died, peed all over the cellar floor and left us, on our return, with a waist-high pile of travel clothes in such a state of UNcleanliness that it was practically steaming, like grass clippings in a compost pile. Lucky for us in the modern world of detergents, you can also wash in cold water.
Then, some weeks later, we came home one day to find that the handle-slash-control panel of our dishwasher broken. Just broken and hanging off, so that for 15 days we were washing glasses, china and cutlery by hand until the repair guys could get the part shipped here from Louisville and they could come install it. That finally happened yesterday.
The point is, we lived. We were fine.
The real falling anvil that we dodged, we dodged at the end of August when, in their regularly scheduled walkabout, our local utility discovered a major leak in the gas going into our house.
As it happened, we were away that day too, but a close, near-family member had offered to look after things for us. When he walked up our street from the train station after work, he was greeted by the sight of a big white truck, a team of workers busily moving about our property and a trench two feet deep and three feet wide running in a wide gash from the far side of our street, over our lawn and clear over to the house’s foundation.
“Are you the homeowner?” they asked our kind caretaking friend.
“No, but I can call them.”
He did that and ten seconds later I was on the phone with the job’s boss.
“The pipe from the street is very, very old and very narrow!” he said with what seemed like genuine surprise. It’s leaking,” he said, “and we need to stay right here and fix it. Will that be all right?
“More than all right!” I yelped, “and thank you SO much! I’ve been smelling gas outside my house since 2008! I called then and when you guys came you said it was just minor.”
“It probably was back then, but it isn’t minor now,” he said. “Can we get inside and fix it? Will somebody be here?”
Our friend agreed to stay, though he was just home from work and mighty hungry. He stayed until they were done some three hours later, a little bit after 8pm.
So our house did not blow up which is what happens with a gas leak and we felt relief. My Florida-based sister and her husband did not see their home on the bayou destroyed, either by the winds or by that predicted storm surge. Their kids’ home was fine too, as they learned yesterday from the place where they sheltered after their mandatory evacuation last week. Miraculously, they none of them even lost power and maybe all that was because of prudent building, and strict codes, and careful planning.
But prudent foresight will only take you so far in this world. At the height of Irma’s fury on Sunday, when the winds were so strong they sucked the water right out of the Tampa Bay, that city’s mayor Bob Buckhorn said it best: “Everybody’s got a plan ’til they get punched in the face.” He was quoting Mike Tyson.
Look more closely now at the sign in that cartoon of the falling safe here at the top. It does “Warning,” yes, but it also says “This is a Safe Area.” As IF there could be such place on this old earth!