Full disclosure: Even though I’ve been living in Virginia for more than a decade, I didn’t really grow up here. Only the first half of my childhood happened in Virginia. The second half happened in Florida, and much of my heart is still there. I graduated there. I got my BA and MA at FSU. I’ve got family and friends all over that state, and none of them goes to the beach except when we’re visiting. Because Florida isn’t just a tourist trap. People live and work there, and they consider the tourists a hazard of daily living…something like the way northerners view snow. Except you can’t play with tourists…
For most of my life I’ve thought that the big downside of Florida–and most locals agree with me–is the heat. There are only two seasons in Florida: “sweat rolling down your ribs and your hair’s on fire,” and “put on a sweatshirt for two weeks.” As a person who’s never dealt well with heat, all I can say is, God Almighty, the heat gets old.
Some people swear the only downside is the bugs, but I had to get used to that quick–I was a college student in Florida, after all, and college life lends itself to late nights in divey places. If that’s not a recipe for cockroaches, I don’t know what is.
However, there is something that the tourists get more correct about Florida than most locals. It’s the tourists who say that the big downside to Florida is the hurricanes.
Us lucky locals who’ve never taken a direct hit from a major often shrug off hurricanes as no biggie. We get complacent. You miss some work, board up your house, get smashed and play board games while listening to the rain falling like hammers on the roof. You get used to the taste of the tub your water’s sitting in.
But every so often, a big one happens. And for those who go through the worst of it, they’re never quite blase about hurricanes again. Many of those people leave the state and never come back.
I’m one of the luckier locals. I’ve never been through a direct hit from a major. Glancing shots from majors, sure. Direct hits from a couple minors, sure. But I never took it on the chin. That’s why I can still think of the heat as the worst thing about Florida.
My grandfather went through a big one, though–Hurricane Charlie, a Cat 4. He rode it out *in a mobile home*.
There’s a reason we used to call him The Legend. He was the kind of guy who rode the rails during the Great Depression and hustled nineball to eat. He got transferred off the USS Lexington just before it got sunk at the Battle of Coral Sea. His luck defied description.
I don’t know whether to say I’m lucky that Charlie swung away from *my* home to hit his.
But when the storm turned–when I called him up and begged him to get out while he still could–he *laughed at me*.
He didn’t laugh about Charlie after it was done. The Legend was a little more sober after taking shingles through his window at the height of the storm–a little more circumspect after getting out into the teeth of the beast to board up that window before the wind got in under his roof and his house disintegrated around him.
Did I mention he was in his 80s when that happened?
Yeah, even The Legend got a little quieter after Charlie. But unlike a lot of folk, he didn’t bail after everything was done. He stayed put for the rest of his life. Same trailer, even. He was a tough old bird only made tougher by adversity.
I’ve been asked a lot of questions during this rodeo with cancer, and I can tell it’s not prurience–it’s curiosity, a testing of the asker’s spirit against the story I have to tell. It’s asking whether or not the asker could take what my story dishes. Because we all figure out, sooner or later, that our luck will run out. And we find ourselves listening to the stories of those who’ve gone before, looking for tips.
It’s that Might Mighty Bosstones song in action… “The Impression that I Get.”
I suspect that, after the next few days, I’ll be listening to the Irma stories my family will tell…and I’ll no longer view the heat as the worst thing about Florida.
P.S. For those who needed some levity, yes, that *is* Jim Cantore arriving at TPA. “Oh s***” indeed for all my family and friends in the Tampa area…
UPDATE: All our friends and family are safe. Damage is minor, but the cleanup is going to be kinda ugly. The wait for power will be the hardest part. (God bless the linemen…!) All in all, our folks got lucky. Whew!!!