The Hurricane Before the Storm

In Florida, an approaching hurricane is not so much an environmental threat as it is a welcomed intruder.

As blasphemous as this may sound, especially after Irma landed some pretty intense jabs locally and up the west coast of the state, I contend that rather than being a natural process, the entire hurricane operation is a highly staged performance.

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Do they make viagra for trees?

The past nine days demonstrated just how much of a well choreographed Shakespearean tragi-comedy Irma was.

First are the powers-that-be. Perhaps it is not entirely their fault as the media bombards them with generic, if not loaded questions, but the Governor, his lieutenants and the 4356 state mayors all do what state representatives are now paid handsomely to do : scare the population into a major shopping spree which coincides with a temporary loss of income.

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My friend Bobby, aside from being unable to do the lucrative home automation work for a week, had to spend over $3000 to schlep his family to North Carolina and pull a small trailer alongside their minivan. This does not include extra food expenses and the heartbeat regulator medicine he must now take.

Then there are the other municipal servants who cancel everything in sight then wonder why there is so much chaos at the few places which remain open.

The biggest culprits of course are the media, an oversized blob of doomsayers and opportunists who foam at the mouth in hope of winning the prize for most hyperbolic and/or maudlin on-the-spot reporting

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In Miami’s case, most of these bravehearts report from either the marina or beach in optimal weather several days before the expected landing, imploring the locals to use every bit of their hard earned money to drive to cities and countries they have never heard of in traffic conditions comparable to the Super Bow, and without any guarantee of a smooth return.

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The forewarning is not futile and perhaps employs the proper sales technique of repetition, but to me, there is one glaring oversight – Floridians are used to rain, wind and related forces of nature. A cavalcade of water and storm surges are the threat, but most of those being pressured to evacuate live on the shoreline for a reason. If an avalanche or mudslide (which is impossible given the topography) or ice storm were coming out way, okay I can see the need for a statewide SOS. But heavy heavy rain – isn’t that what we signed up for?

Then there are the Plebians – earnest, gullible, overly solicitous residents who have plugged into at least three media forms of updates with the same concern as if the Brits have decided to reclaim America. How is it that such hardened, “we don’t even believe we need sunscreen because conditioning has provided an extra layer of pigmentation” the same people who walk around for hours in flip flops, are so petrified of an impending storm and so easily manipulated by the town criers? And exactly what do they want from the hourly updates three days in advance which they gobble like an offensive lineman told he has 90 seconds to finish a stack of pancakes.

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Oh but if you are a tourist planning a getaway to Florida, dont sweat the headlines. The bigwigs say this storm is just passing through like your mother-in-law who has decided to make a quick pit stop on the way to Boston to do some shopping.

The performance hits a crescendo when the hurricane draws near. A once bustling pseudo-city in a catchy time of year becomes a literal ghost town while the elected representatives repeat the same chorus: “Pack, flee, prepare yourself for the apocalypse, find shelters, write wills, buy enough food to feed the next 3 generations and make sure you don’t open any windows for the next week. If you can, build a makeshift panic room. But please don’t be pushy on gas, food and Home Depot Lines. “

Oh and with the emergency cellphone we are encouraging you to buy, please ask for a credit extension on your Mastercard as your state run Citizens insurance is likely to skyrocket”.

Oh, and one more thing…

Please Have Fun in New Orleans, or San Francisco, or Venezuela. We will be eagerly awaiting your return in our taxpayer financed hurricane friendly estates. And while you are away, please put in a good word for Florida. We can fish and golf 365 days a year, with the exception of a few hours here and there.

“And if you are more of the indoors type, our hurricane coverage is second to none.”

 

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All Sound and Fury signifying…?

Disclaimer:  I wrote most of this on Wednesday when  local hysteria started to metastasize. Some of this blog is written tongue-in-cheek as I am not trying to offend mother nature nor those who cower before her right now. I do, however, believe the events of the last few days provide ample satirical material, not to mention, have given literary hacks like me a tiny bit more time to vent. Enjoy.

I am not a big worrier.

I mean I worry about the fate of my favorite sports teams and whether my students know how to properly use the semi-colon, but not so much of a worrier in the clinical sense of the word.

Maybe I should be. A little more egg shell walking not to mention healthy distrust might have saved me a lot of agony.

But I live in the world’s largest open-air health spa, the Shangri-La known as Miami, where today it was 88 degrees and sunny, without the normal late summer humidity, low winds and tide, and an unexpected paid day off from work, actually two.

To pervert a famous line from an eighty’s song “The near future is so bright, I gotta wear shades”.

Yet there is an eerie, Armageddon-like feeling in the South Florida, something akin to a combination of the second coming, the buildup to Y2K,  and the film Independence Day.

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So as all the hullaballoo surrounding Hurricane Irma has picked up the same kind of momentum as Hurricane Harvey approached southern Texas, I have been experiencing the same reaction that I have each of the last twelve years when the mother of all hurricanes has been advertised to hit S. Florida:

“Damn, I sure hope I don’t lose wifi for too long. Oh that, and I hope this doesn’t disrupt my scheduled Saturday morning tennis match.”

Perhaps this is incredibly insensitive and blithe of me to admit, but that is pretty much the extent of my worrying. I have always joked with my students that hurricanes are ” all mental”, and my scientifically challenged mind aside, I’m starting to think that I wasn’t being entirely facetious.

This is not to underestimate mother nature. I’ve read enough to know that nature usually has the upper hand in the existential struggle of man versus nature. Even my own mother wields a lot of power me and her only real force of nature is loud sneezing and chronic gas. But I am taking the attitude that in 99.9% of all circumstances, hurricanes hold as much power over us as we let them.

But I am a seeing is believing kind of guy. So until some local reporter standing on the beach loses his glasses and umbrella telling the locals to entirely stay off the beach, in fact not even say the word beach more than twice, to me my current predicament in South Florida is just another day in paradise. In fact, I am about to go play tennis.

The threats of hurricanes seem to bring out the best and the worst of Miamians. The best is the intrinsic sense of brotherly love and willingness to lend anyone, anywhere, any time, your machete. And yet the worst, and to me this is the biggest paradox of all considering how well-adjusted to hurricane management the locals should be, is that it ignites fear mechanisms that no act of gene splicing seems capable of fixing.

It’s as if Miamians wait the entire year for an opportunity to feel an ounce of bad luck, to feel that somehow they have to live like normal people do who trek through the snow to get to school or work, have their genitals go numb for an entire afternoon while skiing or skating, or have to spend an entire morning shoveling off their driveway and local sidewalk just to be able to walk the dog.

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So with the threat of Irma, when the locals finally get an opportunity to feel a little taste of nature’s mood swings, the Miami mantra immediately shifts from “What is time? – Baby Don’t Rush Me, Don’t Rush Me, No More” to “Ready, Set, Panic”.

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As I express my blithe attitude towards Irma, I am prepared for the familiar refrain when any hurricane skepticism is expressed: “Bro, you didn’t live through Andrew, did you?”

This is true.

I didn’t. I’m sure I would have moved back to Boston by now if I had. But I was here during Katrina and Wilma which I recall were a pain in the ass, especially as far as restoring power was concerned. But I suppose that even if I did live through Andrew, I would not be boarding up my house, putting all my prized possessions in storage nor planning the cannonball run to Maine this evening.

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I just don’t get it. I, like everyone else, have endured power outages, food shortages, no shower water for a few days and flooded streets. But I didn’t feel like I had to teleport myself to another time zone much less buy enough water to bathe Shamu. Nor did I buy six weeks-worth of gas because if the hurricane does make landfall, the last thing I am going to do is drive anywhere.

Besides on the water side, if ever there was a time when water was not in short supply, chances are a hurricane is it.

My wife rightly asks me what is our plan B. The reality is drive to Orlando but my go to response is that since we live on the water, we can always go stay at my office which is right by the Flanigans on Bird Ave.

Today (Thursday) was 86 degrees and narry a cloud to speak of. Despite threats from N. Korea, a likely full rescinding of DACA and the pennant race is heating up along with the opening of football season. But the threat of Irma used up almost all of our socializing lung capacity.

To wrap up this existentially risky rant, I will close with a few generalizations about Miamians and the matrix in which they/we live. One, they love chaos or at least the appearance of it. Two, they need it and three, there is no group which buys into the mass marketing of fear with more zeal than the locals. They buy masses of lumber, chain saws, sandbags and other “survival” supplies with the same unconscious obsession that women flock to Nine West to buy highly discounted shoes during the Christmas holiday.

Tell a native he has to perform open heart surgery in half an hour and he will take a shower, shave, chat with the neighbor and have some coffee first. Tell them that a hurricane for which no one really knows the path, category or actual ability to do damage to hurricane resistant structures in four to five days, and within 7 minutes they will have roused themselves from a long-deserved sleep to wait for three hours on a Home Depot line to buy polyurethane wrap.

Despite my cynicism, I applaud those who sweated out long gas, food and supply lines, not to mention, took the five hours to board up their well landlocked homes. Your patience exceeds mine. I also admire your ability to bear the sun day in and day out.

As for me, I just like to call the fear mongering’s bluff once in awhile, or at least until an urgent need to take it at face value arises. Perhaps the joke is one me here and this is exactly the type of self-righteousness that makes mother nature  flex her muscles.

But if this is the case, again I apologize and if you don’t mind bro, could I at least come over on Monday and borrow some of your wifi.

 

Life in limbo

I have spent a good portion of the last year up in the air.

And I am not just being metaphoric.

In fact, I spent most of yesterday afternoon in that state of limbo.

A slight professional flight of fancy coupled with a yearning to be in DC during the election has necessitated a weekly commute from DC to Miami. As the respective weather follows seasonal patterns, this trip provides for the best of both worlds, a first-hand look at our ever so dysfunctional political system during the weekdays and the fun and sun of the Truman show like bubble of Miami on weekends. Pundits then papayas.  “What’s the news”, then “que pasa?”

In order to get to and fro, I need to fly. I could write a Steven King length book about the quirky and neurotic world of aviation but that wouldn’t “fly” with my readers. As you know, it is a world like none other, aptly depicted in the George Clooney film “Up in the Air” and even more wryly in the David Sedaris essay I will post at the bottom of this blog. Nonetheless, since it is becoming such a big part of my psyche, here are some observations and tricks of the trade accumulated over the last half year of binge flying.

I encourage you to add these ten insights to your aviation survival kit.

(1) Tell Tall Tales If you need to make any modifications to your planned itinerary, be sure to over-exploit the fact, even if it’s not completely factual, that you have a wife and baby. I know I do. For instance, if you want to fly earlier in the day than your scheduled flight time, tell them you just found out your wife is pregnant again and you want to rush home to confirm it with her at the OB-GYN. The best time for that “appointment” is 11:30. Given the frequency with which I have told this story, my wife is now carrying quintuplets, all conceived at different times.

And if you need to push your flight later in the day, it’s because your son isn’t feeling well.

(2) Bring your own food, bring your own food – Despite the fact that airports offer more consumer benefits than a mega mall, in fact some savvy shoppers are now simply doing their holiday buying sprees at airports (In Dallas, some non-flyers actually spend weekend nights at the airport for food and fun), things are a little pricey. A shout out to my friend Radio who caught onto this around age 7 and likely empties half his fridge to travel with his large contingent. Nonetheless, bring food because if not, you will be out $20 for a bottle of water, a cookie and a turkey sandwich made with meat from a Jetsons’ episode.

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Should I buy two Valentines cards or one bottle of juice?

Below is my receipt from yesterday! Note the cost of O.J.

(3) Don’t follow the masses – airport gates are the worst example of conformity.

Q:  When is the best time to start getting comfortable in your seat while waiting at the gate?

A – When everyone else stands up.

This particularly happens with Southwest. As soon as two or more people stand up and start inching towards the ticket counter, everyone follows en masse. Mind you, this usually takes place before the incoming flight has even landed. I once asked a middle aged eager beaver why this was so common and his response was “ I guess they start forming a line to wait on another line before the actual line on the gangway.” My response – “Interesting”

(4) Don’t make time specific plans on the other end.

With American Airlines, always assume people are on Cuban time, unless you are in a rush. Then  American Airlines flights leave ten minutes early. But if they did usually follow ETD, I think the flight attendants will be bored.  Assuming you get to the airport with ample time to spare, just figure out ways to stay busy for another hour because your flight will invariably encounter some major problem like, the soap dispenser in the bathroom has been removed and the FAA has issued a airport wide man hunt to track the culprit down. Or we apologize but there was a granola bar undesirably found on the take-off runway and we are first  sending in Miami CSI to investigate before scrubbing the entire runway.

(5) Brown nose

Start simply, without ulterior motives, any and all flight attendants. Be inquisitive, ask them about their lives, their favorite cities, clouds, flight plans for the day, then after take off, move in for the kill. Refills without request, inside information about the flight, extra snacks and in some cases, a chance to move closer to the front. And if the flight gets delayed, don’t get on their cases… it’s bad karma, not to mention bad policy, eventually the flight does take off and you will need their help.

(6) Armrest/Elbow rest battles

Here’s the crux of the whole experience, the rising action of the flying novel, the part I have analyzed and kept large data records for years. This is where you find out if you have the testicular fortitude to literally “bump elbows” with the competition. Any flight over four minutes requires ample elbow space, but our neighbors often by virtue of girth, ignorance or poor observational skills, don’t like to share the space. Therefore you have to prepare a battle plan. Here are my four true and tried steps to reclaim your turf.

1 – The faith stage. Give it five minutes. Just pretend that the person next to you as still trying to figure out that you also have two elbows. With some passengers, this could stretch to ten minutes. But hold out hope that they will eventually come around.

2 – If the faith stage doesn’t work, try the friend stage. Figure you can get them to lessen their elbow lock by befriending them. Simple pleasantries and even a compliment or two should get them to share the space.

3- Subtle hint stage. This happens after about twenty minutes. At this point, you are feeling the pinch. I usually start with a reference to food. Me – “Hey do you know if they are serving food on this flight?” Elbow hog – Yea I sure hope so”. Me – “Well if they do, I could go for some pasta, maybe some elbow, yea elbow macaroni. At his point you also give their protruding elbow a slight nudge. There are good variations on this theme. “Hey do you like watching hockey/” Passenger – Yea great sport. Very physical. “ Me – Agreed, especially when they give them a good elbow, you know really slam them into the boards with their elbows.

4- The elbow war. Just nudge their elbows, even a good aerial hit to get them to cede their space. This, while the last line of defense, can also be the most satisfying. Naturally this is a little trickier if your opponent is asleep, but don’t let their level of comfort deter you.

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(7) Study your neighbors:  

In writing this, I’ve come up with a thought. Airlines should force people to upload their pictures before claiming a seat. Either that or biographical data. Then we can pick a seat based on a number of variables including the potential for surrounding annoyances. Though I base my preferences on what the people carry on. If they bring next to nothing, lets assume they are a little bit boring and will likely have some ADD and therefore very fidgety. If they bring books, a laptop or a notepad, that’s your winner. They will keep to themselves, not to mention , likely respect the elbow rest rules.

(8) Don’t get all worked up before your flight – Somehow these pilots really know what they’re doing. I guess all that flight simulator practice pays off. Personally, as glorious as defying Newtonian Physics  and winning the man versus nature battle is, I can’t think of a job I would be less suited for. Maybe a professional organizer. Although I have overcome my fear of flying, I still get a little queasy for a minute or so before the flight and start reciting biblical verses every time we hit some turbulence. But all this high anxiety isn’t worth it. Have faith…. The skies really are friendly..

(9) If at first you don’t succeed, start writing in your journal:

Since you must share an elbow rest, not to mention, play accidental games of footsie, you might as well try to get to know the passengers next to you. Besides, and I’m sorry to be so honest, if you are anything like me, you will probably fart a lot during the flight (Yes I’m that guy). In my case, it must be a combination of nerves and bananas. But if you are a bit of a threat to the ambient air quality, at least buy yourself some leeway by befriending your neighbors. This could start with something simple like “Where are you flying to?” or “By any chance are you allergic to pretzels because I’m not?”. The point is, there will be times when you want to pass what feels like time suspended in air more quickly so fraternizing can speed up the process.

But if they are not too responsive, then grab a little more of the elbow rest and start writing in your journal. You could even write a little character sketch about them.

(10) Don’t check your phone until you reach the gate:

This is a bit of superstition but there were times that people actually waited until they got home, walked the dogs and thrown out the two week old spaghetti  left on the kitchen counter before they could check in with loved ones. Or at least there was the surprise of exiting security and seeing a loved one waiting for you, or in the case of some Latin families, twenty family members including the dog, all waiting with welcome home posters.

But my reasoning is a little different. Use whatever analogy jumps to mind, but I say savor the afterglow. Man you just traversed five states in 140 minutes. You even wrote two good poems and an apology letter to your former boss. Feel the ground, thank the pilots, fart once or twice more just to leave your final imprint. Then once you get to the gate, you can check your FB. Really just take note of your new surroundings first. After all, if you are flying American, your DC bound flight  may have just landed in the middle of Honduras.

P.S.: For another perspective on flying, I strongly suggest reading this essay –

http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2010/08/09/standing-by