Back in the late summer of 1992, Hurricane Andrew was bearing down on Miami like a middle aged just-divorced sleazy swinger in a leisure suit eyeballing the singles bar’s newest bimbo wearing a two-sizes too-small skin-tight mini and a poofy coif of unmovable exposed dark-rooted dyed blond hair that could only be obtained from a box of Dollar Store hair dye and ¾ a can’s worth of Aqua-Net (we are talking about Miami in the early 90s).
After being evacuated from her place on not quite yet tres tres chic South Beach, my friend and I sought refuge from the inevitable storm at the condo of an old High School friend’s Mother. Like a lot of life’s choices, hurricanes don’t always go where predicted. Unfortunately, where we sought sanctuary ended up being closer to where the brunt of the storm hit.
It was not a pleasant experience. Nobody warns you that in the dark of the night after the power is knocked out, the sounds of the storm are the scariest part. The three-story building shook, wave after wave of unrelenting rain pounded against the taped windows, the front door creaked as it bowed from the sustained 120+ mph wind exposing a slit of dim light on either side and air raced through the keyhole tumblers making a shrill high-pitched whistle a deaf/mute dog would likely hear.
We got through it all safe with our lives and belongings intact but obviously many others nearby didn’t. We ventured out in the morning with my video camera filming streets covered with roof tiles, tree limbs, street signs and various other blown debris. At first we felt a little like adventurers but once we discovered dangling traffic lights swinging over empty intersections, cars crushed under trees and houses with less roofs then that deaf/mute dog, it stopped being so exciting. I put away the camera and our thoughts drifted to the overwhelming feeling of how does an entire City start picking up the pieces. Later when the power eventually returned we learned how amazingly lucky we were when we saw how close and how massive the complete devastation of some entire nearby neighborhoods was.
Over a decade later on one of our first anniversary trips, was when I introduced my wife to Miami. At that point, there were only a few remaining scars from the storm. Many of the trees had grown back, the houses rebuilt and the city nightlife as vibrant as ever. I was supposed to go on another romantic anniversary vacation to Florida this past week. After a quick visit with my family we were to head to my favorite beach for a few days of relaxation and good food near the peaceful ocean. I am not sure if over the years since, it is Miami or me that has changed, but we now tend to stay on the quieter west coast.
Hurricane Irma had a different plan. Instead, we spent a week stressing about my parent’s safety as they hunkered through the storm in my Aunt’s somewhat secure senior living facility. At their age, we were not sure if staying through the storm or traveling for days to avoid the giant hurricane’s path, was more dangerous for them. Meanwhile we prepped my house to become a far western storm evacuation shelter for my evacuating niece, her family, her in-laws, friends and various pets who were already en-route just ahead of the storm.
Our evacuees had been driving the better part of a day but only reached the Florida panhandle when they decided to cut north and head to closer friends in the Carolinas. My folks turned a negative into a positive, taking out their hearing aids the night the storm hit. They mostly slept through the worst of Irma, who took a merciful turn just south of Tampa leaving their City, without power for a few days but otherwise, relatively unscathed and intact. Even after learning they were safe, I still felt horrible that my folks had to go through the stress of the unknown that hunkering through an ominous incoming Category Five brings.
With the knowledge that everyone was safe but a romantic Florida beach anniversary vacation out of the question, my wife and I faced a new dilemma. What were we to do for our anniversary vacation? After tossing around various ideas, studying the weather map’s possible trajectories of the three new brewing hurricanes, analyzing where we had the least amount of friends and family to offend when we did not call them while we were on our secret little googly-eyed get-a-way and playing one of the most dragged out bizarre versions of Rock Paper Scissor known to modern man, we both decided going the opposite direction to San Francisco was best.
We had both independently previously been there but my wife did not recall the high level of homeless that the lenient politics, leftover hippie idealism and ideal weather attracts. I kept thinking about the hurricane and as I said before, how like a lot of life’s choices, hurricanes don’t always go where predicted. How easy it is for a storm to take away everything you have: your home, your work, your possessions…
How many people living day to day, month to month, without a safety net, did this year’s back to back to back natural disasters make homeless? How fragile is the world we create for ourselves? I slipped out of our cushy multi-star hotel early one morning walking right passed many folks sleeping on the street. As I wandered the pre-dawn quiet piers around Fisherman’s Wharf with the song Sittin’ On The Dock Of The Bay tritely running through my head, I wondered if Andrew or Irma had drifted just a few miles left or right how much my universe might have radically changed.