by Dan Spoone
The theme for this month’s E-Forum is weather, and what could be more appropriate for someone living here in the Sunshine State? We have our share of weather events in Florida, but none are more life-altering than the threat of an incoming hurricane. The first decision a resident of Florida must make is whether to stay at home, move to a local shelter or hightail it out of the state to safer ground.
In 1999, Hurricane Floyd was bearing down on the east coast of Florida, and the weather experts did not know if it was going to continue across the middle of the state to Orlando or head up the east coast. Floyd was a major category 4 storm, with hurricane winds stretching out for over 150 miles. So, my family decided for the first time ever to get in the car and head north. We had my parents in the front seat, and Leslie, me and our dog Otis in the back seat. Otis was not a guide dog. He was a 55-pound mutt with a short white base hair, floppy ears, a thicker brown mane down his back, with light and dark brown spots and a small goatee hanging from his chin. Otis was a mix between shepherd and terrier with something else thrown in. He had a really loud bark and he looked fairly menacing, but he was really gentle. Several times children in the neighborhood would ask me if they could pet my large goat.
The Spoone family headed up Interstate 75 toward Gainesville, and the traffic kept getting thicker with every mile. We decided to head west in Lake City and took Interstate 10 towards Tallahassee. We planned to spend the night in the state’s capital before heading home to Orlando. Unfortunately, all the hotel rooms in Tallahassee were sold out, so we kept on going to Pensacola. Twelve hours later, we arrived at a small motel on the outskirts of Pensacola. The motel only accepted small dogs and cats, but we were exhausted and quickly reasoned that Otis could be considered a small dog next to a Great Dane. We kept Otis quiet and snuck into the hotel room for a good night’s sleep. The next morning our next-door neighbors walked by with their cat at 5:00 in the morning and Otis went crazy. Five minutes later, the hotel room phone rang, and we were asked to immediately leave the premises. Fortunately, Hurricane Floyd had decided to head up the east coast and Orlando was no longer in danger.
We packed everyone back into the Jeep Grand Cherokee and started the 10-hour trip back home. My parents stopped around Lake City on the way back home for some lunch at Wendy’s, which gave Leslie and I a chance to walk Otis and stretch our legs. Mom and Dad would take a break and eat inside, and Leslie and I would wait outside in the car with Otis.
So, I pulled out my white cane and headed around the parking lot so Otis could have access to some grass and bushes. Once we had a nice walk, we returned to the car and I suggested that Leslie and I sit in the front seat, where Otis would not bother us while we were eating our lunch.
Just as I was folding up my cane, putting Otis in the back seat and opening the front door to get behind the steering wheel to eat our lunch, a family of four pulled up in the parking spot next to us. As the lady got out of their car, she remarked, “This is unbelievable! Everyone is evacuating for this hurricane no matter their limitations. How are they driving that car?” Leslie and I were laughing so hard we could hardly eat our lunch.
Five years later, in 2004, Hurricane Charley was headed up the west coast of Florida as a category 5 storm. What should we do? After our experience with Hurricane Floyd, we decided to stay home and not make our escape. Of course, Charley made a sharp turn to the east and ended up directly over our house in the middle of the night with 100 mile per hour winds. The key to riding out a hurricane in your home is to have a safe place with no windows or direct outside walls. So we stayed in our hallway with a mattress over Leslie, Otis and me. The garage door started buckling with the force of the wind. Rain was pelting the roof and walls. We could hear falling trees and the howling wind. The battery-powered radio let us know that the hurricane eye was directly over our house. In the dark with Leslie, Otis and I holding on to each other, Otis could not take it anymore. He proceeded to relieve himself all over us as we huddled together under the mattress.
We all survived Hurricane Charley with three fallen oak trees, a damaged roof, a leaky ceiling and no power or water for 10 days. On the bright side, we had lots of barbecue cookouts with our neighbors, several kind folks from my work put a big blue tarp on our roof, and the community came together in a wonderful way. It was scary and somehow uplifting at the same time. So, the next time you see that a hurricane is headed for Florida, think of all your ACB friends in the Sunshine State. Will they stay or will they go? It is hard to know the right answer. Stay dry and enjoy the April showers.