Today is the one-year anniversary of Hurricane Charley. This dominates the front page of the Orlando Sentinel, and its lengthy attached article squashes any space to devote to Cindy Sheehan. I'd rather read about her struggle in getting some face time with our fine president during his much-needed vacation because I don't need any reminding about Charley.
Around our neighborhood post-hurricane cleanup still continues. Roofers are finally catching up, evident by rooftops on every block covered with pods of shingles. Nail guns accomapny sunsets. Tree services thin the canopies of dense live oaks, drop damaged pines and remove precarious branches.
We know our neighbors a little better, even to the point where I can tell you how many coolers they have. I also know exactly which storm drain siphons my street. Charley's scorched-earth policy of tearing up 80- and 100-year-old live oaks like they were weeds also forced lifestyle changes. "With all the trees gone," a friend of mine confided, "I can't walk around naked like I used to."
Hurricane Irene is currently taking the scenic route in to the shipping lanes of the North Atlantic, tossing a blessing of decent surf from the Carolinas to Rhode Island, and we can breathe a little easier. Around here, we're making sure we're ready for the next one. We learned the hard way, after years of saying, "Nah, it'll never get us," after seeing a possible landfall north or south of us as an excuse to party, after laughing at the warnings of NOAA. We did not realize that a mass of air and water can still turn on a dime. No, we can never be completely prepared no matter how much warning we have. What hurricane season brings now, however, is an austere practice of post-storm management.
Groceries are kept to a minimum in the fridge. With the announcement of a tropical depression in the eastern Caribbean, our outside freezer gets stocked with bags of ice. If it proves to be nothing, well, we can always use it for smoothies or margaritas. I've got extra chlorine for the pool and an extra tank of gas for the grill. We have a shelf dedicated to batteries and flashlights.
After hurricane season last year, the city of Winter Park took over the utility infrastructure from Progress Energy. In effect, a toddler with a box of plastic tools bought a jalopy from a master mechanic. All summer long we've been treated with random power outages, during both storms and calm. Some last for less than an hour, some for more than five hours. It's like they are training us to be ready for the next Big One. I figure if this is what it's like during a normal summer, when we do get hit, we'll be powering Christmas lights with generators.
Don't get me wrong. I love the violence of Florda summers -- the pounding heat, suffocating humidity, beautiful lightning and intense rain. To be out before dawn and watch the sun rise over the surviving oaks and pines lends an air of the primeval to even quiet suburban neighborhoods. But a year ago we experienced the most violent weather orgy Florida could take, and some are still recovering.
The Sunday paper will have an enormous commemorative section on Charley, I'm sure. Some local pundits have even spouted that Charley, Ivan, Jeanne and Frances were good for the local economy.
I, however, don't need to read it. I'll be out on my morning slog, nodding good morning to the tree guys and roofers, counting the blue-tarped rooftops and mourning tree stumps. When I get back, basted by the early-morning humidity, I'll look to see if Ms. Sheehan has gotten the time she deserves.
That is the only news that matters to me.