Brace for impact

Today has been surreal. The weather was as beautiful as anyone could ask for: bright sunshine, clear blue skies, and light breeze. As I cruised up Six Forks Road with the windows of my Eclipse rolled down, enjoying a perfect fall morning, I couldn’t even convince myself that there was a chance of rain, let alone that a hurricane with 100-mile-per-hour winds was bearing down on us. But at work, I looked at the latest weather reports on the Web and saw pictures like these:

As Rachel Lucas so eloquently put it, holy crap. All through the day, I looked at satellite photos of Hurricane Isabel and forecasts showing that North Carolina was squarely in its path, and I tried to reconcile this information with the calm and sunny conditions outside. “It will be here tomorrow,” I said to myself at least a dozen times. But it was just impossible to accept.

When I left work at 5:15, there were a few wispy clouds in the sky, but it was still a beautiful day. I intended to drive home, eat a quick supper, and then head into Cary for choir practice at 7:30. On the way home, I thought I would stop at the Cary BJ’s and refuel my car. (Marie had already filled up the minivan’s tank, but with a hurricane on the way, it wouldn’t hurt to have a second vehicle fully fueled.) 

My plan began to unravel almost immediately. Traffic was exceptionally heavy on Six Forks Road, and I ended up having to take an alternate route to Highway 1, which was also badly congested. (Was this caused by the approaching hurricane in some way? I couldn’t tell.) It was 6:00 by the time I got to BJ’s, but I forgot all about the time when I saw that every pump was in use, and a line of cars extended all the way out to the entrance from the street.

A gasoline line. I hadn’t seen one of those since the early ’70s. Obviously I wasn’t the only person who had decided that a full gas tank was a good idea. In fact, a tanker truck was busy topping off the gas station’s underground tanks. I decided that every other gas station in town probably had a similar line, and I might as well get in this one and wait my turn.

The whole process only took half an hour, which seemed pretty reasonable under the circumstances. And I was impressed by how patient and courteous everyone was about the whole business. But after all, we North Carolinians have been through half a dozen hurricanes since Fran hit in 1996. We know the drill now, and when we hear that another one is on the way, we react with grim resignation, not panic.

It was now 6:30 — too late for me to go home for supper and still get to choir practice on time. I called home on my mobile phone. Ben answered and informed me that the rest of the family had eaten an early supper so that Marie and Ruth could get to Raleigh Little Theatre by 7:00. (Right, they were working a performance tonight.) I told him I wouldn’t be home until after choir practice and went to the food court at Cary Towncenter Mall (a few minutes from the church).

When the practice ended at about 9:15, the sky had finally become overcast. But there was still no hint of rain, and no wind beyond the gentlest of breezes. I drove home. It was now time to make final preparations for tomorrow’s hurricane. Ben had already filled up the 30-gallon trash can in the garage that we use as an emergency water supply. (I bought it for that purpose after Hurricane Fran, and it has never been used for trash.)

When Marie and Ruth got home, we cleared as much space in the garage as possible and then brought in everything that the hurricane might try to turn into a missile: the swing, chairs, and ceramic animals from the front porch, the rolling trash bin, our potted plants, and even the extension ladder.

Were we prepared for a power failure? We had plenty of flashlights, and I had started charging our rechargeable batteries last night. Time to do anything else that required electricity while we still had it. We plugged our mobile phones and Palms into their chargers. I loaded and started the dishwasher, then sorted laundry and started that washing too.

Marie stocked up on canned goods this morning, and we have a propane stove and two bottles of fuel (something else I bought after Fran). We have two oil lamps and several bottles of oil. Ruth and Ben don’t have to go to school; the Wake County schools have already announced that they are closed tomorrow. IBM and Campbell University haven’t announced closings yet, but they probably won’t make a decision until morning. Nothing to do now but go to bed.

We’re ready. Bring on the storm.

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