Wilma

As it turns out, this one was “for real.”

Sunday, after doing laundry and picking up a copy of Batman Begins, we grilled churrasco and huddled together on Apt. 1’s couch watching Christian Bale depict the best Batman ever. I went to bed late, hardly thinking about the category 3 storm that was on its way.

I awoke Monday morning to the sound of screaming wind at my large, southerly window. Cervantes was huddled by my shoulder, and a grey-blue half light filled the entire house. Mesmerized by the swirling trees and gusting winds outside, I sat curled in my comforter and stared into the storm. Eventually, my housemates began to stir as well, and we all ended up on my bed by 8:30, when the strongest winds passed over Miami. I later learned that those same winds were 120 mph, with gusts up to 160. One of those gusts knocked over a huge tree in our back yard, flipped my Vespa, and tore out the fence along the pool area.

Our power was already out when I woke up, so there was little to do but wait for the storm to pass. I took a short nap, and then went around to see how our apartment had fared. There was water coming in from various joints and crevices, so together M. and I attacked the kitchen. We scoured the house, I cleaned my room, dusted, put away my clean laundry, and in general attempted to minimize the chaos in the house. Sadly surveying the contents of our fridge, we made a list of things that would have to go and ate the melting sorbet in the freezer.

By noon, patches of blue sky peeked out as the last cloud bands whipped through the city. I picked up my scooter, cleaned off most of the grit and sap from broken branches, and took a tour of Biscayne. Nothing had power, and as far as I could see, there wasn’t a single traffic light. Not only were they not turned on, but most of them had been ripped right off of their wires. One woman, having tied two broken lights to the top of her car and stashed another in her trunk, was being arrested by the police. I’m not sure what kind of an offense that was: looting? vandalism? stealing state property? It’s unclear.

What was patently obvious was that Miami got rocked. Apart from that, we were completely out of the loop. No grocery stores, no cell phone service, no power, and no news. It’s very odd to feel yourself completely cut off from the rest of the world, while at the same time being the focus of some of the world’s news.

Due to evil daylight savings time, we had to hustle up to cook dinner before the sun set. Thank god for gas stoves and barbeques. After a dinner of fresh tortilla, we reconvened with the folks from upstairs out in the cluttered back yeard to enjoy a crisp sunset. For the first time this year, a cool refreshing breeze blew through Miami, and for the first time in decades, Miami residents could watch the stars pop out of the sky in true unpolluted darkness. A sparkling sky above, wrapped in my favorite HC sweatshirt, finally blessed with a (weak) cell phone signal, life seemed pretty okay. We ended up spending most of the time drinking hot chocolate spiked with various liquors and drinking the last of the cold beer in the fridge. Hell yeah for hurricanes.

Unfortunately, this idyllic trend did not continue. Tuesday was more of the same fun, but less food…even the grocery stores were shut down. Luckily we stocked up before the storm. A crab feast from Chef Creole was the dinner event, eaten by candlelight in the kitchen. Someone should not have let several batty educators come within arm’s reach of candles and meltable objects. Stuffed with creole ribs, yellow rice, and stone crab, I proceeded to melt several plastic utensils together in order to form some sort of non-representational sculpture. Fortuitously, said amalgam of twisted and charred polymers produced rather amusing shadows on the wall. Even “adults” can find pleasure in shadow puppets, it seems. That entertained us for much longer than it should have, and I even suggested marketing similar sculptures to a mass market. My roommates, those negative ninnies, declared that *with* electricity the spoon-puppets would be markedly less valuable. This remains to be seen.

Wednesday the news came in that I was to flee the storm-wracked South Florida coast, but my flight never left Ft. Lauderdale due to the damn fire marshall. Apparently, there weren’t enough “safety features” with electricity for the airport to operate.
We sought refuge on Lincoln Road, hoping to find a movie and some food, as well as a place to charge our dying cell phones, but alas, the theaters were still closed, and lines for gas stretched for blocks around the gas stations. We managed to kill a couple of hours walking around and shopping, then were treated to dinner by the upstairs neighbors. One of their girlfriends is a hotel cook, who inherited a 20 lb. turkey when the hotel decided to cut its losses and close up for the remainder of the power outage.

Luckily I did manage to escape on Thursday, and spent the next 6 days in a real house with electricity. Cold, yes, but at least there was power. Shopping, Harry Potter, and lots of home-cooked meals were rather delightful. School was postoponed several times, until we finally got the go for the following Thursday, November 3rd.

I headed back to sunny South Florida on Wednesday to find things pretty much in the same state as I left them. Traffic was still a mess, and now instead of a cool fall breeze, the weather had turned up the heat. Electricity had not been restored to over 40 percent of paying customers in Miami-Dade County, so god only knows how many individual citizens were powerless (metaphorically and literally).

Reluctantly, we laid our heads down on Wednesday night, knowing full well that there was work the next day. Cell phones charged, acting as surrogate alarm clocks, the four of us arose in pich darkness until the smell of phosphorus and candle wax jerked us awake. Note to self: don’t try to pick out professional dress outfits by candlelight at 5:40 am. It doesn’t end well. So not only could we not eat breakfast (no milk, no dairy, due to lack of refrigeration), not see what we’re doing in our own house before work, nor have any contact with the outside world electronically, it’s also the end of daylight savings. I drove home from soccer practice just as the sun set over the western horizon in my rear view mirror, and fumbled with my keys in a house that was just as dark as I’d left it 12 hours earlier that morning.

Thursday, day 1 back at work, is over. I decided to tempt fate as my roommates had, and venture a run in the nearby middle-class neighborhood across Biscayne. Huge mounds of debris, a lack of streetlights, and perilously close shaves with oncoming cars, not to mention wary homeowners shouting “acuestese ya!” all contributed to cutting my exercise short. Slightly disheartened, I jogged home to pack up for our outing to Brickell. M’s boyfriend M had power back, so the plan was to pick up some tasty takeout and watch the O.C. en masse while charging various portable electronic devices and/or showering with hot water (oh, the novelty). This was now becoming a habit, so we all assumed that the trip would go according to schedule. Cervantes, now officially batty due to his extended time alone in the house, got packed up with his litterbox to accompany the dPlace crew.

Oh, oh, how little I knew then.

Sweaty, hungry, and tired we show up with backpacks full of clean clothes and towels, three Baja Fresh carryout bags, a litterbox, three computers, four cellphones, and one angry, angry cat. Up the elevator, down the hall, turn the corner, and turn the knob…Wait. Why didn’t the knob turn?

Unfortunately, M’s roommate (against M’s warning) had locked the door and we were keyless. Stupefied, we stand in the hall for a moment, the clock ticking down minutes ’till 8:00 pm, when our show starts. Lo and behold, who should show up but one of M’s friends from the building across the hall! Saved! Glory Day! Plan B goes into effect: haul all our shit over to unknown-friend-of-M’s apartment and chill out until someone shows up with a key. Sure, fine. We plop down on the couches, begin our dinner while Cervantes cowers in the bathtub, refusing to move. Things are improving: there’s television, we’ve now been fed, and there’s hope for the future.

Circa 8:30 the fire alarm starts. Please, please let it be a test. Please, please somebody have burnt popcorn and it just goes away. 8:40, and the screaming alarm has not abated. In a bit of a panic, I grab the most important thing I can think of and rush out of the building with Mary, VA and Carlos. Thus, at 8:45 pm, there I was sitting in the middle of a parking lot littered with glass shards from blown out windows cradling a hyperventilating cat, still in my running clothes.

FYI: low point of the month.

For another 30 minutes, we watched as fire trucks arrived, inspected the building, and determined that the elevator malfunction which triggered the alarm was indeed harmless. This entire time, poor little Cervantes is wheezing harder and harder into the crook of my arm as his little synapses explode with sensory overload. Flashing lights, screeching cars, street cleaning, fire sirens, the whole 9 yards plus an extra two feet. Around 9:20 one of M’s roommates finally arrives, we do a quick feline handoff to get the poor guy inside a building, and we try to get back into building 2. Plan C goes into effect: retrieve belongings from building 2, rejoin cat and host in building 1, shower, then sleep back home in the dark.

But wait…there’s more! As we’re coordinating Plan C, the doors to building 2 swing shut as the firemen leave. Now, it is nearly 10:00 pm, and we’re stuck in the lobby of building 2 trying to get someone to let us into the locked 4th floor of the building. After Mary totally sketched out one resident, we conceded defeat to the gods of catastrophe and collapsed in the leather chairs next to the fake ficus.

Plan D comes through in the end; we held out until the guy who actually lived in building 2 came home, snatched our things as quickly as possible, showered in a rush in M’s apartment (located at the top of building 1), dragged the cat out from under the bed, and drove back to our own humble abode.

At 11:30 pm I crawled into my own bed, knowing full well that I’d have to stumble out of it again in a few hours’ time to light the candles and get up for work.

Let it suffice to say that on Sunday evening, after 13 full days without power, we were all glad to be ABLE to turn off the lights and go to bed.

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