Timing, we have been numbingly reminded, is everything. Our last-minute diversion from disaster has been well chronicled.
But in our specific case, timing also came in the form of a planned vacation that more than overlapped with Hurricane Irma’s skittishly frightening approach to the Tampa Bay area. It was eerie and anxious to watch from a distance, in this case the Pacific Northwest, about 3,000 miles away.
There’s perverse guilt in being distantly safe, and anxiety about your community and all you own–including memorabilia that you didn’t protect better. There’s also outrage about how the national broadcast media has turned nature’s might into disaster porn. From the apocalyptic-cones drumbeat to worst-case scenarios and tragic aftermaths.
“If it bleeds, it leads” morphs seamlessly into “If it scares, who cares?”
Well, my wife Laraine and I did, and we kept the oversized, hotel flat-screens off and checked in with neighbors and local Tampa-area media. And, frankly, at times such as this, we should regard Dennis Phillips, the WTSP Channel 28 (ABC) meteorologist, as a natural resource. He doesn’t hype; he goes out of his way to provide sane, nerve-calming, meteorological context. His Facebook posts should be required reading during hurricane season. “We got this one” will be his legacy–as well as Rule #7: “Stop freaking out … until I tell you to. We’re fine.”
But not even Phillips was spot on for this protean, once-in-a-century, super storm. He sounded almost apologetic before that last-minute shift back to the east that spared Tampa.
And it was up to Mayor Bob Buckhorn to wear out numerous hats. To those most in harm’s way: Be stern enough to order evacuation. It brought out that Mike Tysonesque quote: “Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the face. Well, we’re about to get punched in the face.” To those who deserve a special circle in hell: Be intimidating enough to dissuade looters and price gougers. To everybody: hope without rationale for letting down a guard. “We are Tampa strong.”
At times like this, you can’t help envisioning the absolute worst: that long-overdue direct hit that wipes out Tampa and our daily lives as we’ve known them. Anything less than that, is a bonus. A lot less than that is, well, like playing with house money–and a new lease on an old life. One seen through a new lens of perspective. Family, friends, community, pets. That butterfly hovering around the ixora. The smell of jasmine and camellia. The manifestations of electricity. Reminders to selves to replenish the bird–and de facto squirrel–feeders. Seeing Hillsborough Bay with the right distribution of water. Taking nothing for granted, especially each other.
Our party for our neighbors is already scheduled. We’re all in this together. It’s been a collective sigh of relief. Debris has never seemed so immaterial. As Winston Churchill once noted: “Nothing in life is so exhilarating as to be shot at without result.”
We are, indeed, #Tampa strong.