I remember it as if it were this morning.
Hurricane Charley was bearing down on Tampa Bay. A direct hit, that which we had been lured into believing couldn’t happen here, loomed likely. Tampa Bay as a meteorological funnel would be catastrophic.
Plywood and sandbags were the Maginot Line of defense. Rolled up carpets reminiscent of deckchair rearrangement on the Titanic. Hillsborough Bay was frighteningly close.
You evacuate, you hope and you pray for the best.
In the process, you take inventory. You and your wife have each other; the family pets are with you and ready to hit the road. You are thankful for friends in higher places. You scoop up favorite family photos and special mementos, trying not to focus on all you’re leaving behind, which is virtually everything. The memorabilia gets packed among the underwear, insurance documents and computer CPU.
On the way out, you pause wistfully for a long look, which could be a last look at an 85-year-old bungalow. You tell yourself that it’s all just “stuff,” that what really matters are loved ones and their safety. It’s all too true, of course, but you can’t help seeing your house through the lens of loss. Charley won’t just damage it, you admit, but not out loud, Charley will destroy it.
But this was a microcosmic view of what was in the awful offing.
With the city in its cross hairs, Charley could destroy Tampa as we knew it — leaving center city devastated and surrounding communities pulverized. Recall Andrew hammering Homestead; this would be worse. Tampa wouldn’t recover in our lifetime.
Like so many locals, we live in Tampa by choice – not happenstance or inertia. Our residential frames of reference include Philadelphia, Chicago and Atlanta. We know what we have here. We’ve moved away, only to return as soon as practicable. After some three decades, this is our town – no less than it is the multi-generational home of blue-blood first families.
We love Tampa’s “small big city” feel – even as we celebrate its downtown growth and root for revitalization. We’re enamored of its rich history, its diversity, its Bayshore, its future.
To envision it leveled and washed away was wrenching.
But Tampa, as fate would have it, was spared. To live another day. To celebrate the 150th anniversary of its city charter next month. To move closer to the realization of a residential downtown and a viable cultural arts district. To become a larger, grander scale version of that “small big city” that is uniquely Tampa.
We have a lot to be thankful for this Thanksgiving. We still have our homes – and our home town.