Learning to Live with Hurricanes

Several years ago, my wife decided she wanted to be a beach bunny, and we moved to Florida, where we are now learning to live with hurricanes. I need to say up front that I realize these storms are serious, have taken many lives and cost billions in damages. I do not mean to diminish any of this, and my heart goes out to all those who have suffered mightily as the result. Live with Hurricanes

However, it is my nature to deal with life through laughter, comedy of the absurd if you will. By way of explanation, my heroes are Monty Pythons’ Flying Circus, Mel Brooks, Carl Reiner, Steve Martin, Gene Wilder, and Bernadette Peters, among others. Hopefully that should explain the following. Live with Hurricanes

Five years ago, we were living in Southern Virginia. Winters seemed to be getting worse and worse, with two or three weeks in January/February where the temperature dropped to single digits at night. Our heat pump was struggling mightily, and so were we. In that over sixty category known as the elderly, with single digit temperatures outside, my blood refused to circulate sufficiently to keep me warm. Blue is my favorite color, except when it’s me turning blue from the cold. Live with Hurricanes

There weren’t enough heavy clothes to keep me warm, and sleeping in front of a roaring fire in the fireplace wasn’t very restful. A fire extinguisher makes a terrible pillow. So, when my wife said she wanted to move to St. Augustine, Florida, I was down with it. We had been going there for vacation for decades, had once owned a condo there, and it seemed like a second home. So off we went. Live with Hurricanes  

As an aside, I always chose September to vacation in St. Augustine, because the crowds were gone and the beaches clear. I chocked this up to the kids being back in school. Strangely enough, I never thought about the fact that September is peak hurricane season. In all fairness to my being oblivious to the obvious, in twenty years we never experienced a hurricane or tropical storm while on vacation there. Go figure. I’m also the guy who came up with the Bugs Bunny escape plan (see below), so there’s that. Live with Hurricanes

Fleeing the cold weather, we arrived at our new condo home in St. Augustine in July 2019. In August 2019, we were told that Hurricane Dorian was going to crush Jacksonville, and we needed to evacuate pronto. So, we fled to a rental house in North Carolina. Asheville was on our bucket list of places to visit, and Dorian forced us to empty that particular bucket earlier than planned. We learned several things about how to live with hurricanes from this experience, mostly thing not to do. Live with Hurricanes

First, we learned that during a mandatory evacuation we should probably just give up and drive directly into the storm. It took us over six hours to traverse the I-295 Beltway around Jacksonville. By the time we reached I-95 North, my inclination was to drive off the nearest bridge. Fortunately, my wife is a lot calmer than I. She told me if I drove us off a bridge, she’d kill me. That scared me back to sanity, and we continued safely, and slowly due to massive traffic, on our way to North Carolina. Live with Hurricanes

Second, we learned that if we were going to own a second home to flee to in the event of a hurricane, we should buy rather than rent. The house that we rented in North Carolina had a beautiful view of the mountains, but the walls were infested with many, many, many ants. We spent the better part of a month calling exterminators, stomping on ants, spraying insecticide on ants, and complaining to the company that rented us the place with little result. This has become affectionately known as our vacation to the Ant Farm. We finally fled the place when I woke up in the middle of the night with ants parading across my face. Live with Hurricanes

Apparently, many folks from Florida own a second condo in Asheville, NC to flee to in the event of a hurricane. The good news, we got to know Asheville better, and eventually found a small condo to purchase there (or was that the bad news?). It’s a very confusing story. Anyhow, we figured if we bought our own place, we could refuse to rent space to large colonies of ants and live relatively insect-free during hurricane season. Live with Hurricanes

Third, we also learned about what my wife started calling the weather terrorists, or National Weather Service (we got this term from an indigenous Floridian). Being our first experience with their predicting hurricane paths and strength, we took everything they said seriously. Therefore, we arrived in North Carolina believing that Dorian was going to destroy our little condo in St. Augustine. It was predicted to make a direct hit on Jacksonville as a category 46, on a scale of 1-5, like on the order of a nuclear explosion. Live with Hurricanes

This was the main reason we decided to buy a second small condo in Asheville. Much like Bugs Bunny, I wanted a backdoor escape plan in the event of catastrophic destruction of our primary residence (or Elmer Fudd in a Bugs Bunny cartoon). Didn’t seem like such a bad idea at the time. Maybe I shouldn’t use Bugs Bunny as an icon to pattern my life after. Live with Hurricanes

As it turned out, after excessive acid erosion of several layers of skin from my stomach due to the stress, Dorian missed Jacksonville completely. We called a friend, a native Floridian who had refused to evacuate, and he told us all they got was a little rain. As a native Floridian, he explained to us that the National Weather Service often exaggerates things; they do need to consider their ratings after all. Live with Hurricanes

Whenever a tropical depression appears in the Atlantic or Gulf, they apparently feel it’s their obligation to terrify everyone in the Eastern US, from Halifax (whoops, that’s actually in Canada) all the way down to Miami, Florida to keep them tuned into the weather channel. I don’t know if this is true or not, but our friend told us this, he was fine, and we were living in an ant farm in North Carolina. Perhaps we should have listened to him rather than old Bugs. Live with Hurricanes

We ended up buying a second small condo in Asheville, NC in 2019 to escape to during hurricane season (I call this our Bugs Bunny plan). The realtor in Asheville assured us we would feel right at home. Apparently, there are more Floridians in Asheville than Ashevillians (not sure that’s a word). It would appear my Bugs Bunny plan was not original to me. Live with Hurricanes

To my credit, I was extra careful about inspecting this new condo for insects. Other than the occasional thousand legger that crawled out of the bathtub drain and chased us around the bedroom, we were fine. However, I could have done better at checking out the elevators (we were on the second floor with three flights of stairs; don’t ask), the heat pump, and the water heater. I did hire one of those home inspectors, but I think he must have inspected the wrong condo or something. He didn’t report any problems. Live with Hurricanes

2020 and 2021 were especially difficult because of the dreaded Covid. My wife and I fled to Asheville, NC to our little condo during hurricane season both years. There were a couple of tropical storms or hurricanes during those years, but we were tucked safely away in Asheville…or not. It became clear to me that my Bugs Bunny back door escape plan was failing fast. Live with Hurricanes

More things we learned about how to live with hurricanes. First, during those two years, whenever a hurricane was predicted by the weather terrorists to destroy our condo, it always ended up the same. We would phone our indigenous Floridian friend, who would tell us St. Augustine just got a little rain, or a small bit of wind, or it was 70 and sunny. During those two years the weather terrorists were something like 0 of 20 when it came to predicting the demise of our little condo in Florida. Live with Hurricanes

Meanwhile, we discovered that those elevators that were supposed to make our NC condo so convenient shouldn’t be used during Covid. We were told they were Covid death traps. Then we discovered the other truth, that the builder had cut corners and installed elevators to carry full sized human beings, furniture, appliances, and stuff like that using a 110 line instead of the required 220. I know, sounds absurd. You just can’t make this stuff up. Live with Hurricanes

Therefore, the first time we tried to use the elevator, we discovered that it was actually ornamental in nature. It wouldn’t bloody work, was dead, defunct, wouldn’t go up and down…you get the idea. Apparently, every time anyone weighing over fifty pounds used one of the elevators, it would short circuit and be out for days. The homeowner’s association said they had plans for repairs that would take a long time (rewiring to 220) and cost a lot of money. Live with Hurricanes

So, at our advanced age we got to carry all our stuff up and down three flights of stairs (to the second floor). Sound confusing? Well, apparently the first floor was actually considered the basement, even though it wasn’t underground, so there were three flights of stairs up to the second floor. I began to wish a hurricane would come blow the place away. Live with Hurricanes

Then there were the hurricanes. What, you say? I thought that’s why you left Florida. In 2021, one of the hurricanes that hit Florida came on up to Asheville (I guess I got my wish?) and rained and blew so hard it washed out part of the Blue Ridge Parkway. Imagine how confused I was. My Bugs Bunny escape plan included fleeing to Asheville to escape hurricanes, and one followed us there, huffed and puffed, and tried to blow our other house down. Live with Hurricanes

Then there were the supply chain issues due to Covid. We discovered the obvious, that having two condos also meant having to maintain two heat pumps, two water heaters, two sets of kitchen appliances, two internet subscriptions, etc. You get the idea. Unfortunately, this turned out to be a full-time job. For example, we tried to replace water heater and heat pump and had a great deal of difficulty finding anything not made by elves at the North Pole. Live with Hurricanes

We hired a plumber to install a brand new, American made water heater, one of those low boys that are shorter than the full-sized water heaters. The plumber installed the unit and left. I went into the utility closet to inspect the work and discovered that the thing had been installed with the cover plate with brand name and other pertinent information facing backwards. I reached around the unit with my trusty iPhone and took a photo of the cover plate. Live with Hurricanes

According to the label this was a 2015 unit made in China that had been sitting in a warehouse somewhere since…you guessed it…2015. I called the plumber, raised hell, and eventually we got the brand new, American made water heater that we paid for. Apparently, it took the plumber an excessive amount of time and effort to find one, but he finally did. I guess he had figured it was easier to just try to scam the old folks. Live with Hurricanes  

We hired an HVAC company to replace our heat pump system. Of course, the world had gone to a different version of freon, and we had to replace both inside and outside units. This time the salesman was able to find an inside unit made in the US, but apparently all outside compressors are now made in China. I gave up, agreed on the units and price, and they came and did the installation. Live with Hurricanes

When an HVAC installer walks out of the utility closet where he’s installing your new heat pump with a sad face, rushes past you, and goes outside to make a call, this is usually not a good sign. He came back into the condo a few minutes later to inform us that the freon line between the inside unit and outside compressor had magically broken. It would cost us an extra couple of thousand dollars to run a new line before he could finish. Live with Hurricanes

I do unfortunately believe in Bugs Bunny because he’s on TV, but even I don’t believe in magic. Once again, I raised hell, they repaired the line and finished the job. Fortunately, I can still raise hell at this advanced age, but it does take a lot more out of me. I need lots of naps to recuperate. Live with Hurricanes

There was also the drive to and from Asheville, on I-95 and I-26. I-95 in South Carolina goes down to two lanes, tractor trailers try very hard to hurt you there, and the potholes on that stretch of road could swallow a Boeing 747. Fortunately, they seldom land on I-95. And there’s a twenty-mile stretch of I-26 just outside of Asheville with ongoing construction that I predict will never, ever, ever be completed. One more flaw in my Bugs Bunny back door escape plan. Live with Hurricanes

The security cameras were also entertaining with two condos. I installed those small Ring cameras in both units and monitored them on my cell phone. One night while in North Carolina I got a warning from one of the cameras in Florida that someone was in the condo, and it obviously wasn’t us. I looked at the recorded footage and showed it to my wife. We agreed that there was a dragon flying around in our Florida condo, which was of some concern. Live with Hurricanes

Maybe there was such a thing as magic after all. After several viewings of the footage, and some clever deducing, we figured out that a moth kept flying directly in front of the camera, probably attracted to the tiny light below the lens. Due to its proximity to the camera lens, it did look gigantic, and perhaps resembled a dragon. I’m not sure anymore, what with the basement being the first floor, the brand new 2015 water heater, and all that driving on I-95 and I-26. Things were beginning to take on a surreal appearance. You know, like that Alice Through the Looking Glass thing. Sure enough, when we finally returned to Florida, we found a defunct large white moth on the living room floor. I have the Ring cameras set to growl when an intruder is detected, and perhaps this scared the poor moth to death. Live with Hurricanes   

So, we sold our NC condo in early 2022. I learned something else from this experience, unrelated to hurricanes and back door escape plans. If you really want to sell your house, put it on the market for an exorbitant price. When you get no offers, take it off the market. In my experience, within a month of taking it off the market our realtor called and told us we had a full price offer. I pointed out to my wife what a genius I had been; I had planned it this way all along. My wife smiled and countered by reminding me whose idea the Bugs Bunny back door escape plan had been in the first place. I love her. She keeps me humble. Live with Hurricanes

Then came the hurricane season of 2022. When Ian roared into the west coast of Florida, my wife and I happened to be visiting our daughter in NYC. She has a nice one-bedroom apartment and was kind enough to sleep on the couch and give us her bed for the duration. However, she was less enamored of the discussion around our taking over her bedroom for the next year while our Florida condo was being rebuilt in the event that Ian crushed it. Live with Hurricanes

We spent several days watching the weather terrorists, and again, despite their predictions, our condo survived. I think our daughter was probably way happier than we were, considering she could have ended up sharing her one-bedroom apartment with her two middle-aged (and by that, I mean elderly) parents for quite some time. To her credit, she was very sweet about the whole thing. Although she did seem quite relieved when she put us in a cab headed for the airport. I am confident she would have let us stay had Ian destroyed our home. I know she loves us very much. However, I am also the one who came up with the Bugs Bunny escape plan, so there’s that. Live with Hurricanes

Finally, (I’ll bet you’re glad to hear that), there’s Hurricane Nicolle in 2022. My Bugs Bunny escape plan had failed, and here we sat with no place to go in the event of a hurricane. To our credit, we did replace all windows with hurricane windows. We also had a plan to evacuate to a hotel in Gainesville if required. This time the weather terrorists got it right, more or less. They predicted that where we live there would be 25-35 mph winds, with gust up to 50. They also predicted bathtubs full of rain (a highly technical weather terrorist term that I just made up). Live with Hurricanes

I remember waking up at 4 AM to do what old men do when they wake up at 4 AM, and I heard howling wind and rushing water. I followed the sound out into the living room, opened the curtain, and was greeted by bathtubs full of water blowing at 35 mph directly into our hurricane resistant sliding glass doors. The sound of rushing water was actually the doors working properly; some of the water leaks in through where the doors slide, runs down the inside of the window into a metal tract with holes in it, and drains back outside. Live with Hurricanes

I stood there in front of the sliding glass door fascinated by the power of nature, until my wife came into the room. She walked up to me and asked, “Should you really be standing there in front of all that glass, with that high wind and heavy rain blowing directly on it in your direction?” I closed the curtains and went back to bed. Live with Hurricanes              

What have I learned regarding how to live with hurricanes, you might ask? Well, I’ve learned that if you rent a house, check for ants first. I’ve learned that the Bugs Bunny back door escape plan sucks, whether you rent or buy a second place to flee to. I’ve learned that an elevator doesn’t work if installed with a 110 line. Having two condos, including two of everything to maintain, is exhausting. I’ve learned that raising hell is also exhausting and requires many naps to recuperate. I also learned that occasionally a hurricane gets bored with Florida and flies on up to Asheville, NC to do its thing. Live with Hurricanes

I’ve learned that to successfully sell your house you have to first take it off the market. Also never to drive on I-95 or I-26, the former being a great challenge considering where we currently live. I’ve learned that I can survive tropical storm winds and rain by hunkering down in our little condo. Although according to my wife it’s not a good idea to stand directly in front of the sliding glass door with bathtubs of rain blowing directly at it at 35+ mph. But the very most important thing that I’ve learned regarding how to best live with hurricanes? My youngest daughter in NYC definitely needs a two-bedroom apartment. Live with Hurricanes

If you liked this article, you’ll love my comedy murder mysteries Pleasuria: Take as Directed, Murder by Road Trip, and The Realtor’s Curse. And coming soon a fourth book, entitled A Fishy Tale. Go to johnjjessop.com for more and links to buy the books.