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Thursday, Sept. 18, 2003
If, as the saying goes, a tornado is the finger of God, tracing in the dirt of the earth, what exactly is a hurricane?

Maybe God’s two hands and a foot, to boot?

I was thinking about this yesterday, how different areas of this country have their own peculiarities in weather. Like, Oklahoma and the middle plains are subject to tornadoes, or the Great Lakes area gets lots of snowstorms. Down here in the Mid-Atlantic, especially the southern part, we get the hurricane. And the nor’easter, which frequently is quite a bit more destructive than your garden variety hurricane for some reason.

For today’s news (and I know you all are sitting there breathless, awaiting some urgent report of calamity) I can only report that as of 6:30 am, there’s a little bit o’ wind that occasionally gusts pretty good, a light rain, and the sun ain’t up just yet. All the reports are that the big deal will happen sometime around 2 pm today.

They also report that it will pass quite a bit to the south of us, through North Carolina for the most part. Those Tarheeler’s always have all the fun.

The cops ordered mandatory evacuations along the oceanfront areas of our fair city last night, and went so far as to order folks in “low laying areas to evacuate as well.” For crying out loud, this whole area is just a little higher than a bayou. My house is in one of the higher areas of the city but I seriously doubt that I’m more than 25 feet above sea level. Then the chief of police, in a statement that brought paraxiums of mirth to the Watering Hole crew, said “Anyone who chooses to defy this mandatory evacuation order should write their name and SS# in permanent marker on their arms. For identification purposes. After we find you dead.” Oh boy.

I don’t think I’ll be tattooing my forearm any time soon.

One of the things you see a lot of is carpentry crews running around town with truck loads of plywood. They pull into the more expensive neighborhoods, generally nearest the beaches, and go door to door offering to board up windows, for cash. It’s a pretty slick little hustle, and last I heard they were getting better than a thousand per house. Panic money. Or outright thievery, if you ask me.

Stu and I considered doing this, we even had an enterprising businessman/bar companion who offered to get a big truck load of plywood and split the profits with us, the installers of same. It all made sense, we’ve got all the tools and the gear and the experienced speed (you wouldn’t believe some of the would be “carpenters” who are making a buck at this scam) but you know? It just didn’t seem right. Seemed an awful lot like profiting off other people’s fear and misery. I’ll leave that to the lawyers and insurance people.

Plus, assuming there is a lot of damage, cleaning up and rebuilding in the aftermath should keep us plenty busy. I’ll take that work, it too may be pricey but at least we’ll be helping out rather than just boning people.

And then there was the whole issue of windows.

Every time one of these big ones blow through there’s a pretty fair percentage of homes and businesses that start sprouting the masking tape arrangements in the windows.

They put up big X’s of tape in the windows, supposedly to help lessen the amount of glass that would break should a wind-blown rock or something crash through. Some people (with entirely too much time on their hands) get pretty creative about it, making floral designs or crafting words out of the tape. But most everyone else puts up their X and feel righteously prepared for a 100 mph hurricane.

One of the barkeeps at the Hole was all aquiver about this yesterday afternoon. I noticed that she came on duty at the bar bearing a Wal-Mart bag full of masking tape and an expression of fear in her eyes. She pounced on me (minding my own business and quaffing a longneck) and started pumping me for information.

“You’ll know the answer to this, nobody else can help me,” she said breathlessly. “When I go to tape up my windows, should the tape go on the inside of the glass or the outside?”

I could have snorted, or hee-hawed, but I happen to have a sort of built-in fatherly protective gene for these girls, who dash around fetching me libations while I sit on my ass and watch the overhead TV. It just didn’t seem fair to be too much of a wise guy about it. Plus, she was just a kid really, obviously scared and living on her own and had spent too much time watching the local weatherman scream about “Flood! Fear! Pestilence!”

“How much tape did you buy, sweetie?,” I asked.

“Six rolls! And I got the last they had! Damned expensive too!”

Sigh. “And just why do you want to tape your windows, anyway?”

She looked shocked. “Why, there’s a hurricane coming, Outfoxed! A hurricane!”

I shook my head and repeated, “Nope, not that. Why do you want to tape ‘em?” As if I didn’t already know the answer.

“Well, ‘cause all my neighbors did, and I want to be ready, you know, for all that flying debris!”

I took a swig and considered. “So you think that a 50 pound tree branch is gonna fly through your window at 80 mph and the tape is gonna have some magical healing effect on the glass, right? Listen, I’ve lived around these parts for a long time and I’m gonna let you in on a little secret. The only reason your neighbors taped up is because everybody else was doing it. It's a darn fool waste of time and energy. You get something hitting that window hard enough to bust it, there’s going to be a helluva lot of busted glass and the tape’s gonna break too. Think about this, now.”

The barkeep looked perplexed, then pissed, then not a little shamefaced. “Oh geez. You mean it’s just a tradition? Taping windows? You’re kidding me!”

Uh uh. It’s true I tell you. It’s one of the dirty little secrets of hurricane life. People thinking that the two hands of God will be turned asunder with a little masking tape. Ask the folks down in South Carolina after Hugo hit, or people in Florida after Andrew. The ones looking at a house leveled to the ground and a roof that wound up across the street. On top of their car.

Like I said yesterday, hurricanes tend to break up about the time they get to my neighborhood. And this one is showing signs of doing the same, which lends itself to my way of thinking (the ho-hum way). I’m not so foolish as to not be a trifle concerned, but that’s what it is, a trifle.

Now if I was living right on the beach, I suspect it might be quite a bit worse than trifling.

But we generally leave that area to the tourists.

And they’re all up in Jersey about now.

Further news, my friends, when or if it ever happens.

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