Full Irma Evacuation Adventure – Orlando


Friday I posted about the evacuation from Irma. We left on Thursday, well before the storm came rushing in, and returned on Tuesday. Basically, we treated it as a long weekend away. Or so the plan went. Evacuated Ahead of Irma – Orlando Edition

I rushed my post somewhat, knowing I’d be right back at the keyboard typing the rest of it out when we returned.

With that bit of prologue out of the way, let’s get right to it.

The EscapeYou can click on the link two paragraphs above, or continue reading. Dealer’s choice – or would that one be player’s choice since I’m holding all of the (informational) cards? Either way …

From the moment the weather people began talking about Irma, we were sitting up and paying attention. Harvey had just ripped through Texas and Louisiana, and we had a bad feeling when they started talking about Irma.

We rode out Hermine and Matthew – Matthew being the worst of the two. My Companion and I had a long chat after Matthew, and decided it was time to establish triggers for when we’d leave versus when we would stay when hurricanes were zooming in. We probably should have had this discussion long before that, but it worked out in the end.

I find it odd that I’ve lived in places with weird seasons. In Phoenix there was monsoon season, and in Florida there’s hurricane season. Oddly enough, they run about the same amount of time. Oh, and in Michigan there’s construction season which actually lasts 9 out of the 12 months.

Anyways, the trigger we decided on was a Category 3 or higher, and Orlando had to be in the direct path. Well, lo and behold, once all of the Irma models began agreeing with each other, it looked like it was going to be a lot worse than Category 3, and Orlando was definitely in its path.

None of these things are guaranteed, however, and I believe the weather-people mentioned that, but it’s easy to forget. Models are guesses. Best guesses, but guesses all the same.

Tuesday we began to get the weird feeling. Lots of long pauses, then looking at each other and asking, “Are we going to have to evacuate?” with half nods as answers.

The State began issuing mandatory evacuation orders, and that was enough for us. By Wednesday evening we were packing everything we would need to get through a long weekend, and perhaps longer depending on the aftermath. We left Thursday morning.

We were warned of gas shortages, and bad traffic. We knew. And we got into the car with both of us in the mental space of, “This is going to suck, but we know that, and we’re going to get through it.”

We had a reservation at a Comfort Inn located in Daphne, Alabama. That reservation was our shining, golden light at the end of a very long, very nasty, dark tunnel.

I’ve looked over the Facebook posts I left during that trip. It’s rather interesting to watch oneself go from optimistic and thankful to be getting away from the storm, to ground down by traffic, to “Oh my God, fuck my life, I hate my car, traffic, roads, and people. All of them.”

We went like 14 miles in an hour at one point, and that kept up for a while. Everyone was heading north. I’m pretty sure people flew in just so they could rent a car and make the drive with us. It sure felt that way.

Eventually we discovered the back roads, which was definitely a blessing. By the time we hit 10 heading East, traffic had basically cleared.

About a month ago now we traded in our old Chrysler Pacifica for an Audi A5. Thank God for it. The thing is a sports car. When we hit 10 we joined up with a pack of other Audis, Mercedes, and Beemers, and we all flew through the rest of Florida and Alabama together.

I miss you, my soul brethren, I’m glad you were there with me.

At one point we played the, “Guess what would have broken on the Pacifica by now” game, and I don’t think we were even 100 miles away from Orlando at that point. The answer we agreed on was “everything.”

Followers of this blog or my Facebook Author Page know that I’ve been dealing with some physical issues for some time now. I had a bad car accident in 2014 and have been dealing with a bad back and neck ever since.

I had an epidural steroid shot about a month ago, and it had actually done the trick. Gang, I was pretty much pain free for the first time in years. I was able dance through my kitchen, I swear to God. Just once, but I did.

By the time our THIRTEEN HOUR drive was complete, I was right back to where I had been before the shot. Thirteen hours. And we left before the mad rush to get out of Florida. I can’t imagine the hell it would have been had we waited until Friday to leave, like we believed we were going to have to.

Limbo: The hotel was nice enough. King sized bed room, with a small fridge and microwave. We thought it would have one of those kitchenettes, and alas, it did not. Friday my back and neck were screaming, so we had priorities.

My Companion was able to work remotely while everyone else in his office evacuated. That was a nice bonus to having bailed early, for him at least. I’m sure the office appreciated it.

While he was working I hunted down an urgent care medical clinic, and managed to get my hands on some steroids and a Toradol shot to bring the inflammation down. Thank God for good insurance. There was a grocery store across the street, and I bought basics to get us through what never did end up feeling like a vacation.

The hotel was directly off of the highway, and outside of town. There were fast food options all around, and a Cracker Barrel across the street. I’m surprised the Cracker Barrel employees didn’t begin to recognize us by the time it was all said and done.

We brought all of our electronics with us, so we had our Playstation, AppleTV, assorted ipads and computers, and even our home router. We considered opening strong wifi up for the other guests, but couldn’t bring ourselves to slow down our own signal on purpose, not when we were desperate for local news.

So, to all the other guests, we were thinking of you, I swear, but we’re signal greedy. Sorry, not sorry.

We obsessively watched CNN’s coverage, and talked to lots of other evacuees. The hotel employees and residents of the town treated all of us very, very well. I’m prayed over pretty regularly anyway. and they all added to it for this event. Thank you, for that, my friends, we appreciated it no end, and still do.

The path of the hurricane changed constantly, until we believed we may have evacuated prematurely. Guess again.

Schrodinger’s Apartment: It’s a physics thing, based on Schrodinger’s Cat as defined here:

a cat imagined as being enclosed in a box with a radioactive source and a poison that will be released when the source (unpredictably) emits radiation, the cat being considered (according to quantum mechanics) to be simultaneously both dead and alive until the box is opened and the cat observed.

In this case it was our apartment. We didn’t know if it still stood, or if everything we held dear was blowing in the wind. And what a wind it was!

As we all now know, Irma hit like a freaking bomb in some places. We were horrified when we watched the coverage of the Keys, and Miami. We were more horrified to realize the last minute models were wrong, and Orlando was once again directly in the path.

My stepdaughter and the majority of my Florida friends live near Tampa, and they were bound to take a direct hit. It was a very, very scary time for all of us. Everyone I know down here has officially checked in, and we all made it through. Some people won’t have power for quite a while, but they’re alive and that’s what matters.

It took a while for that to happen, and we were constantly waiting for the bad news that someone we knew was injured, or their abode was gone, or our abode was gone …

It’s a bad mental place to be in, to not know if your home is actually there or not.

We wanted to have a hurricane party, but couldn’t bring ourselves to do it, and none of the other guests seemed to be in the mood either. Instead we flipped between CNN, the Sunday Night Football game, and watching WESH on our ipads.

The Plan: Obviously we needed a plan. They were reporting gas shortages, power outages, and a distinct lack of food and water supplies. It was going to take a while for roads to be cleared so trucks could come in and distribute assistance, especially down south of us.

We weren’t sure what to do. Hell, we still aren’t 100% sure we made the right choice in coming back.

My family in Michigan loves us, a lot. I would hope so, I talk about them all the time on here, and how awesome they are. They wanted us to come to them, and we probably should have. It would have been a two day drive to get there versus the one day to get home, and the decision was a hard one to make.

We called the complex, who assured us the apartment still stood. It was Schrodinger’s apartment though, let’s not forget. We’ve had enough bad things happen to us in our lifetimes that we were suspicious every other building was fine, and ours was rubble. My Companion was worried his work’s building had blown away.

Anxiety can lead people to make choices that aren’t the best, ultimately.

The Return: We had to check out of the hotel on Tuesday. Flip a coin time. But it wasn’t really. We knew we wanted to go home and see for ourselves how things had turned out.

My Companion checked the drive time on Google Maps. I used Waze. Both of them told us it would take nine hours to get home. That didn’t sound bad, and it was the equivalent of getting to Nashville for an overnight on our way north, had we gone that direction. Instead of looking at a second day of driving, however, we’d be home where we could talk to our own doctors (we hoped), and sleep in our own bed, and yes, go back to work. The pets were hating life, we were hating life, we just wanted home.

My Companion and I are workaholics in our own ways. Before the storm I was cruising through the writing of Freedom’s Mercy (Book 3 in the Baldwin series, release date of Black Friday, give or take) and My Companion had a project at work that has been a year in the making that Irma officially delayed.

We set forth for Orlando.

Nine hours, my ass. Everyone and their brother decided to go back to Florida that day, I think. We made it two exits on 10 before I demanded an alternate route. It took us an hour to go by those two exits, and I just couldn’t do it anymore.

My back was bad, and I’d had to go back to the urgent care and ask the doc for pain meds. I hate to do that. I’ve been off of them for so long that I hated needing them again, but the very idea of trying to do that drive without them? Oh, hell no.

The return trip didn’t take nine hours. No, it took fifteen.

We thought the evacuation was bad, the return was apocalyptic.

The estimate was over 5 million of approximately 9 million residents without power. 65% was the number the local news kept throwing around. The majority of those outages are in the center of the state, the spine so to say.

Gas, power, ice, water, and grocery shortages were also reported.

I can personally attest to the reports being accurate.

Once we hit the center of the state gas stations that had gas AND power were an iffy combination. I believe we saw seven stations total in that area. When we were down to a quarter of a tank of gas, we began sweating it a little. Yes, we’d been told the roads were passable, but no one really said, “Hey, are you sure? There’s no gas, and everything is going to suck.”

I’m not sure we would have listened if they had.

The police weren’t out patrolling and ensuring everyone’s safety in the darkness. They couldn’t. They had to guard the entrance and exits to the gas stations. They lined cars down the street, and would let in a few at a time.

We got into line and were able to go almost immediately because our cap is on the passenger side. We must be a minority in that.

We paid $3.12 a gallon for Premium when we left Florida. We paid $3.12 a gallon for Premium when we left Alabama. We paid $3.42 (I believe My Companion said) in the center of the state, and that’s bound to go up. The station was on generator power, no bathrooms, and all of their coolers with drinks were set up outside. It felt like a bizarre bazaar.

A few of the police were stationed at stoplights that had no power to ensure people were treating them as four way stops. This wasn’t as prevalent in Orlando, and a lot of people have been running those lights in the parts of town without power and getting into really bad accidents.

The back roads that we took were scary as shit. It was dark, and we were on roads we weren’t familiar with. You know how you know that one route to the highway because you’re a local, and those roads aren’t something you would send a tourist down because they’d get lost? Yeah, those roads. They were winding, surrounded by woods, weird, and there was debris EVERYWHERE!

We had one detour due to a bridge being washed out, or something similar. Another road would randomly have barricades up and you’d realize there were power lines and a tree down in the lane they’d blocked. No warning that you’re approaching these things, because all resources are spread thin right now, and who has time to make all these signs?

We made it home before midnight, and by the time that happened I considered it to be a minor miracle.

I’m proud to admit we only had one blowout fight on that ride. Stress is a killer.

The Aftermath: Our complex had some trees down. They pulled up sidewalk when they went. This is being fixed now. There’s a Target down the street that I’ll use for groceries when I’m lazy. They are almost out of fresh fruit and meats, though I was able to find some frozen meals I consider acceptable. I haven’t checked the grocery store I usually use across town. It’s in a less nice area than we live, and I imagine they need those supplies more than we do if that store is even open.

My Companion’s work was volunteer basis for the first couple of days, now they’re back to normal operating procedures. This is good. Continuity and routine is helpful for most people. They’re soothing.

Parts of Orlando still don’t have power, but all of the attractions are open. Nothing holds back the Mouse, I guess. Power is quickly being restored to many areas, though it’s going to be a very long time before the Keys are okay again, and other areas that would be considered especially rural – areas I drove through two days ago. Ha!

Our apartment didn’t completely escape the winds. We have some screens down on the balcony. That is very much small potatoes compared to so many other people affected by Irma. We’re grateful, trust me.

I haven’t been able to get ahold of my spine doctor, unfortunately. Their phone lines are still down. They are located in a neighborhood that is supposed to have power, so I’ll head over there today and see if I can make an appointment or hit their walk in clinic. If not, I may end up at an ER, though I’m trying to avoid that. Again, I’m sure there are people out there who need it more than I do, and I’d hate to clog up the lines if it’s something I can handle a touch longer.

I’m doing okay after the drive, though my body is extremely angry with me. I’ve been walking like Monty Burns from The Simpsons; hunched over, arms in tight, face angled to the ground. It was a 7/10 yesterday, down to a 5 today. I can handle that, though I’m going to have to see someone soon.

My Companion is in the same boat. He’s going through frozen shoulder at the moment, and this trip aggravated the crap out of it.

So, if you were to ask me, “Hey, AK, how was that experience?” I’d have to answer something along the lines of:

I’m grateful we’re alive, that our friends and family and pets are safe. I’m worried, and praying for the people affected. I will never use the name Irma for anything but a murder victim, I think, and it will be gruesome when it happens. I feel like I owe her at least one for my back pains.

Alabama was okay. It was my first time there, and I was stunned to learn they don’t offer scratch off lottery tickets. It ruined the entire evacuation experience.

We forgot to bring back official souvenirs, but I have an “evacuation straw” from Wendy’s in my driver’s door. I like having a spare in the car, it just worked out that it happened to be while we were on the run when I picked it up.

We have a couple of bottles of water, but they aren’t anything special. Maybe I should order something from Amazon? Or maybe I should try to let this particular memory die. That qualifies as another one of those dealer’s choice things.

What I learned: Next time there’s a category 5 hurricane heading towards my home, my evacuation will be somewhere I want to go and can be comfortable, and possibly have medical records. Like Michigan.

I’m sure there’s more than that, but this post is already longer than a chapter in one of my books, and some of us have things to do yet today.

I appreciate all of you, and I’m thankful you’re a part of my life.

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