In a statement Friday afternoon, NASA astronomers warned that a previously undiscovered asteroid exceeding twelve miles in diameter is on course to collide with the US east coast as early as Thursday, August 30th. An unnamed source at the Goddard Space Flight Center confirms that current calculations place the impact site between Boston, Massachusetts and Raleigh, North Carolina.
Admit it – if you live on the US east coast, you probably believed this for a least a second or two. The reason my blog’s tagline is “Fiction Need Not Apply” is because if you had told me last week that, within the space of six days, Philadelphia would get an earthquake and then a bona fide hurricane warning, I would have told you to get the #$%@ out of town.
Real life usually proves more surprising than anything you could make up.
So here we are, listening to furrow-faced governors and mayors tell us to evacuate the shore. As I said in my last post, I love living in Philadelphia because of its cozy lack of natural disasters by sky, sea or land. But now here’s Mayor Nutter, telling Philadelphians to prepare for the hurricane today, while Maryland, New York, Delaware and Pennsylvania declare a state of emergency and plan to suspend all transit by air, rail and bus.
I’ve been trolling the weather service website every few hours all day, because bad storms scare me. Tornados roar in my nightmares.
My closest brush with dangerous weather was in the early nineties, when I was a kid camping with my family and some close friends on a small island off the gulf coast of southern Florida. It was March, but suddenly a tropical storm was headed right for us.
The memory is bleary because it all happened in the middle of the night. Fellow campers with a radio in their palatial RV got word of imminent 90-mile-per hour winds and grew concerned about the families in tents next door. They called through our thin, dewy walls to wake us up.
My parents and their friends, who had a baby as well as two young boys, sprang into action. At ten and eight years old, my brother and I weren’t much help. I remember standing on the campsite while my parents shoved tents, bags, food and equipment into the back of the truck in a damp, horrific jumble. I looked up at the clouds and felt the humid, fitful breeze rise while raindrops spattered my face like the juicy spritz of a bitten fruit. Just as everything was loaded and we threw ourselves into the car, the skies opened.
We just made it off the island before the causeway was closed. Once on the mainland, our parents began searching for a safe place to spend the night. They pulled into every hotel and dove into the pounding rain to check for vacancies, but all the rooms in all the hotels were booked.
It was a surreal night. Peering out the car windows, there was nothing but blackness and the roar of the storm, except for when the lightning silhouetted the thrashing, tortured palm trees against a purple sky. A roadside transformer exploded in a glorious flash as we drove by. Finally, our parents realized our search was hopeless and pulled into a Cracker Barrel parking lot, where we spent the night in the cars while the storm raged northward.
In the morning, swollen gullies surrounded the lot but the air was fresh. We picked our way through the puddles to the restaurant, where we had large breakfasts and, to the tune of the Addams family theme, called ourselves “the disheveled fam-i-ly”.
The whole thing cemented my notion that staying in tents made one infinitely vulnerable and foolhardy. I’ve never gone camping as an adult, though the sound of a long, rackety zipper still takes me right back to those damp, restless nights of listening to the raccoons infiltrate the dining tent. When I reflect now on the tropical storm/Cracker Barrel episode, I shudder to think what could have happened had our neighbors not been on the lookout for our young families.
We were at the mercy of the storm, and that’s the whole problem with storms. There’s no controlling them. Several days ago, I listened to a forecaster predict that Hurricane Irene might make landfall in Florida, the Carolinas, or the Chesapeake Bay…or veer off into the Atlantic. This told us nothing, but we instinctively catalogued and illustrated each possibility as if that could somehow rein Irene in. Now she’s churning uninvited up the coast and we can’t do a damn thing about it.
Every time I am anxious about something beyond my control, I clean the house, as if this will help to solve any of my worries.
So tonight I tidied the living room, did the dishes, scrubbed the counters, wiped the walls, took out the trash and washed the dish-rack. I was contemplating the shower-curtain when I forced myself to stop.
Then I threw myself onto the couch with a notebook and pen.
It was time to get out the big guns. It was time to make a list.
I can face Irene with a list. I will be ready with the list:
Get the PECO numbers handy.
Check the flashlights and find the batteries.
Lay out candles.
Charge the cell phone.
Store some water.
I wrote it all down and more. Then I did everything on the list, happily checking things off as I went.
Take that, Irene.
As if in reply, a plump little squall of rain soaked the parking lot. She’s coming, and somehow she’s just as fat and hoary as she was before I scrubbed the kitchen and made a list.
Sorry about my asteroid lies. But at this point, east coast dwellers, I feel as if anything’s possible.