08 April 2006

An old tropical storm

(Here's another tale from my time in Florida years ago since it's weather appropriate of late.)

The day started out well enough, raining so hard I could barely hear the morning weather forecast that plays moments after my radio alarm goes off. I heard just enough to make out that it was going to pour all day. I got up, walked over to the radio, put my ear to the speaker in anticipation, only to hear the weatherman announce, "No closings at this time."

It had to be wrong. I called the university's "disaster preparedness" number. Last updated at 6:00 AM, school would be open. Mind you, this wasn't just me thinking it'd be nice to have the day off. True, but it was equally true that if I had the choice, I wouldn't drive through heavy tropical storm rains during flash flood and tornado warnings. Knowing that the parking lot and sidewalk to the library floods on regular rainy days didn't help.

I resigned myself to taking a shower hoping a later update would reveal a closing or later opening. No such luck.

While eating my blueberry waffles over the sink, I briefly considered throwing together a pb&j sandwich on italian bread so I wouldn't have to go out for lunch as I usually do. I was short on time though and figured it'd let up some by lunchtime.

As I drove, I took my usual route since it seemed clear. It wasn't until I reached the T-intersection where I needed to turn that I could see that a section of the road was totally flooded. I noticed an SUV behind me but then realized it was just a cop who was leaving me room to turn around. In my rearview I saw him forge on through, but I wasn't convinced my poor low-to-the-ground sedan could take it.

At last I reached the parking lot, parking further up the slope than I might normally to stay on higher ground. As I'd thought, the whole lower portion was flooded. At least my boots are waterproof. The tan, steel-toed footwear might seem overly rugged for desk work, but I didn't care.

I trudged along seeking the highest ground and gently stepping through deep waters so as not to splash when there was no alternative. Sometimes the shallowest parts were 4 inches deep.

At the base of the lot, there's a great deal of dirt since they've been doing construction for a month. There was a section which actually didn't have water running over it, so I went for it. With my second step, I plunged downward like it was quicksand. Fortunately, a few leaps got me back to pavement. One of my coworkers was not so lucky, she lost her shoe to the mud.

Also as per usual, the sidewalk was totally flooded several inches deep for a large span. There is in fact no way to enter the building without passing through a flooded area. My boots served me well though, my feet were dry, and I wasn't too wet.

Then came lunchtime. In the five minutes before I take lunch, it started to pour 20 times harder than it had been earlier. Wind blowing solid sheets of water. I scowled at the windows hoping it would let up, so I could go out for lunch. I waited around a few minutes during which it only rained harder. For once, I exercised some good sense opting not to be soaked the rest of the day.

I went to the lounge to find lunch at the vending machines. While I was standing there having my perfectly crisp dollar bills rejected, the fire alarm went off. As a throwback to my dorm days, I stood there for a minute waiting for it to shut itself off. It didn't.

With several other disgruntled folk, I headed downstairs to the lobby all the while thinking about my raincoat still hanging in the basement.

I was relieved to see that for the moment, people were standing in the lobby and not outdoors. After a while I remembered my emergency poncho in my backpack and felt a little better. As the minutes ticked on, I got hungrier.

On the upside, one of my cohorts had change for a dollar. On the downside, I lost 25 minutes of my 45 minute lunch standing in the lobby while the fire fighters confirmed it was a false alarm.

At least they let the staff back in first, not that there were many patrons; we outnumbered them at least five to one because mostly they'd had the good sense to stay home.

I hightailed it back to the lounge with about 15 minutes left and ate a pseudo pack of Nab's and an apple pie slice. I know, you're thinking, "God, from a vending machine?" but it had the expiration date on it so you could see it before you punched it in. My long continuing sugar crash is probably not helping my mood. Nor the fact that I only now realized I could've heated my apple pie in the microwave.

By mid-afternoon, the city was publishing closed streets on its website and advising people not to drive, but to wait out the storm wherever they were at. Yeah right. The thought of getting stuck at work when we shouldn't have been open in the first place made me feel sick.

With the stroke of five, I signed out, gathered my things, and headed to the main entryway while pulling my raincoat on. Many of my co-workers were standing in the outer lobby, holding umbrellas, looking wistfully at the sky, hoping the rain would let up.

"Goodnight," I said, without breaking stride, shoving the door open to enter the downpour.

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