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Hurricane Irma: We can't help being looky loos

By Ben Montgomery
Scores of people walk on the floor of Tampa Bay along Bayshore Boulevard in Tampa. The water dramatically receded Sunday afternoon ahead of Hurricane Irma.

Pets indoors. Windows covered. Tubs filled. Pantry full of nonperishables. Enough candles to contact the dead.

We fell asleep Saturday with anxiety and slept in fits, wondering what Sunday would bring, the words of the weathermen ringing. Chaos. Destruction. Category 5. Landfall. How would this big storm present itself? Those who said they knew for sure were long gone, most of them, leaving behind the immobile, the brave, the foolish, the uncertain.

Then came Sunday morning, and with it a delicate rain, a spritz, the kind of precipitation they get in lesser places. We double-checked the battery supply. We updated Facebook: safe. We collectively waited.

Around noon, hyperbole supply exhausted, we grew bored. In an age when it's never been easier to see distant, dangerous things streamed into the comfort of our own homes, we had to see for ourselves.

On Saturday we prepared. On Sunday, curiosity got the best of us.

Hundreds headed out. We didn't know where to go, exactly, but we had to see. We jogged. We drove. We rode bicycles. We pulled into open gas stations and stood in lines 15 deep. We drove by the Flamingo and the Hub just to see if they were open. Some of us just needed company.

We greeted each other out there, too, with waves and understanding nods. Community is tactile on this side of wrath.

There seemed to be a pull toward the water. Maybe you felt it. Maybe you resisted the urge and sharpened your scorn for those who could not stay put and shelter in place. But the other camp appeared to be having fun.

They came in droves, hundreds, to places like Bayshore Boulevard and Apollo Beach and Ruskin's Little Harbor, phones in hand, to see for themselves how the storm had sucked the sea off the beaches. They walked like zombies toward the water, pilgrims to the pandemonium, the wind picking up, the outer bands finally arriving at Tampa Bay. They were young and old, black and brown and white, shoed and in bare feet. There was a father and son. Teenage lovers. A woman chewing tobacco.

The rain blew sideways and stung their skin. Safety could wait. The surge could not be seen on Sunday afternoon.

This, this was the hurricane.

They had touched the storm, come what may.

And they selfied.

Contact Ben Montgomery at [email protected] or (727) 893-8650.