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Carlton: Hurricanes like what's-her-face: the price we pay for paradise.

By Sue Carlton
LUIS SANTANA | Times
Instead of sheltering in place, a handful of people crowded around to watch CNN’s Anderson Cooper interview U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson on the Tampa Riverwalk on Sunday afternoon.

We live in Florida, and we are lucky. These are facts, even given what Irma just put us through.

Think about it: For every late-night TV snark with a Florida punch line, there are platoons of people who flock here from all over for what we have. Joke about Florida and talk to me in January when you're slipping in the snow.

Still, it is also true that when you live in Florida, you will inevitably experience things beyond what the tourist ads promise, beyond sun-soaked sugar-sand days, magical Disney trips and Margaritaville nights.

Fire ants, for instance. Sunburn. Summers so unbearably, swelteringly hot you can barely breathe.

And, by far, the worst: hurricanes, both in threat and reality.

So Irma is behind us. We were lucky.

I think we can all agree it was terrible anyway. Worrying for days about a monster storm coming straight up our state was terrible. Hoarding water and peanut butter crackers and not knowing how long we might need them was terrible. Stressing about people we care about was terrible. Thinking of hurricanes past was terrible. Trying to figure out where to go that wouldn't be worse was terrible.

And I don't know about you, but I could go the rest of my life without ever again driving away from my house headed for somewhere supposedly safer and not knowing what would be there when I got back.

Would the roof hold? Would the oaks topple? Worse?

Because around here we were in the bull's-eye. Tracks had it coming for us in Tampa Bay, and for proof, you had no less than CNN's Anderson Cooper perched at the edge of the downtown Tampa Riverwalk, waiting.

So we hunkered down as the wind howled and the rain pelted. We watched slickered TV reporters shouting about how a palm frond can be a projectile. We texted people we worried about and people who were worried about us.

The TV reporters started saying things like "may have dodged a bullet," and did Anderson Cooper look a little bored? No, I'm sure he was glad for us.

I finally fell asleep to a chorus of frogs in the back yard, loudest I've ever heard, oblivious to the storm or else really enjoying it. They were still going at it when I woke up and the worst was past. We got lucky who knows why — the contrariness of nature and things we can't control.

"Lucky" probably sounds harsh to the people around the corner who had a tall tree fall onto their roof or my neighbor who lost her fence, to everyone who went without power or woke up to their homes or businesses damaged. It has to sound harsh in places that got it way worse.

People say we will get complacent, that the next time a hurricane with a sweet name and a vicious potential for destruction comes along we will think we don't need to worry so much.

Me, I think Irma scared us straight, made us pay attention, got us more used to getting ready, made us a little nicer to each other for a while there, even. Maybe it wasn't as bad as it could have been, but can you imagine if we hadn't prepared and it was?

All of which is the price to pay for living someplace that's pretty great, even in hurricane season.

Contact Sue Carlton at [email protected]