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For those of us who know, Fay is not welcome

Amazing, that brilliant blue sky, those white wisps of cloud that made up Monday morning around here, the fierce sunshine and light breeze giving no hint of the trouble brewing south of us.

It defies imagination how they managed this a hundred years back, before VIPIR, before the all-day, all-night Weather Channel, before hurricane kits and rafts of bottled water loaded into minivans in Publix parking lots, before we knew we should worry. Back then, the day-before-the-storm conversation probably went like this:

Neighbor # 1: "Nice day out."

Neighbor # 2: "Yep. Breeze sure is picking up, though."

Now we have plenty of time to prepare — and worry — with the help of computer models and rain-soaked reporters and updates on TV every five seconds or so.

I heard a national weatherperson burbling in her sunny-side-up voice about places that have been extra dry this year and how people there would love a visit from Fay, how they would say "Bring it on!"

Yeah? You think so?

Because those of us who spent Monday trying to decide whether to worry a little or a lot don't agree. I hope I have not been so glib about stories of floods and droughts and tornados in cities far away and not my own.

Sixteen years ago, almost to the day, the great raging storm that was Hurricane Andrew slammed across the bottom of our state. (The good news: Fay and Andrew may have equally civilized names, but thankfully, Fay is no Andrew.)

After Andrew, how strange parts of my hometown Miami looked. There was this off-the-beaten-path route we used to take from the 'burbs where we lived into Coconut Grove, a path I traveled a lot working as a valet parking attendant earning tips for college.

It was one of those routes you couldn't explain very well: turn left at a massive sprawling banyan tree, follow the branch-canopied curving road to the traffic light, and so on.

Andrew stripped those trees I knew raw, or ripped them up altogether. Where leafy branches once umbrellaed a street, sun glared through bared sticks. Post-Andrew, I was lost.

As a reporter, I remember driving up outside a tent city in Andrew-ravaged Homestead, temporary home to many made homeless by the storm. In the hot, dusty parking lot, a car pulled up next to me, and out stepped, if you can believe it, a clown. An actual clown, giant shoes, silly pants, red nose, the works, just another person there to volunteer for the cause.

And the kids came running. Some of them didn't have shoes, but they came running, because even in this particular hell, a kid was a kid and a clown was a clown.

My dad lived north of Miami then, and when I called after the storm, he was busy loading jugs of water into the back of his Chevy Tahoe, as many as he could carry south to whoever needed it. He told me later that even with the horror stories about price-gouging and looting, he ran into plenty of people doing the same thing.

A year or so later, I was back in Miami for a wedding, driving toward Coconut Grove. My car seemed to point itself: left at the banyan, follow the canopy. It was not exactly like it had never happened, more like the world promised to return to some kind of normal, if you gave it time.

So we wait for whatever Fay will bring, for skies to clear, for normal. Around here, we're used to it.

For those of us who know, Fay is not welcome 08/18/08 [Last modified: Monday, August 18, 2008 7:14pm]
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