September 13, 2018
Like a friend, gentle puffs of wind push long strands of unanchored hair from my face so that my vision is clear. What I see is that all the boats in Cape Fear are unanchored, too, and in the process of being moved to a safer place—wherever that might be. Gone with the Wind is leaving now, an appropriate name for such a time as this.
Wilmington, North Carolina. Florence has called. She’ll arrive late tonight or tomorrow morning.
The sky is a soft, gray marble, a swirling bowling ball ready to strike. I lift my phone and snap a shot.
I tie my hair into a ponytail.
Television crews are setting up their cameras for the big event (I have a front row seat in a parking garage only a block away). Hair sprayed heads won’t make eye contact with me until it’s time for the news; but, just for fun, I try to lock eyes with one of them, but he looks away every time, dodging with a cool professionalism. That’s okay. I’m not hungry for the spotlight. My deepest hunger centers around an imaginary hot dog with mustard and relish.
In the wee hours of the morning, the ocean will surge, that’s what they say. Heavy water will flood these streets. Strong, liquid fingers will search and feel and handle this city like an abusive, hungry lover. Houses and cars will be carried away like toys. Someone is going to die. Someone smiling on this city sidewalk right now, maybe even me.
The city’s been boarded up with painted bible verses on plywood, which makes me laugh. Band-Aids on the businesses, right? Everyone hiding from the Boogeyman under soft covers. I do wish them well, seriously. I admire that kind of spirit, though. Spitting tobacco on the cracked concrete and saying, bring it. Laughing at a powerful sky teaming with a murderous ocean. A strong alliance. A stronger defiance. A weakening faith in God that flickers with the lights. I know the stranded will place all their hope in the shelters and rescue boats of humanity. Some will pray but I wonder if it really means anything at the end of the day, or a life.
It’s early in the morning. The day before. I’m living out of my silver Dodge Dakota on the third level of the Cape Fear Community College parking garage. The fifth level provides a panoramic view of my surroundings and is open to the elements, so I park and sleep below with a blanket and pillow I stole from a Days Inn a few states away. I’m waiting, waiting. Plugging my phone and computer into electric sockets that won’t be working tomorrow.
Last night, I experienced one of the best sleeps of my life, completely resigned, sandwiched between a steel fence and a concrete wall: one provided a clear view and the other blind protection.
This morning, my breath smells like ass. That’s my main concern right now. I brush my teeth and rinse with Sir Robert Burnett’s London Dry Gin, a most effective mouthwash. I stare directly into the parking garage security cam and spit foamy toothpaste and alcohol streaming with germs. I doubt anyone is manning the cameras. I unzip the same pair of jeans I’ve been wearing for two days and pee. It burns because I’m dehydrated.
In a few short hours, this parking garage will be Noah’s Ark to me. My stomach feels both fear and excitement, like someone just punched me in the gut. I want to drive across the bridge to safer ground, but I don’t. I won’t. I must have a death wish. Maybe I’ll die as a hero, saving an old woman or a puppy from the rising water.
I’m a veteran storm chaser. Leaning into the ongoing storm of my heart. This measly hurricane is nothing in comparison.
There’s an abandoned house I know, not far from here, that’s already floating away and will disappear forever, regardless of the weather.