The Cone Life

September 27th, 2017

Wow. From my book tour for Royal Crush to a hurricane to getting ready for NY Comic Con, where I’ll be participating in a panel on a certain Star Wars book that’s coming out next week, things have been cRaZy.

But things have finally settled down enough for me to update this blog (plus, I actually have Internet access for the first time in a while).

Thanks to all of you who were posting thoughts and prayers for me during Irma!  I didn’t see any of them until a few days ago, since I didn’t have Internet.

I have to admit I was surprised!  I had no idea that the media was calling the hurricane in Key West a “non-survivable event.”

It’s weird to have survived something “non-survivable” (I’m going to guess we survived due to Florida’s very strict zoning and building codes, about which we used to complain every day. Not anymore!).

I will admit my backyard went overnight from looking like this….

To this:

But, like 98% of Key West, it will be fine after some clean up.

Most of the hurricane damage that occurred in Key West was tree-related.

(In case you can’t read the above, it’s the marquee on Key West’s famous indie cinema, The Tropic — already open for business — which says: Key West Lite – Same Great Place, Less Trees)

Homes and businesses in Key West have had power, water, cell phone service, and Internet restored, and the town is up and running.

But many places up the Keys – like Big Pine and Cudjoe –  are still without electricity and running water, and many people there have lost their homes. So, while they survived a non-survivable event, they still need a lot of help.

A lot of people have asked why I stayed for the storm instead of evacuating.  Honestly, it just felt right to me to stay . . . even though staying in a place you’ve been told to evacuate is a REALLY BAD IDEA. DO NOT DO IT. I was very, very lucky.

That being said, a large group of my friends/neighbors were also staying (mostly because they have family/pets in the area that couldn’t leave, or businesses to run, or whatever). Like me, they had been through hurricanes before, did not have kids, had generators, and felt confident they and their homes could survive “non-survivable” Irma (which we didn’t know was non-survivable).

And . . . we did!

But this was still a bad, bad idea.

Although . . .  not to say anything mean about weather forecasters, since I know they do their best, the storm was supposed to come on Saturday, and on the Sunday before, this was my local weather report:

 

Scary right? I mean, I was totally going to leave.

Then, Monday, the very next day, this was the report:

Oh, okay. So Sunday, it is coming right at us, and Monday, we are halfway out of the cone?

Why go to all the trouble of evacuating, right?

To me, the best solution seemed to be: Board up the house, move in the deck furniture, buy supplies, and wait it out (also, despite what people might be picturing, I live nowhere near the beach. I am a pool girl.  So storm surge was never a worry).

Then on Wednesday . . .

What????

The airport closed, there was no more gas, and the hospital shut its doors!

So we began living what we call

The Cone Life

Photo taken Thursday at Higgs Beach, Key West, day before the Irma

A lot of the time when there’s a hurricane somewhere, you hear people safely outside The Cone watching those on TV struggling to survive inside it say scornfully: “Gosh, why didn’t those dumb people just evacuate?”

Obviously, they should have. But here are some reasons why:

  1. Because they have elderly parents or special needs children or sick pets who can’t be moved.
  2. Because they have a business that might need to open rapidly after the storm (such as: insurance) and needs looking after.
  3. Because the storm intensified so rapidly, they didn’t have time to get out.
  4. Because the airport is closed.
  5. Because there is no gas.
  6. Because the entire state is in the Cone of Uncertainty so there is nowhere safe to go unless they drive 500 miles and they can’t do that on one tank of gas so it is safer to stay where they are.
  7. Because the last time they evacuated, they got trapped in their car and there was no one to help and they nearly drowned.
  8. Because they have been through storms before and everything was more or less fine.
  9. Because there is one last totally excellent party to go to (this is a terrible reason. Who wrote this? Oh, me, never mind.)
  10. Because the last time they evacuated their home/business was looted*

*Sadly, I know people to whom this actually happened.

Honestly, we shouldn’t judge. People lead complicated lives about which we know nothing, and most of us are doing the best we can, and not trying to cause trouble for everyone else. NO ONE I knew who didn’t evacuate ended up needing to be rescued by first responders.

But I will say that on that list, number 3 — rapid intensification — has become a habit of hurricanes this year, and one reason these storms have caused so much damage compared to other years:

Harvey:  Cat 1 to Cat 4 in 24 hours
Irma:  Cat 3 to Cat 5 in 24 hours
Jose:  Cat 1 to Cat 4 in 24 hours
Maria:  Cat 1 to Cat 4 in 12 hours, and Cat 1 to Cat 5 in 15 hours*

*Data from Weather Undergound

Of the people I know who evacuated from Key West, many of them were hit by Irma in the places they thought would be safe! Naples, Tampa, and Orlando were all places evacuees from the Keys were urged to go, and all got hit by Irma.

What made evacuating even worse than staying for these people was that then they couldn’t return to their own home after the storm was over:  the roads in the Keys were impassable for days, and aside from that, there was still no gas!

Nor could these people call or text anyone in Key West to see if their home was okay, because there was no cell service, Internet, or electricity.*

*I actually had power–but no Internet–because we have a generator, and since 9/11 I have always kept a landline, because that is the only thing that worked during 9/11. It worked during Irma, too.

Praise be to the landline. Never bundle. Amen.

Many, many people used my landline to let people outside The Cone know that they were all right. It was also used by evacuees calling in to ask about the condition of their homes and, in some cases, people and pets they’d left behind.

(NO JUDGMENTS. THERE IS NO JUDGING IN THE CONE).

We went on many important recon missions, checking on people’s homes and loved ones.

I hope you never have to experience Cone Life, but since scientists assure us that both the temperatures of the earth and its waters are rising, there is a possibility you might.

Therefore I’m going to make a short list of everyday things you might want to keep handy in case The Day After Tomorrow comes, and you slip into The Cone.

A landline

Don’t bundle it to your other services, like cable or your Internet or cell, because if they go down, it will, too. Your landline is connected to the phone company, not the power company, by copper wires buried underground. It should work without electricity, unless your phone company also goes down, which is unlikely, as it usually has a generator.

Batteries and Simple tools

Obviously, you need batteries to power your radio and flashlights. Even if you have a generator (which I highly recommend, but you don’t NEED one), you need flashlights in case the generator doesn’t work.

Also, your generator need only power the areas of your house you use (lights, refrigerator, AC in one or two rooms), not your entire home. So you need flashlights to see in the un-powered areas.

You need a radio to listen to local news since there might be no Internet or cable.

Never use candles during a power outage. Many deaths during hurricanes are caused by fire.  911 will not respond to emergencies during the storm. That is why you were told to evacuate!

If you have a generator, do not use it INSIDE your house. 8 of the people who died during Irma died of carbon monoxide poisoning from using their generator inside their house.

You need a few simple tools to put shutters up over your windows, such as a hammer, a wrench, and pliers.

First aid kit

You need a first aid kit because you will probably injure yourself using the tools, since you are a crazy writer. 😉

Also, there will be sharp things on the ground after the storm. People will step on them and need first aid after coming to your house to use the landline, and the hospital won’t be open right away. Alcohol, band-aids, and some antibacterial spray/ointment will work. Remember, YOU are 911 now!

Buckets and towels

It doesn’t matter how new or old your house is, during a hurricane, some part of it will leak.

A towel at the bottom of the bucket will keep you from going insane at the sound of the “drip…drip…drip” during the storm.

Water

It is important to have a large stash of bottled water in the house during a storm. We had even more than pictured above. Ignore the beer, that was not mine.

After the hurricane, your town’s water supply may be compromised (ours was) for a little while, so you will have to drink bottled water. And you will long for ice like Tom Hanks in the movie Castaway. Ice becomes rarer than diamonds after a storm!

Fortunately, we got some ice from a local Key West restaurant, The Brewery. How I love you, The Brewery! Key West restaurants were fantastic about donating food and drink before and after the storm. Shout outs to The Brewery, Baby’s CoffeeDantes, Azur, B.O.’s Fish Wagon, Kermit’s, Eaton Street Fish Market, and probably many more I’m forgetting, who really saved the day for many Keys residents by giving food away FOR FREE to those in need.

Which reminds me:

Food

Don’t forget to stock up on non-perishable food items!!! Probably more high-protein food than this, but you may not feel like eating anything except stuff like this anyway.

I also recommend your neighbor’s cooking! Getting together with neighbors during storms to clean out your fridge and eat all their yummy perishables is the best part of storms. I’m fortunate that one of my neighbors is the Key West Spice man! Get some today, and support Key West! (I like the Southernmost Blend ground fine and sprinkled on popcorn.)

Pets

Don’t forget your pets! Make sure you stock up on plenty of food and water for them, too! Obviously, Allie is pictured here with my secret stash of food, not hers. She had plenty of her own, though, along with medication in case of emergencies.

Tornado Bed

Tornadoes are a real possibility during hurricanes, so it’s best to camp out during the worst of the storm in a ground level room of your house, the one that has the least windows (and in which I also happened to have moved all of my outdoor furniture).

Your pets will enjoy this fun adventure and so will you!

AFTERMATH

After the storm is over, the hardest part of Cone Life begins:

Is this my beautiful house? – The Talking Heads

After the storm, when everyone comes outside, blinking and shell-shocked, it’s easy to let depression and despair sink in, especially if your home/town has suffered significant damage, or even if you just listen to the news. Words like “devastation” and “disaster” get mentioned a lot by journalists and even our political leaders.

And as we now know, we weren’t even supposed to survive this event!

“It will take YEARS to get back to normal . . . if ever!” said someone official in Key West.

No one wants to hear things like that . . . especially since it isn’t true. Human beings are amazingly resourceful and resilient, especially when we work together.

What IS true, however, though most people don’t know it, is that the majority of injuries occur just after storms, during cleanup, from stepping on downed power lines, hidden nails, attempting to cross storm surge, being hit by fallen trees, getting infected bug bites, dehydration, and things like that.

So this is the time when Cone Life is riskiest, and also the most depressing.

But it doesn’t have to be!

We Can Do It!

Because if no one listens to the forecasts of doom and gloom, and everyone works together (while staying hydrated), it won’t be years before their town is cleaned up . . . .

To The Rescue!!!

. . . but weeks or in some cases even days!

By keeping a positive attitude (and employing a little hard labor), people can do anything. I’ve seen it time and time again.

Above is a photo of St. Mary in the Grotto at St. Mary Star of the Sea church in Key West, where many people go to pray before hurricanes. It’s said that as long as the grotto is standing, a hurricane will never destroy our little island . . . and so far, one never has.

There’s still a lot of work to be done, especially up the Keys, but Key West is open again for business. I’m off to New York for a signing at Comic Con next week, where I’ll also tell everyone I can to COME TO KEY WEST FOR THEIR NEXT VACATION. You’ll find me taking part in the

From a Certain Point of View NYCC Panel on Saturday, 10/7; 11:00am-12:30pm

Location: Hudson Mercantile Building

For tickets, click here
PLEASE NOTE: A ticket to New York Comic Con is not required in order to attend this event

The book goes on sale everywhere October 3!

If you’re interested in helping victims of ALL the terrible hurricanes we’ve had lately, including Puerto Rico, donate to One American Appeal. This is the organization put together by our past presidents, or as I like to think of them, The X-Presidents, although this image below needs to be updated to reflect them all:

Remember, we’re all in this together . . . and together, we’ll get through it!

More later.

Much love,

Meg