At 10:27 am two weeks ago, Sunday, Aug. 29, I texted one of my oldest friends. She lives in Spain now so I didn’t know if she’d be paying attention to Hurricane Ida making a beeline for my college kid in New Orleans.
“Good luck to Sawyer,” she said. “Hope he’s safely hunkered down. That looks like a big-ass storm.”
“Yes, big ass,” I responded. “This was much more fun with you and Andrew as the 20something kid — NOT the parent!”
And then, as she has many times in our friendship, she spoke the plain truth: “So many things are much more fun as the kid than as the parent.”
Sarah and I were 20something reporters in South Florida in August of 1992 when Hurricane Andrew was headed directly toward our town of Stuart. It ended up making landfall south, with a direct hit on Homestead on August 24. The next morning, Sarah and I packed up our reporter’s notebooks and drove south.
Things I remember:
• Shopping with my friend Laura for hurricane supplies. The shelves were pretty empty because 20something planning skills are suspect. We panic grabbed SpaghettiOs and laughed our way through Publix. We definitely bought alcohol.
• We had some sort of hurricane party.
• We had a plan that involved going to my boyfriend’s apartment because he lived further inland and SpaghettiOs Laura and I lived right by a canal. Laura had a couple of cats, I had three cats and Alec the Pomeranian, Greg the boyfriend had a psychotic cat named Lau.
• As the reality and wine coolers set in, I changed the entire plan and decided I couldn’t take all my animals to Greg’s. Did he bring Lau to my apartment? I have no idea. I barely communicated this change of plans to Laura who, as the reality and beer set in, wasn’t too happy with me as now she had to go through the hurricane alone. We lived across the parking lot from each other but still, this was a big-ass storm. We are still BFFs so thankfully, 20something anger is short.
• I left the next day with Sarah (we were all local newspaper reporters) and made it to Fort Lauderdale, I think.
• I came back and left a day or two later with a newspaper staff photographer for Homestead. We talked to people who had lost everything and took a helicopter tour of the devastation.
What I don’t remember:
• Talking to my parents.
My oh my how things change in 29 years.
I started texting with Sawyer about the hurricane probably the Tuesday or Wednesday before it hit. When we moved him into his apartment near the Loyola campus ONE WEEK PRIOR, we’d left him a half-ass hurricane kit: 3 big jugs of water, a first-aid kit, protein bars, cashews, a flashlight, and extra batteries. A parent suggested in the Loyola parent FB group that a solar phone charger might be helpful. Amazon got that to his porch on Friday.
I spent Wednesday, Thursday, and the first half of Friday fretting over whether we should bring him home — to Sawyer, to my husband, to my friends, to his roommates’ parents. When his 24YO brother said we should bring him home, I momentarily panicked. Was I being such a negligent parent his big brother knew best? Turns out, he just wanted him to come visit.
Once the decision was made that they were staying, I spent the rest of the weekend watching the hurricane on The Weather Channel and discussion of the hurricane on Twitter.
Now, a quick Google search tells me The Weather Channel was a thing in 1992, so I’m guessing my mom was doing the same back then. And it’s quite likely she called me a few times with prep ideas and my dad called a few times to fret. We have no proof of any of this and my mom, the family historian, sadly isn’t here to remind me the details. I really missed her calls as Ida got closer to Sawyer. Her usual “it’ll be fine” was reassuring and when she was worried, I knew there was cause.
Sawyer is a competent young man. But he’s 21. And he’s lived in landlocked Dallas his entire life. I was a competent young woman. But — at 25! — I was panic buying Spaghetti0s and forgetting to let my best friend know where we were sleeping that night. It didn’t help when I asked Sawyer Friday afternoon what they planned to do if they lost power and, therefore, the food in their refrigerator, he said this: “We’ll just order takeout.”
Turns out one roommate took a page from my SpaghettiO book and Ubered to Walmart on Friday (mind you, the hurricane is making landfall on Sunday). He found pop-tarts, cereal, and chips. As per the 20something script, they also had a hurricane party that night.
Hurricane Ida was planning to hit New Orleans as a Category 4. Hurricane Katrina devastated the city on this exact same date 16 years earlier as a Category 3. My hurricane PTSD comes from covering Hurricane Andrew (a Category 5) and working with our church to help those displaced by Hurricane Katrina. Hurricanes do not fuck around.
Bottom line: New Orleans’ levee structure held; its power structure, not so much. The Loyola boys easily survived landfall; the aftereffects, not so much. Their apartment lost power at 11:30 am that Sunday, just after landfall. Sawyer and his roommates spent a long day trying to charge their phones with the sun, hiding in a windowless hallway as the worst of the storm passed, reading Harry Potter books, and learning how to build a house of cards.
Reports were it would be weeks before the power was back on.
The roommates from Maine and Maryland couldn’t get home because the airport was closed, so a Dallas vacation it was. I drove into Louisiana on Wednesday and picked up three hot, hungry, and hurricane weary college students.
While much of Louisiana suffered far worse than New Orleans and plenty of people are still without power, New Orleans is back in working order. After 8 days of Texas culture (they now have a favorite taco joint and one wore his new cowboy hat on the plane back), the boys left Dallas to go back to college life a few days ago.
I hope Ida left them what Andrew left me: stories they will forever share, a healthy respect for mother nature, an understanding that mom and dad and hurricanes do not fuck around so LISTEN TO THE ADVICE, and a sense of how many people had it so much worse than they did.
I’m just leaving with the same hurricane PTSD I walked into this storm with, apologies for my dad for no doubt causing him much stress as I went through and covered Andrew, and a nostalgia for the ease of the 20something years and friendships.
Eat all the SpaghettiOs while you can guys. Because on this side of things, it’s all wine and Weather Channel and worries.