When a hurricane is coming, watch out for Category 4 shoppers and flying shutters

November 08, 1998|By Dave Barry | Dave Barry,Knight Ridder/Tribune

NO DOUBT YOU'VE been waiting to hear about my harrowing experiences during Hurricane Georges. The worst moment came when my body was being tossed around violently, attacked by savage, uncontrollable forces of terrifying power. This happened in the supermarket two days before Georges arrived.

Going to the supermarket is a tradition for us hurricane veterans. When we hear that a hurricane is coming, we calmly implement our Hurricane Preparation Plan, which is: (1) Panic; and (2) Buy random stuff.

One thing we always buy is bleach. Even if we already have - and many of us do - 25 bottles of bleach at home, we buy more. We have no idea why; we never actually use it. Maybe we secretly believe that the hurricane is afraid of bleach. Or maybe Clorox hires actors to go to supermarkets, posing as hurricane veterans and remarking, "After Hurricane Andrew, the thing that saved our lives was bleach!" Whatever the cause, there's always a desperate, shoving mob in the bleach aisle, and if you're lucky enough to actually get a bottle, you must guard your shopping cart with firearms (which, in Miami, are sold in the firearms aisle).

Once you have your bleach, you race frantically around the supermarket buying a massive supply of Emergency Hurricane Food, defined as "food that you will never actually consume, even if the alternative is to eat your sofa." You find yourself fighting with people for the last can of Del Monte Lima Beans With Prune Parts in Hearty Clam Broth. During this phase, the supermarket employees often play pranks on the shoppers ("I put out a dozen cans labeled 'Sheep Vomit,' and they were gone in seconds!").

The supermarket frenzy is one of the most dangerous times in any hurricane. I was almost struck by an elderly woman pushing a shopping cart containing bleach and at least 7,000 pounds of cat food at a sustained velocity of 28 miles per hour (the National Weather Service defines this as a "Category 4 Shopper").

Finally I made it home, where I implemented the next phase of the Hurricane Preparation Plan: watching the TV weather experts demonstrate, using meteorological science and state-of-the-art satellite and computer technology, that they have no idea what is going on. They stand in front of their giant, complex weather maps and say things like:

"The path that the hurricane will take depends on whether this system here moves any closer to this system over here, which would cause this other system to become jealous of this system, which is secretly having an affair with this system, unaware that this system here is the illegitimate child of this system and the gardener, Raoul."

The irony was, I knew exactly where the hurricane was going. It had nothing to do with "meteorology": It had to do with my hurricane shutters. Hurricane shutters are metal panels that many residents of hurricane zones keep in their garages under a protective blanket of dead spiders. These panels are scientifically engineered such that, if you fasten them correctly to all your windows, you will have long, bleeding gashes on both hands. Also you will guarantee that the hurricane will not come. A hurricane can, using its eye, see whether you have your shutters up, and if you do, it will go somewhere else.

Ordinarily, I would have had my shutters up, thereby keeping Georges away, but this year I ordered new shutters (the edges of the old ones were getting dull). As Georges was forming, workmen took away my old shutters and piled new shutters and hardware around my house. This presented Georges with a rare opportunity: It could destroy my house by whacking it to pieces with my new hurricane shutters. So Georges aimed straight for my house.

Fortunately, I happen to be a pretty handy "do-it-yourselfer," so rather than leave the new shutters lying on the ground, I used my mechanical ability to beg the workmen to put them up. They did, and Georges immediately swerved away.

Then I watched the TV coverage, which consisted mainly of TV reporters in bright yellow rain slickers going into evacuation zones and asking the residents why they did not evacuate. Just once, I wanted to hear a resident answer: I'm here because I live here. What's your excuse?"

Anyway, I'm glad hurricane season is almost over. And I'm not going to wait until the "last minute" to get ready for the next season. That's right: I have already bleached my shutters.

All kidding aside, to help the many people who are still suffering because of Georges, you can send a contribution to the Disaster Relief Fund, c/o the American National Red Cross, P.O. Box 37243, Washington, D.C., 20013.

Pub Date: 11/08/98

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