NAGS HEAD, N.C. - The Fenz family rode out Hurricane Isabel's fury in the manager's quarters of their 45-room oceanfront motel.
Jim and Wanda Fenz figured their 7-month-old daughter would cry when the howling 100 mph winds began, but Tiffany wasn't bothered by the racket at all. Her parents think maybe it's because the baby had something in common with the storm: Tiffany's middle name is Isabella.
"It's her first hurricane," Wanda Fenz said. "We've already entered it into her baby book."
But Isabel did batter the Fenzes' motel. The storm broke most of the windows of the Dolphin Motel and deposited several grimy inches of salt water and sand into the $250-a-night rooms. The storm also tore off a good portion of the shingles, threw the roof off kilter and obliterated the wooden walkway that led from the motel to a gorgeous stretch of Outer Banks beach. Isabel had already driven away the paying customers.
But Jim Fenz is a man who looks on the bright side. Sitting on the beach behind the hotel Friday, catching some rays and digging his toes in the wet sand, he just smiled. "I've been wanting to renovate my oceanfront rooms anyway," he said.
Wanda Fenz smiled, too, and pointed to a set of old brick steps, exposed by the storm, leading to the beach.
"We never even knew they were under our old wooden sidewalk," she said. "Aren't they pretty? They must be 50 years old."
People who aren't from the Outer Banks might not understand the Fenzes' attitude. In places such as Washington, D.C., where the government shut down hours before the hurricane approached the shores of North Carolina, a storm like Isabel is not taken with much of a sense of humor. Indeed, millions of people remained without power yesterday even as the storm had dissipated and moved north.
But the Outer Banks is one of those places that seem to draw the laid-back, the cavalier, the light of heart, the resilient. Even as the daunting estimates of more than $544 million in damage for Dare County emerged during the weekend, the majority of residents in the wind-whipped communities of Duck, Kitty Hawk, Kill Devil Hills and Nags Head were taking the storm in stride.
A tiki bar where the men's room is labeled "dudes" was serving free food to cleanup crews, members of the news media, lifeguards and law enforcement officers. Residents were volunteering their boats to ferry supplies to the nearly 300 people trapped on Hatteras Island, a narrow strip of Outer Banks land cut off from everyone else because its only road washed away in the storm.
"We're just true Outer Bankers," said Jim Fenz. "As long as we're still here, that's all we need."
Residents all over the Outer Banks also chose to brave the Category 2 hurricane - a storm that once was rated Category 5. They said they had seen storms before, and they would see them again. They weren't going to be trapped off the island as they were during Hurricane Floyd in 1999, when county officials didn't let people return for days.
At Howard's Pub on Ocracoke Island, a stretch of land that sits 25 miles out and is accessible only by ferry, people had ridden out Isabel bellied up to the bar, eating crab legs and drinking beer. When the island was spared from major damage, they decided to name a drink after the merciful storm - the Dizzy Izzy. By late Friday, pub patrons - plenty dizzy themselves - were still fine-tuning the drink. At that point it included margarita mix, orange juice and a shot of Sprite. "We made up a drink for Hurricane Floyd, too - the Pink Floyd," said bar owner Buffy Warner.
Warner said people would dig in and help those who need to rebuild. He said his bar would serve those who needed something to eat, mix a cocktail for those who were feeling thirsty.
Warner knows that a lot of people across the country don't understand why people chose to stay in the path of a hurricane that measured about 100 miles wide. But in his mind, there was a simple reason: Folks needed to be here to clean up afterward.
"It's funny," he said. "Since it worked out OK ... we'll be seen as resilient. But if you were counting our body bags, the whole world would be thinking, `God, those people were stupid.' Maybe we're a little of both."
The Chicago Tribune is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.