On Tuesday morning we were up before six, eager to be away from our patch of floor. We asked the police officer on duty at the shelter if he knew of any place that had gas. He told us Sam’s Club received fuel at about 4:45 am. We plugged the coordinates into the phone and left the shelter behind without a backward glance. We are grateful to the folks in Marion County who helped us out. Without them we would have faced the hurricane sleeping in our cars. That’s not a place you want to be.
The line at Sam’s Club was already long at that early hour, but the folks working there were efficient and had a good system going to keep things moving. We probably waited 45 minutes altogether to get to the gas pump. We didn’t have a membership but one of the worker swiped a dummy card for us, which was very nice. We had gassed up just as the sun was breaking over the horizon.
But Mom and Dad, still at the special needs shelter had only fumes left. When we had left home we put Mom’s oxygen generator in our trunk because there was no room in their car. They forgot to take it with them when we split up so Dad had to drive back to us to get the machine and then drive back. His light was on and his gauge was on E.
Before we could address the issue (we were going to see if we could find a gas can and bring him some fuel) we had to wait for the stores to open. We found an IHOP open and pulled in with a screech of tires, relief washing over us. There was coffee to be had.
Breakfast was one of the most satisfying meals I’ve ever had. I’ve had better meals, but none so sweet as that one. Eggs, sausage, hash browns and toast with cup after cup of coffee. They were one of the few places open and they were packed by the time we left. We were fortified and ready for our next task: getting gas for my parents.
But we failed utterly. We went to a handful of stores (Target, Pep Boys, a hardware store) looking for a gas can but they were all sold out everywhere. But then Dad took matters into his own hands and he and Mom left the shelter without telling us. They ended up at an empty gas station with God only knew how much fuel left. I may have freaked out a little bit.
Gas Buddy saved us. We were about 8 miles from a Pilot on the Interstate and we decided to drive there, the two of us following my parents in case their car died in transit. It was one of the most nail-biting rides of my life. How would we get Mom out of the car if they had to pull over on that country road? We were out in the middle of nowhere and Dad had already pushed the gas tank to the limit.
But we made it. Again, there was a fantastic line at the station, but their car must have made it on fumes and good wishes. They filled up and we parted ways again. They could go on their way home, but we had to go get the cats who were still at the Marion County Animal Shelter.
The cats were piiiisssed. They were both put in the one carrier, which was a tight fit, but they could both lie down inside of it. They were very vocal when we brought them out to the car. The staff at the shelter warned us that they could both very likely pick up colds from being exposed to so many other cats. I was just happy to see them alive and loudly protesting.
We got on the road around noon and started to head south, but it was very slow going on the freeway. We prayed it wouldn’t be like that the whole way home, but it cleared up after the exit for the Florida Turnpike headed towards Orlando veered off. But then, we were stopped dead on the freeway again a few more miles down the road because of an accident. It took us a good half hour to get clear of that. Finally, we were sailing along at a good clip and eager to get back to see our house.
We didn’t really see much evidence of the hurricane until we hit Ft. Myers, which is just north of us. There was a lot of water in the ditches, lakes were really high, and trees were down here and there. We saw a few homes with water up to their front doors and I began to grow anxious. There hadn’t been any reporting about storm surge damage in Naples, just wind and rain, so we were hopeful.
Getting off the freeway we hit ground zero. All the traffic lights were dark, trees were down everywhere, some still blocking the roads in places. We crept slowly towards home, navigating the intersections as best we could. We got to a corner close to home and saw the local Lutheran church nearly underwater and we drew a deep breath. Around the corner, and into Mandalay, and there was our house! It looked all right from the outsides. There were a ton of leaves and minor debris in the driveway, but everything looked fine.
We went in to our dark and stuffy home and found that indeed, we had been spared. I think that was the moment that I finally cried a little. We let the cats out, filled up their water dishes, and headed out to see how Mom and Dad fared. The cell towers were down, power was out, so we had no way to communicate.
A few miles away we got to their condo. The roof was lying on the ground in front of the hall to their front door. But because they were on the first floor they only had a small amount of water damage. They too, had been largely spared. No broken windows, no other damage than a little water.
Back home we took the shutters off the patio and opened the doors. It was hot. The temperature in Florida this time of year hovers between 91-94 degrees with around 80% humidity. Without air conditioning, or one lick of breeze, we began our exciting and new brand of suffering.
More to come…