I’ve lived in Oklahoma all 62 years of my life, and knock wood, I’ve never seen a tornado funnel. But in the last week of September I survived my first hurricane.
My family was supposed to visit Walt Disney World for a few days. I write features and reviews on WDW and have done so for years. My husband and I were celebrating our 35th wedding anniversary and our son wanted to propose to his girlfriend there (he did and she said yes). And Epcot Food & Wine is something we do every year with my sister and her family. But Ian did his best to thwart our plans, even changing course to reach Central Florida. I told you about “Poindexter luck” before. Like Jordy Verrill from Stephen King’s Creepshow fame, our luck is always in and always out.
We stayed at the Dolphin, one of the Epcot Resorts. It is a Sheraton property now owned by Marriott. It’s the best value for location-wise visiting WDW as long as you plan well in advance – and in the event of a hurricane, they’re ready to attack. As we saw Ian’s route, our biggest concern was whether Cole and Dani would be able to make it to Orlando before the storm closed the airports. It was close; They arrived after 11pm on September 27th. Meanwhile, my sister, her husband and sons who live in Winter Springs, and my niece in Orlando proper were busy sealing the hatches. My sister cleaned diligently if they were without electricity for a few days. She didn’t want to be trapped in a dark and dirty house.
We were told by the hotel and by Disney itself that we would have to “take shelter on site,” much like we were in the early days of the pandemic. So we looked at the news – or the weather. These talking heads roared doom and gloom, predicted the end of the world, and dropped adjectives real journalists would never use: “absolutely devastating,” “terribly destructive,” “unimaginably terrifying,” and the like — media sensationalism at its finest.
The parks were supposed to be closed Wednesday and Thursday, so we were all stuck in our respective resorts — and by that I mean all the tourists in the state. Some employees were offered accommodations so they could continue serving guests. Shula’s, the steakhouse at the Dolphin that I highly recommend, was open but with an abbreviated menu and we managed to squeeze onto a waiting list. The steak was still good, and the skeleton crew did their best, but they mistook vanilla cheesecake for lime pie. Rooms at the Dolphin aren’t cramped, but four people in a hotel room for two days is a challenge — especially with a bathroom that’s small. And Cole and Dani are young and therefore still take care of cleaning on vacation, while Chris and I hardly take time to brush our teeth. The hotel set up activities in its two ballrooms so everyone could play games or watch movies.
We also had a good view from the windows of our ninth floor room when the wind started to blow up and shred the palm trees. Many hotel guests, including our group, even stepped outside at times to see the pouring rain (the windows were fogged up). And before the hotel began refusing check-ins after 3 p.m. on Wednesday, refugees poured in from the coast, most of them with animals. I saw a pug and a larger mongrel with decoy horns in the lobby growling and flinging drool everywhere. While I was waiting in line to get more water bottles, a woman with three dogs demanded extra amenities for her “babies.” They did their best to find a room for her but there were a number of problems. In the confusion, someone stepped on the Pomeranian’s front paw and it began to howl as if tormented. The woman yelled at anyone who stepped on the dog’s foot. In various places I saw employees guarding the fragments of a broken wine bottle until a broom came; helping an owner calm a growling cat while on a leash; and picking up a fresh pile of dog poop deposited by a beast whose owner refused to pick it up (“that’s just gross; they all pay you guys to clean up, don’t they?”).
Despite the crowds and the occasional hiccup – all related to misbehaved pets – guests were surprisingly optimistic, and none seemed afraid of what was about to happen. When it was raining particularly hard, we saw people walking around outside in their rain gear. And when the worst of Ian hit in the wee hours of the morning, we slept straight through, the surprisingly quiet air conditioning fan drowning out any noise the storm was making. When we got up we saw very little damage and Ian had hit another part of the country.
Several people have asked me to explain what I observed. The answer is not much. It rained heavily and there was some catastrophic flooding, but not much worse than what we Cherokee County residents have seen along the Illinois River three times in the past decade or so. As for the wind, it ranks with something sweeping across the Oklahoma prairie. So this was the kind of weather an okie is used to. But we weren’t on the west coast of the peninsula, where the situation was much grimmer. The death toll is now in the three-digit range. Damage is already estimated at $70 billion, and the officials who voted to deny aid to other states (like post-Katrina Louisiana) are reaching out their greedy hands, some apparently in go-go boots.
I guess you could say we got lucky. The hurricane put a damper on our trip, but not much. And family and friends down there have marked each other as “safe” on social media. But it was another reminder that we should all count our blessings, because even Poindexter’s luck isn’t as bad as what many Floridians are suffering now. They will need your prayers and your donations.