“The magic moment is that in which a ‘yes’ or a ‘no’ may change the whole of our existence.” — Paulo Coehlo
This week’s column was written while watching news coverage of the havoc Harvey heaped on the Texas Coast and the historic Houston flooding.
Hurricanes are violent, damaging, devastating acts of nature claiming lives and costing billions when crossing paths with civilization. Staying out of their path is the wisest course of action. Not everyone chooses to do that, including yours truly on one occasion. I fared better than some have during my one lapse of good sense, and am fortunately here to tell about it. Also, to say that doing so is taking a risk, so as the disclaimer says, “Do not try this at home.”
Twice in the mid-to-late 80s, a caravan of ’55 to ’57 Ford Thunderbirds from the Shreveport chapter of the Classic Thunderbird Club International (CTCI) traveled to Daytona Beach Florida for an annual October fall classic Little ‘Bird event staged there. The first year, only three cars made the journey. However, when we returned with a glowing report of fun and adventure, more than twice as many cars signed up the next year.
On the way back, our one caravan split into two when some of us elected to stop at the Cypress Gardens attraction that operated near Winter Haven, Florida from 1936 to 2009, while the others continued on toward home.
Leaving Cypress Gardens late that afternoon, we decided to travel as far as possible before stopping for the night. This is probably a good time to share little things about the little Thunderbirds. One, factory radios in the Little ‘Birds were tube-type AM only, and usually offered very little entertainment traveling with windows or the top down—the preferred style of most T-Bird owners . Also worth mentioning is that listening to a radio is not a high priority for a road trip in an old car. This one time, however, a radio of any kind might have proven helpful. Minor tidbits of news we missed included something about a hurricane named Juan headed for the Gulf Coast.
Two, old car vacuum wipers are not great for clear vision, and running into rain about dark was not fun. Deciding we had endured enough, pulling into a hotel on the beach somewhere in Mississippi seemed like a prudent idea. Spotting one with an indoor parking garage was an answered prayer traveling in a classic car. Why we didn’t notice there were no other cars around, or no one in the lobby except the desk clerk reading a newspaper was unusual escapes me now.
“Got four rooms,” I asked brushing the water off my jacket?
“Sure do,” he replied. “Got lots of rooms. No one else here.”
When it all came together, I heard it, “You are about to enter another dimension, a dimension not only of sight and sound but of mind. A journey into a wondrous land of imagination. Next stop, the Twilight Zone!”
Obviously recognizing the bewildered look on my face, the desk clerk offered, “Guess you haven’t heard? There’s a hurricane coming in tonight.”
If I appeared bewildered before, my next look had to be disbelief. “A hurricane,” I gasped.
“Yep, not sure where it will hit yet, somewhere between here and New Orleans, they say.”
By this time, half our group was already at the door. Me, and my friend Joe Greene were still processing.
“I’ll be here all night,” said the clerk, “Unless something changes. If it does, and I decide to leave, I’ll wake you up first.”
Joe and I looked at each other, then at the others standing near the door. Almost in unison, their heads were shaking, “no.” We bid them farewell and watched as tail lights disappeared in the rain heading north.
Winds howled all night and rain pelted the hotel room door overlooking the Gulf. I would be lying to say that I slept soundly rather than spending most of the night debating the wisdom of our decision. However, come sun up, we were all present and accounted for—Joe and me, our wives, and the guy at the front desk. Juan had reportedly gone in near Morgan City, Louisiana.
Oh, one other feature of the ’55-’57 Thunderbirds is they leak in rainstorms. A lot. Hurricane driven rain followed us all the way home, a very long, challenging and dangerous trip endured only by stopping frequently to dry towels used in futile attempts at keeping water out of the passenger compartment…and to have one more cup of coffee.
Tempting fate is seldom a wise choice. Luckily, this experience resulted in a story that can be recounted with a smile 30 years after the fact, as some of the questionable calls we live to tell about do. But, this experience I also remember soberly when another hurricane is headed our way, and one that leads me to extend special prayers when one like Harvey comes ashore.