Welcome back to SOLO at SIXTY!
Sit down and get ready to take a ride with me – Hurricane Florence style! Last Tuesday, I cut my vacation short to evacuate the beach before Florence hit. Once the storms passed, I decided to pick up where I left off on that vacation and head to the beach. But what started out as a trip to check out my beach house and finish my vacation ended so incredibly opposite. You can’t make this up!
Backtracking… since I was back home instead of at the beach last Thursday, I decided to surprise my daughter at her 6:15 am cycle class at our Short Pump club. Left home at 5 am to get there. And I’m so glad I did! Gosh, I wish I could take her class every Tuesday and Thursday.
Last Saturday was supposed to be Carolina’s first home football game of the season. We had planned a family celebration for our sweet Momma’s 89th birthday after the game, but when the game was cancelled, we postponed the celebration not knowing how Ole Florence would affect Winston-Salem. It was WET, with flash flooding and power outages. Not wanting to miss seeing my Mom on her 89th birthday, I went to Winston Sunday morning instead, to celebrate in a smaller way with my sisters and brother-in-law. It was a fun afternoon with Mom. “There is no way I am 89! Are you sure I am 89 and this is not a joke?” “No Momma, you are 89. Just look at your crown and candles – that is proof!” The women on my mom’s side of the family do live to be in their 90’s.
I also got to visit with a dear friend who happened to have her daughter-in-law and grandchildren visiting due to Florence. Her son is a first responder. Seeing them all made my day even better! And my sister, brother-in-law and I trudged downtown in the pouring rain for dinner on Trade Street. No problem getting a table! Fun day all around, even with Florence making her presence known.
Still, my happy place was on my mind. I had heard from one of my beach neighbors that everything looked okay in our area. No shingles off, just a lot of leaves and debris. But I wanted to see for myself – that house is my special place. So… I headed out early Monday morning in search of a route that would get me to the beach, determined to see my house. My neighbor had found an unflooded road on Saturday coming from Charlotte, but that road was closed on Sunday. Had to reroute. Made it all the way to Bennettsville, SC, safely, thinking, this is a piece of cake. Then I hit my first road block – a flooded road. So I turned around in search of another route. Zigzagged all over SC searching for unflooded roads for hours with the help of my sister and brother-in-law who were on the phone with me, one on WAZE looking for routes, the other on SCDOT looking for open roads. Went all the way across the state of SC trying roads but always having to turn back. Then, I found it. A road that did not have a closed sign, nor showed up on SCDOT or WAZE as being closed. Could I be so lucky? I was desperate and determined – there were no other options! Saw 2 cars coming towards me, which was a good sign. Saw some water, but those cars had just come through this, right? I started across, telling my sister, “there is a little water but I think these cars just came across this way.” WRONG! Immediately I knew this was not just a couple of inches of water. I tried to stop and put my car in reverse. No luck… I was moving forward without ANY control. It was a couple of FEET deep, not inches! I was stuck. And scared. Very scared. There was now water all around me. Luckily, I was still on the phone with my sister, who was able to calm me down.
“You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience you stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself ‘I lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.’” Eleanor Roosevelt
Now believe me when I say I was in the middle of a very small community. Not a town. Not a city. A community. Green Sea, SC – ever heard of it? Neither had I. But they have wonderful people, and Natasha on the other end of 911 was one of them. Said she would stay on the line with me until rescue arrived. She knew I was scared because the same thing had happened to her, but she had her small children with her and the water went over her car. OK, it could have been much worse for me. “Where are you?” Luckily I had been on WAZE so I could tell her exactly where I was. “Ok, put your window down if the water is not up to your window. This way you can get out if needed. But don’t get out until rescue arrives. They should be there soon- they were close by on another rescue. Do you see them?” “ No but I am waving to a helicopter. Are they rescuing me?!?” (Oh please Lord don’t make me go up a rope to a helicopter!) She did not think that was my means of rescue. It wasn’t.
She said they were having a hard time finding me. The water was slowly increasing around me, making me more nervous. “Hang up and call me right back here so I can ping you,” she said. “What do you see around you?” “Uhhh water? And a forest?” I could hear her telling the crew that they had to be right close. Then, I saw them pulling up in what looked like an army tank. A fireman got out, opened my passenger door and asked if I was hurt. Nothing but my pride… “Ok, I am going to carry you to the truck. Hand me what you want to take.” My backpack with my laptop, athletic bag, and my pocketbook. I was too embarrassed to take more. This guy was so nice, but wouldn’t it have been lovely if he had been a single, 60-year old Calendar Model Fireman?!?! Enough! I was just so thankful to see him. Even being in that big tank was scary, going through all of the rushing water. I rode in the back with other rescuers. Some from Miami who specialized in Water Rescue. We rescued some other people on our way out of the water – there were homes/trailers beyond where I got stuck and they, too, were surrounded by water. Finally, we made it to dry land and they transferred me to their firetruck before heading back out to check on other people living close by. I waited with another fireman who made sure no one else went down that road. This end had cones blocking it, but my end did not.
“Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear, not absence of fear.” Mark Twain
Reality hit me as I waited: My unlocked car was sitting out in the middle of a road, one window down, water up above the bottom of my doors, and lots of my stuff in there. I mean, I had packed to be gone for a week at the beach and a football game in Chapel Hill. Plus all the special pictures and things I had taken from the beach house when I evacuated in case the house was damaged. Ironically, I was trying to save them but now they may be gone – either drowned in water or stolen. I was very mad at myself. I mean, I knew better! I have preached to my kids about never driving through water. And yet, I did.
So what was this SOLO girl going to do? My sisters and brother-in-law kept close tabs on me and made calls looking for a rental car, but the closest place was Conway or North Myrtle Beach and there was NO way to get there – no open roads. Remember, I was in a small community full of nice, friendly, good people, but no hotels, no car rental agencies, and no restaurants. Waited in the firetruck while the rescuers continued checking on the people on that road. Called my insurance company and started a claim… a big one. They said they would make arrangements to have my car towed but it may be days later after the water receded. So I pulled out my notebook and started writing. I joked with my sister, “this is blog-worthy.”
Two hours later, the 2 rescue firemen and I headed to the fire station. My first, and hopefully last, ride in a fire truck (but it was cool!). There were so many exhausted fire and rescue personnel at the station. They were working 30 hour shifts, and most had not been able to check on their homes. They kindly asked around to see if there were any rescue vehicles or good Samaritans going to the beach area who could take me. No luck. Decision time. How would I get anywhere? Where would I go? My sweet brother-in-law solved that problem, telling me he was on the way to get me and would be there in 3 hours. I wanted to cry several times, but didn’t. Dug deep for strength and grace. It was now time to tell my kids. I did not want to tell them earlier – did not want them to worry, or think it was time to put me in a home! Just told them the whole story in our group text. They each called to make sure I was ok and to see if they could come get me there or back in WS. (I have the best kids!) Thanked them and said I was ok. Their momma is a tough bird. Has to be. No choice. That’s what happens when you find yourself SOLO, but we always need to remember that at times, we need help. We cannot go this road alone all the time. (Especially if it is flooded!)
“A person’s own family is, without doubt, the greatest wealth that we will ever possess.”
While waiting at the station, I received a welcome phone call from the towing agency that they would be there in 30-45 minutes, coming from another town that I go through on my way to the beach! Was I at the car with the key? Uh… no. I was at the fire station. So we made plans for them to come and get me and the key. I admit, I was nervous again, thinking of riding back to that flooded area with someone I had never met. But once I met the tow truck driver and his beautiful wife, who made the trip with him, I felt very safe. Talk about kind, good people. He is a young minister who works emergencies on the side, she’s a school teacher. Four beautiful kids. And yes, we are now FB friends! Speaking of good people, as we were trying to find a way to get to my car, someone rode up on a 4-wheeler (there were lots of people getting around in the water on 4-wheelers!). Low and behold, he knew the couple driving the tow truck, but none of them had seen each other in over 10 years! I told you it was a small town! This guy knew where my car was and told us how to get there, saying he would meet us and help. And he did. It was a huge process just getting to my car, and getting it OUT of the water was not easy either. Amazing the people who show up when needed. Angels.
Meanwhile, my brother-in-law (another angel) was en route to us and we set up a meeting place where my new friends would drop me off. We got there first and as my brother-in-law arrived, I noticed about 5 cars following him, the Pied Piper of Florence! All lost people he met at a gas station, looking for help and direction. They thought they might be able to follow our tow truck to the beach (us too), but it turns out they were going back through water that was too deep for cars. So we transferred everything, and I mean everything, from my car on the tow truck, to my brother-in-law’s car, said goodbye to my new friends (and my car), and the convoy followed my brother-in-law and me as we zigzagged back to Dillon to try and find them a hotel for the night. It took quite a while, with many turnarounds due to closed roads, but we ended up at…SOUTH OF THE BORDER – Pedro’s Place, which was lit up like Christmas. Parted company there and we headed back to Winston-Salem, arriving after 11:30 pm, 17 hours after I had left that morning.
“We can’t help everyone, but everyone can help someone.” Ronald Reagan
In case that wasn’t enough, Tuesday brought just a little more excitement. I was able to get a rental car in Winston-Salem, and I was finally heading back to Charlottesville in a nice, smoking Jeep Cherokee. Literally. I arrived home and noticed smoke coming out from under the hood! What now?!?! For the second time in two days, I was riding in a big, flatbed tow truck. I am now in a Chrysler mini van – a nice one that takes me back to my days of taking my kids around to practices and games. My daughter told me not to get used to it. I won’t. What’s next? I’m not sure. It’s a waiting game for now. And believe it or not, I found patience. In the end, it was just a car. This experience pales in comparison to what so many people I know are experiencing right now due to Florence.
“When you think positive, good things will happen.”
So what did I learn this week? DO NOT DRIVE INTO WATER! Not even if you think you can make it. TURN AROUND! I knew better and yet, I still thought I could drive through it in my SUV.
Also, ever heard of The Waffle House Index? It’s a Southern thing, but it’s for real, folks. I learned that the government uses this to determine how bad a storm will be or was. This is how it works: The Waffle House is open 24/7, every day of the year. If they are open and serving a full menu, FEMA determines the index is green. If serving limited items, index is yellow. And if it is closed, FEMA classifies the index as RED and you better get out. On a par with the sighting of Jim Cantore of the Weather Channel. If he shows up, get the heck out!
Hoping our future will be full of sunshiny days and the flood waters recede. Remember all of the people who lost so much in this hurricane. Many were just recovering from Hurricane Matthew that hit 2 years ago. If you can, do something to help them and to help our first responders. Remember, you can make a difference. And make sure you always tell those you love that you love them, because as we all know, none of us is promised tomorrow.