Spoiler alert: Hurricane Pandara is wreaking havoc on the west coast. Exactly like the National Weather Service predicted last week. I’m fighting to see through the horizontal rain that’s making mockery of my windshield wipers. Flood Zone A was ordered to evacuate fifty plus hours ago, so of course, the flooded streets are completely deserted. Riiiiiiiiight. That is sarcasm – This is Florida. I pass two trucks, a motorboat, and a swamp ape wearing water wings. That might have been my imagination, the motorboat.
It’s nearly the end of “hurricane season,” but nobody told this mother. I’m annoyed at Mother Nature right about now, and I think she knows it. An angry gust shoves my vehicle enough to make me clench the steering wheel, lose my gum, and bite my tongue. Good one. My phone rings. This storm-battered battle zone lost power hours ago, but naturally Dispatch can still reach me. Always can and always does. I punch the speakerphone button and nearly sideswipe a fire hydrant. “Got another one,” announces the cheery voice of Donna. She says the address even as it pops up on my screen with GPS directions. Four point three miles, as the crow swims.
“You know I’m out here by myself,” I say, my wounded tongue creating a slight lisp. My trainee never showed up today; no doubt she wisely reconsidered her choice of employment. Right now, she’s probably hunkered down in a safe house, hurricane shutters locked down, with a gasoline-powered generator just in case. You know, like all the other smart people are.
“It’s almost December,” Donna says, her voice all blue skies and sunshine. “This should be the last hurricane of the season.” That won’t do much good if I don’t survive the day. “I shouldn’t be out here,” I complain. “I ought to be boarding up my windows, bringing the patio furniture in.” She’s not buying it. “It’s a little late for that, don’t you think? And didn’t Trish already take care of all the prep?” She’s right. Sometimes I hate how well Donna knows me. My wife has her own Do-It-Yourself YouTube Channel and a handful of How-To books under her toolbelt. “That really is more her area of expertise,” I say, feeling lame. “So, what, this is yours?” Low blow, Donna. “I know,” I say, “It’s amazing, isn’t it? Twenty-five years old and I’m at the pinnacle of my career. All of my aspirations already fulfilled.” Donna can only snort.
Hurricanes are good for business, and bad for my health. I’m all over the road, dodging palm fronds and palm trees that gale force winds are flinging like toothpicks. “I don’t get paid enough for this,” I mutter through clenched teeth. If I had a dime for every time I told myself that, I would be getting paid enough for this. I speed through downtown and jerk the wheel to avoid a postal box blown into my lane. Oops. I use all of the highway and some of the sidewalk for the hydroplaning I do next. The car spins as I hold on for dear life. The reflection of my red and blue lights off the windows that aren’t boarded up is almost pretty. The words I’m muttering are much less so.
I’d do a better job of keeping my eyes on the road if I could just see the road. “Gimme that address again, Donna?” She does, then wastes her breath on “You don’t have to do this. Come on, Wade, this is ridiculous.”
I’m beginning to really hate the sound of her voice, I tell myself. “It’s a good thing I love the sound of your voice,” I tell her. “Can this please be my last call?” I hear her shrug. How can either of us know? I swerve around a crackling power line and realize that this very well might be my last call. My final contribution to humanity, or at least to the stubborn fools that decided against evacuating.
I hang a sliding left on Sixth Avenue, and an oak the size of a sequoia is down. There’s a branch over the road, not low enough to decapitate me, but probably enough to take the light right off the roof of the car. At this point, I might prefer that. Still, I stomp my foot and pretend I have brakes. This time I manage a near-perfect one-eighty. I’m getting the hang of hydroplaning.
“Take Eight Avenue, not Sixth,” Donna warns, just a tad too late. “My update says there’s a tree down blocking the road.” I swear she waited to tell me. “Thanks, Donna,” I say, adding under my breath, “Is there a hurricane coming also?” I take Eight south to Fourth and double back. 644 Sixth Street South is the address of the Florida Breeze Condominiums. Ha. My destination is #440, which means I’ll need to swim four floors upstream. I grab my carry bag and step into the pond that used to be a parking spot. I put the hood up on my company-issue windbreaker to keep my three hairs dry, and slosh in what I think is the right direction.
Almost immediately I’m in a knee-high river. “Wade,” I hear Donna worry from my speaker. “I can’t, too deep,” I make a funny. She goes silent; I’m as stubborn as the kook I’m out here for. Donna is done for the day and done with me. Trish has sent dozens of text messages. I’m a horrible husband to put her through this. I’ll make it up to her if I live, I promise. Take her on a nice vacation. No cruises, I hate water. I look down the street and see a kayak.
About the third floor, with my carry bag over my head, I see the storm surge rise from below. From above comes a matching torrent of gushing water. Going forward and going back are equally poor options. I hear a voice cry out as I spill out across the entryway of the top floor. He’s up on the roof. Naturally. I guess I’m going up a little further.
“About time,” he says when my head bobs into view. We stare at each other for a moment, deliverer and deliveree. He looks familiar. Of course, eighty-year-old curmudgeon, Charlie Sparkey. He’s thin, crusty, and crazy. I’m pretty sure all the news channels interviewed him as Hurricane Pandara approached. He’s what the viewers love, a true “Florida Man.” Mister “I’m here fifty-two weeks a year and I’m not going anywhere.” Maybe that quote will make the final draft of his impending obituary.
“You requested a final meal?” I say. A flash of lightning makes the joke catch in my throat. We’ve got to get out of here while there’s a shred of a chance.
I stretch out to the old man. “Come on, Mister Sparkey. Let’s live to fight another day.” He reaches out, but not for my hand. He snatches my carry bag from me. What, no tip? He turns his back.
I turn my back, too. I gotta get outta here. There are more calls coming in. I thumb my wet-but-not-ruined phone to answer it. “Domino’s Delivery, this is Wade.”