Why Does it Take a Major Hurricane to Unite Us?

Here we go again. I’m sitting in a Hampton Inn in Salisbury, NC, home of Cheerwine . The hotel is sold out with evacuees from NC and SC who have left their homes near the coast to ride out Hurricane Florence. I am on my way to Eastern NC to be with my mom through the storm.

I am no stranger to riding out hurricanes. I grew up in North Carolina and rode out five with my dad in our home in the lower Outer Banks. I moved to Florida 25 years ago and have lived through six more. If there is one thing I’ve learned from riding out 11 Cat 2 or larger storms is that from a pure weather perspective, every storm is different. It can be a wind storm. It can be a rainstorm. There are huge differences in whether the storm hits you from the north or the south or comes directly at you. Some are short and some feel like they will never end.

While the hurricane forecasting has improved dramatically over my lifetime, they are still very unpredictable all the way to the time they get to you. Last year’s Hurricane Irma was a prime example. The track shifted to the west of Florida 48 hours out and a turn to the north was the consensus so we decided to stay in our boarded-up barrier island Florida beach home instead of evacuating to our “go to” refuge inland, the Hampton Inn. At 11:00 pm, we still had power and heard the news anchor say, it’s not turning! Then we ended up with 100 MPH gusts from the west all night and a foot of water rushing down the street. My wife will never forgive me for putting her through that long evening. It was scary and nerve-racking. She made me go out to the road in the middle of the night and taste the water to make sure it wasn’t salt. Thankfully, it was just rain, not the Atlantic Ocean coming down the street.

While storm tracks are very different, people are not. The one thing that is the same in every storm is the unifying power of “human survival.” For a brief time before, during, and after a Hurricane, or any natural disaster, we all forget about the small stuff. Nobody cares who loves or hates President Trump. Carolina fans share a beer with a Duke fan. We are all in the same boat and we are getting through it together as a human race. It gets even better when the power goes out and we actually are forced to talk to each other. Total strangers learn everything about each other and become best friends for 48 hours. I first wrote about this phenomenon immediately after Hurricane Matthew which slammed into Ormond Beach a month before the 2016 Presidential election.

So today, I’m sitting in another Hampton Inn full of NC and SC evacuees. Everyone is “calm before the storm.” Total strangers enjoying each other’s company and stories. Many have their family

pets with them because of Hampton Inn’s understanding that the family pet is part of the family and they are welcome. Dogs love hurricanes. They get to sleep in a hotel. What an adventure.

A working mom pounds away on her laptop with her kids at the table building a puzzle trying to get as much work done before the power goes out. Parents who just met taking turns watching each other’s kids in the pool. Kids are oblivious of the impending storm and are just excited to be out of school and in a pool.

Then there is Peggy. A member of the Silent Generation. She’s been making breakfast at the Salisbury, NC Hampton Inn for sixteen years. She is happy, calming, and loving. She is relishing in the opportunity to get to know her short-term Hampton Hurricane extended family. There is Paulette at the front desk who could not be more pleasant and reassuring. All this going on while we ignore the TV on the wall blasting national press feeds that use words like “Armageddon” and “Storm of a Lifetime.” We are all in the same Hampton boat. We are all worried about what we will find when we return home but while we are here, we are safe and sound.

I’m packing up now and heading East to be with mom but I’ll keep my Salisbury Hampton Hurricane family in my thoughts and prayers. Times of natural disaster brings out the absolute best in humankind. I wish we could hold onto that a little longer than 48 hours.


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