The Paregien Journal – Issue 362 – September 21, 2017
When “Hurricane Irma” became more than a run-of-the-mill tropical storm, the weather forecasters began to speak of it in superlatives. “Greatest storm in a hundred years.” “Larger than the state of Texas” (yep, that’s large alright). “Highest wind speed for a hurricane ever recorded.” “Catastrophic water surges followed by giant waves of 30 feet or higher.” “Total and complete destruction possible.”
Kinda makes a non-Floridian nervous.
That’s what happened to Peggy and me. We were going about our business as usual on the morning of Tuesday, Sept. 5th. In fact, we were planning on flying out of Tampa on Thursday morning to spend the weekend in Lubbock, Texas. I was scheduled for my 17th year of performing my cowboy poetry and stories at the National Cowboy Symposium at the Civic Center in Lubbock. I hadn’t been in about six years, so I was getting excited about seeing many of my cowboy pals and palettes (yeah, I know, I invented that one).
That did not happen. About noon Peggy came into my study and told me that Governor Scott had just declared a state of emergency in Florida. They were expecting Hurricane Irma to rip through Florida like a chainsaw, leaving death and destruction in her wake.
It didn’t take us long to figure out that by now we had not one chance in heck of flying “standby” anywhere (Peggy worked for Southwest Airlines for some 15 years and earned us free — i.e., standby — flying privileges wherever SWA goes). All flights out of Tampa would be full of paying passengers, no doubt.
Then there was the additional problem of what to do with our dog Bullet. Oh, wait a minute, that was the name of Roy Rogers’ German shepherd. Our little Pomeranian is Allie, and we did not want to leave her behind in harm’s way.
So, with all other options ruled out, we hastily packed a few clothes, our important papers, plus some food and water and such. And, to get a start on what by Wednesday morning would become a marathon snail race, we left in our trusty Kia Sedona van by 3:00 p.m.
We spent Tuesday night at a high-dollar motel in Lake City, Florida, just a few miles south of the Georgia border. There were at least 10 other dogs staying in our doggie motel that night.
On Wednesday, Sept. 6th, we left Lake City, Florida about 8:30 p.m. and joined the heavy traffic headed north to who knows where. Our destination was the home where our long-time friends Darrel and Martha Russell live with their daughter and son-in-law and their boy (Christie, Todd & T.J.). They were all so gracious in putting us up for a couple of nights. We even spent some time perusing a very large antique shop in an old cotton mill in the town of Social Circle, Georgia. Check it out on a map, and you’ll see that the city limits is nearly a perfect circle. Why, I don’t know, even though I asked a few people. Must be a story there.
On Friday, Sept. 8th, the forecasters were saying that this part of Georgia could soon expect heavy rain and high winds . . . followed by widespread power outages. So we decided it was time to mosey on a bit further north. Peggy spent more than an hour on the phone trying to book a motel room in Chattanooga. None was available. Nary a single pad. Little did we know, in addition to the untold hundreds of refugees like us, they were hosting the World Championship “Ironman” and “Ironwomen” contests that weekend. So Peggy finally found us a room about 40 miles further up the road at Cleveland, Tennessee.
We took a long way around Atlanta, to keep from fighting that urban traffic. We saw a few scenic spots, traveling the back two-lane and sometimes four-lane roads of rural Georgia. But mostly we saw stoplights and lots of lumber trucks and innumerable strip retail shops and such.
We finally arrived in Cleveland, Tennessee and checked into our motel. It was located right next to paradise, which is to say, next to a Cracker Barrel restaurant. We were a good little boy and girl, though, and avoided our normal “Southern comfort” foods. I’m about six weeks from my next doctor’s appointment and I am determined to exceed his recommendation for me to shed at least 20 pounds (over a 3 month period).
Soon after we had arrived, Peggy discovered that the little meeting we had with a strip of blown truck tire back near Lake City had not just put a dent in our passenger door . . . but it had knocked the peawadden out of the turn sign assembly on the front, passenger side of our car. It was just dangling by a thread. But, using virtually all of my mechanical skills, I found a bungee cord in my tool box. I flawlessly attached one end to a motor mount inside the engine compartment, stretched it down over our grill and expertly attached it to the assembly. Ah, the satisfaction of a job well done. For a while, anyway.
Saturday, Sept. 9th, dawned with a stunningly beautiful day. We left our dog in her large cage in our motel room, and we retraced our steps back to Chattanooga with a list of several things we wanted to see and do. As we approached the downtown area, near the area along the Tennessee River, we noticed how athletic all these Chattanooganites looks. Both men and women were slim and muscled up, with fancy athletic shoes, colorful athletic shorts and shirts, and even with athletic looking bicycles — some with tires no wider than my thumb.
Duh. Then we found out the city was hosting the World Championship “Ironman” and “Ironwomen” contests that weekend. Hundreds of certified athletes and thousands of fans and families crowded the area we had to pass through. There were barricades everywhere so the public could not cross a street during a bycicyle race (not a good idea) or a foot race. We also got to see these way-too-fit folks swimming across the Tennessee River, when they all no doubt had perfectly good swmming pools back at their motels.
Well, here is where the plot thickens. As we were trying to get through this mass of athletic folks, Peggy missed seeing a step down off a curb and hurt her left foot. Not her ankle, the side of her foot. She was in considerable pain, but managed to hobble on down to the river — through three or four of those barriers — to where we bought tickets for the luncheon cruise aboard the Southern Belle Riverboat.
Since her foot was hurting and we were boxed in by the sports activities, we sat at that location for about an hour. Finally, we loaded onto the Riverboat. They had a big and private birthday party going on upstairs, but on the main deck there were probably only about 15 of us. But, off we went. It was a nice little river tour, with a guide giving some history of what we saw.
About two hours later, we discovered as we prepared to leave that Peggy’s foot was so swollen and sore that she absolutely could not walk. We informed the boat’s staff of what had happened and our predicament. There was no way she could climb the steep hill up to where all the events were going on. Nor could she manuever through the crowds, nor could she get far enough for me to bring our car close enough to pick her up.
After about 45 minutes of waiting for help, one of the uniformed boat staff — perhaps a captain himself — took a personal interest in our dilemma. He finally agreed to procure a golf cart and give both of us a ride to the streets up above. So this man named Daniel, dressed in a sharp uniform which perhaps passed for an official of some kind, weaved the cart through the barricades and up past the crowd. He even drove about three city blocks, on the public streets, to get to a corner parking spot about two blocks from our car. So, showing my own athleticism (I hate that word and other “ism’s” just like it), I sucked in my stomach and sorta jogged a lot of the way — even up hill — to get our car. I drove down and “Captain Daniel” helped Peggy into the car while I waved the impatient drivers around us. Bless you, Daniel, you were wonderful.
So we high-tailed it out of Chattanooga as fast as the numerous areas under construction and the heavy load of traffic would allow. I managed to get Peggy from the car to our motel room, then I skedaddled a couple of miles down the road to a CVS because they had a practical nurse on duty there. Right. Except, . . . that she had gone to supper right before I arrived. So I bought about $70 of home remedies and hurried back to the motel and put some ice on Peggy’s foot. That seemed to help, but all other activities were out.
We we were “forced” to sit in the room and eat the Sonic burgers I had picked up on the way back from CVS, . . . while we watched our University of Oklahoma “Sooners” (ranked Number 7 at the time) gave #2 ranked Ohio State “Buckeyes” a spanking they won’t soon forget.
In between plays and during the commercials, we watched the weather bulletins. And Hurricane Irma was shifting further west, away from Miami and headed directly toward Tampa (and us at Bradenton). Yikes. And to make matters even more interesting, they had warnings of heavy rain and high winds there in Cleveland, Tenn.
So . . . we phoned my cousin/brother Jerry Paregien and his wife Muriel in Kingsport, Tennessee (in the northeast corner near Bristol Speedway) and pleaded on bended knees for them to put up a couple of refugees. Now, the Paregien family — our Paregien grandparents (Frank and Mattie) as well as Jerry’s mom and dad and my own mom and dad — know all about being refugees in a foreign country. They all left poverty-stricken Oklahoma in 1942 and moved to Ventura County, California in hopes of getting work in the war industry. And they did exactly that, and their lives and those of their descendants changed dramatically. They all went to work for the U.S. Navy at Port Hueneme (near Oxnard).
Anyway, Jerry and Muriel graciously agreed to take us in as long as we wanted or needed to stay. So we again loaded up Allie and our stuff, leaving Cleveland about 8:00 am on Sunday morning, Sept. 10th. We passed Knoxville and about the time we were to turn north, off of I-40, we saw a sign saying that Sevierville was just 15 miles on east. So we decided to take a quick tour. We stopped at a really beautiful Visitor’s Center and got a bunch of brochures.
That’s when one of the employees walked over the ladies who were helping me and told them their manager had called and said they would shut down at noon Monday because the National Park Service was shutting down the area parks because of dire predictions of heavy rain, high winds and probably trees falling and power losses.
That sure explained why we had seen a mob of cars and RVs headed out of Sevierville as we were headed into town. Now my momma didn’t raise no dummies, so I changed our plans and got right back on the road to Kingsport.
We spent a delightful time with Jerry and Muriel in their hillbilly home. Well, okay, it is beautiful and spacious home on a hill, not a cramped log cabin by any means. We spent Sunday night and Monday night there. On Monday I took our car down to a nearby mechanic and he was able to stabilize the turn signal assembly . . . by putting a second bungee cord on it. Naw, not really. He was able to snap it back together for a temporary fix, as it is cracked and some “teeth” are missing.
However, the weather folks were now forecasting those same heavy rains and high winds for Kingsport about noon on Tuesday. So we packed up, again, and headed further north. Do you see a pattern here??
Well, friends, we’ll continue the story of our evacuation from Florida in our next issue.
Thanks for stopping by.
— Stan Paregien