Thursday, October 27, 2005


After the storm we all worked hard at getting our debris out to the street. My neighbor's boys went through the neighborhood helping people clean out their yards. We all burned off our nervous energy by getting everything picked up. Our fence sections are all out on the street now along with a big pile of limbs and broken down banana trees.

I then hooked up our refrigerators, a small tv, and a light to the generator in the Mothership. Since that went so well we also added my neighbor's refrigerators. At one point we even briefly fired up our PCs to check and send a few emails. That worked well for a number of hours. The next morning however, the generator began to act the same way it did just before I took it into the shop. It would start, then run for about five minutes and stop. We checked the fuel filter and the oil. All those simple checks found nothing amiss. One of my neighbors is pretty handy with engines and electrical things so he came over and was able to get it to run briefly by manually manipulating the choke and throttle. We gave up after trying that for a while. Then the phones went dead. That really spooked us because we had phone service the entire time, even through the storm. Also, while watching TV during the period when the generator was on we quickly learned that in spite of our light damage, the South Florida infra structure was badly crippled. As darkness approached the day after the storm we made the decision to use the Mothership for an impromptu roadtrip. We called our daughter who just moved to a new house in Dunedin and she found a very nice campground near their house and made reservations for us. I put the few shutters I had taken down back up with my neighbor and friend's help and we moved into the camper for the night anticipating an early departure.

Night fell quickly and with no moon our world became darker than dark. With all of our remaining food and clothes in the camper we settled in for the night. It felt like home to us having just returned from a our trip out west. We had no trouble adapting back to life in the Mothership after the 7,000 miles of travel back in August and September. We had no moon and no city light lume in the sky. A cold front had passed through and it was cool and clear. We could see the night sky like never before but it was not a time to relax and enjoy it. We knew from watching tv that the entire South Florida infrastructure was down. We felt very vulnerable. During the night we heard a car or cars racing down our small residential street at what sounded like 80 mph. Not knowing if they were good guys or bad guys made us very uneasy.

We arose at 6am and hooked the car to the tow bars and started out of town. Proceding slowly down our street we were suddenly startled when a large cable or power line popped into view right in front of us. It draped down across the road and it took some careful maneuvering to get past it. Our adrenalin was up not knowing what else we would encounter. Exiting our neighborhood we began to get a sense of the damage. Power lines were down everywhere. There was a surprising amount of traffic on the road for 7am. We proceded very cautiously the short distance to I95 passing our local gas station where we saw the typical tall metal roof structure that covers the pumps twisted and leaning at a strange angle. The one traffic light that we had to pass was completely missing and the traffic treated it light a four way stop. Experience from the last two storms, Frances and Jean, have made locals pros at dealing with this stuff.

I-95 north was almost normal with moderate traffic. We proceded north to PGA Boulevard where it is only a short hop to the Florida Turnpike, the most direct route to Orlando and then Tampa. There were no tolls so entrance to the turnpike was free. Again, traffic was fairly light. The eery thing was seeing cars along the side of the road abandoned. We could only guess that during the mass exodus people had run out of fuel and just abandoned them on the side of the road. We even saw some that looked as though they had been in in accidents and left on the roadside. Traffic flowed well and we set the cruise control at just over 60.

The Turnpike has rest areas with restaurants and gas pumps that are located about 60 or so miles apart. The first one we came to had lines of cars trying to get in. We could only figure that they were the only gas stations pumping gas and with the free tolls local people were traveling there to get gasoline.

The further we traveled the more normal things began to get. We finally came to a rest area that appeared to have no more than normal traffic so we stopped in the parking lot and went inside for a cup of coffee. Inside we found lines of people waiting for coffee at the Starbucks but lighter lines at Burger King and Nathans. There is a quick survey for you in terms of coffee preference. After standing in the Starbucks line for what seemed an eternity we switched over to Nathan's where they had just brewed a fresh batch of decaf. We grabbed our coffee, went back out to the Mothership and cooked a normal breakfast since neither of us had eaten yet. The coffee and breakfast gave us a much needed boost. It was really cool and we were both cold and hungry.

The rest of the trip was a typical trip to Tampa with heavy traffic between Orlando and Tampa. The Tampa, Orlando, Daytona strip is a major corridor with the three cities hurtling towards becoming a megalopilis. For our trip out west we had purchased a Florida Sunpass which is a device that is attached to your windshield with suction cups. It uses a radio frequency sensor at the toll booths to detect your id and deducts the tolls from a prepaid account. After we got up near Orlando the tolls were back in force but with the Sunpass device we were able to breeze right through the toll gates without stopping. That really was a time saver and a new experience for us.

So, here we are in Dunedin, Florida. I have already located a factory authorized shop that will check our generator. I told them we were living in the RV and they said they had power hookups if we had to stay overnight. I have to call this morning and make further arrangements with them for repairs.

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