So here we are, in Detroit, watching on TV as Greta van Susteren stands and delivers from Naples, FL. She is using her trademark maundering style to tell us all that Florida is about to get “punished” and asking weirdly paranoid questions of her weather expert guests about how long she has until Naples becomes ground zero. I noticed this same trait amongst all of the TV reporters today. In the last 24 hours, all of the “embedded” reporters, delivering the news of Hurricane Wilma from the thick of it (Naples, Bonita Springs, Key West, etc.), have begun sounding just like the average Florida resident. When’s it going to hit? How strong will it be? How long do we have before the power goes out down here? The impression you get is that these guys don’t really want to be there, and now they’re starting to regret their assignments.
Us? We’re not regretting our self-imposed assignment, which was to get the hell out of dodge. I have once again become reacquainted with the misery of allergies, through no fault of the rather nice Residence Inn that Apple and I are bunking at. Merely stepping through the door of my parents’ house has yielded the usual nasal drip and tightness in the chest, growing more annoying as the exposure lengthens, to the point where you want to just give up and go to bed. I’m going to try not to spend too much time over there if I can avoid it.
All day Thursday, we put up hurricane shutters. Our day began early, and we immediately went to work — me with my work gloves on, and Apple with the cordless drill in hand. Thanks to her help, we finished both our house and my parents’ vacation home by 4:30 in the afternoon, just in time to pick up some Chinese takeout for dinner. I spent the evening packing items for our trip and making sure all the cars were fueled up, then I took the hard drives out of my computer workstation, sealed them in Ziploc bags and placed them on high shelves in the closet. You never can tell.
We had a pretty uneventful trip up to Orlando on Friday. We left the house at about 5:30 a.m., in case of major traffic snarls due to other evacuees leaving the area. We also left I-75 at our earliest opportunity, taking 80 eastward to 27, and 27 northward to the I-4 corridor just outside of Orlando. It took a little longer than the interstate route, and was a trip peppered by fog, weird cult-like Christian trailer parks and completely lightless roads that created an overwhelming desire to just pull over and go to sleep. Finally, though, we arrived in Orlando, right around 9:30 in the morning. We promptly parked at a McDonald’s and went to sleep in the car for an hour, woken up by the heat of the oncoming afternoon.
On our way up International Drive, one of the more crass tourist districts of O-Town, we spotted a couple of other cars from our own Collier County, probably fellow escapees of the much-despised hurricane. Having more than an hour to kill before our favorite Thai restaurant opened for lunch, we decided to stop by McNamara Pontiac, the very same dealership where I placed my order — by phone — for a 2006 GTO.
McNamara is one of the oldest and most successful Pontiac dealers in Florida, and is recognized for selling more GTOs than any other dealer in the nation. The dealership’s owner, John McNamara, owns a variety of classic and rare Ponchos, including an ’89 Turbo Trans Am pace car and a fourth-gen Firehawk. As soon as we walked in the door — after taking a moment to ogle the beautiful black (and not for sale) Solstice which stood parked outside — we were greeted by none other than the very salesman I’d dealt with during my GTO order, a man named Roger. He remembered me immediately, right down to every last option I’d specified on my order. (“Oh, yeah — black, red interior, 6-speed, 18-inch wheels, right?”)
I’d never actually gotten to speak to this guy before; I’d gone through the sales manager to work out the details, but credited Roger with the sale since it was him I was told to see. He came with the reputation of being a real car buff, a no-bullshit type of guy, and he lived up to his reputation. We chatted for a while, trading obscure bits of Pontiac trivia, and how we had both owned Trans Am WS6s (while I still have mine, Roger traded his for the ’04 Pulse Red GTO he has now). After while I asked to take a Goat out for a demo, since Apple had never been for a ride in one, and I wanted her to see what it was like.
The traffic on Colonial Drive, where McNamara is located, was abysmal. Even when I lived in Orlando six years ago, Colonial was a road you didn’t drive unless you had to. Roger even told me that the dealership was planning to move, as the area had just become unbearable. The weather was cloudy, and the car was awfully dirty. Plus, it was an automatic. But I didn’t care. It was so much fun. This was my third GTO test drive, and I gotta say I love it more every time. I hated to park it and get out, but we had to move on.
We had a good lunch at the Thai place down on the quiet end of I-Drive, then headed to the airport where we chilled out for a while, reading books and listening to the iPod. Our flight was delayed, but only for about half an hour. We made up some of that lost time while in flight, and before long we were sleeping soundly in our hotel room. I was sore as hell from putting up all the hurricane shutters, and Apple and I had both been up since 4 in the morning, so a good night’s sleep was welcome.
It’s almost midnight now, and we’re still glued to the TV, watching all of the folks reporting of southwest Florida’s imminent doom. It’s getting a bit tiring, really. I think we’ll just go to sleep, and by the time we wake up, the region’s fate will be known. As for me, I’m going to proceed as though nothing is amiss. Tomorrow, in fact, I’ll be meeting with at least one (possibly two) of my old friends, whereupon we’re going to see the new Doom movie (for better or for worse), talk about topics of business and pleasure, play video games, go get some donuts, and generally have a good time. I thought about inviting them over to the hotel room to play video games (allergy problems with the house, y’know), but the stupid TVs here don’t have any inputs you could hook a game console to.
Anyway, that’s about it for now — guess tomorrow we’ll get a better idea of what we’ll be returning to when we fly home at the end of the week.