Be Prepared!

“The first tropical storm of the season is forming west of Guatemala,” the online weather site reported. “OK,” I thought, and clicked on YouTube and watched a video of schnauzers juggling bowling balls. Then I watched a seven-month-old boy recite the Gettysburg Address in Latin. I didn’t give the announcement a second thought. I should have since I live on Mexico’s Pacific Coast.

Two days later the weather site adjusted its warning. “The first tropical storm of the season has been upgraded to a low-level hurricane. It is named Abercrombie & Fitch, not because the name starts with an “A,” but because the trendy, youth-targeted clothier has purchased corporate sponsorship rights to the storm for sixteen million dollars. Hurricane Abercrombie & Fitch is expected to reach landfall between Acapulco and Anchorage, Alaska between Saturday and whenever.”

The next morning, I learned the hurricane had been upgraded again, this time to Category 3. “Abercrombie & Fitch” repeatedly crawled across the bottom of my computer screen. A ghost-like, transparent, shirtless, twentyish model superimposed on the screen’s right side stared at me. His image, however, did not hide the weather site’s warning. “Be prepared,” it read through the seductive hunk. “Batten down the hatches.”

This time, I reacted immediately, rushing to my car and racing to the nearest supermarket to buy my supply of hatches, whatever they were. But when I arrived, I found a full parking lot swarming with panic. Horns were honking, people were running helter-skelter, and dogs, with their noses protruding from slightly-opened windows, barked canine versions of “The end is nigh,” “Prepare to meet your maker,” and “Oh, I hope they don’t forget my treats.”

Desperate for a parking spot, I pulled out of the lot and spotted a woman exiting and frantically locking-up an insurance company across the street. She dashed to her car parked in front of the business and drove off without clicking her seatbelt. As she entered traffic, she cut off an SUV, crammed with survival necessities, two moms, three kids, and a partridge in a pear tree. A bumper sticker mounted on the vehicle’s rear announced “Pike’s Peak or Bust.”

The street was packed with a continuous chain of cars, filled with concerned faces, hurriedly escaping to safety. I slipped between the traffic and ran to the store. The madness I found inside was akin to a Black Friday electronics sale. I rushed to the water, soda, and juice aisle. It was depleted. The beer and bread aisles, too, were bare. Panicked, I thought, “Hatches. Where the hell are hatches? Whatever they are. I need to take some with me so I can batten them down. Whatever that means.”

My mind switched gears. “Energy snacks. I need energy snacks. Granola bars, peanuts. Where the hell are they? Candy? In front.” I beelined to the candy aisle. A lone Almond Joy and a bag of Gummy Worms, with packaging that radiated fear of abandonment, stared at me, pleading to be adopted. I grabbed them. I looked around. A nearby familiar image drew my attention. The Energizer Bunny. “Batteries!” I shouted out loud, startling an elderly woman with a shopping cart laden with Depends. I stepped to the battery display to be disappointed. There were none. In the distance, a man ranted, “Why the effin hell doesn’t this store have any damn generators?”

And then I saw them. The checkout lines. Longer than the Danube, Amazon, and Nile. I got in the shortest one I could find, the one I called Thames. It turned out to be the slowest. I exited the store fifty-two minutes later. With my survival candy.

At home I hunkered down and waited for the storm to arrive. For seventeen hours. But it made landfall considerably north of me and was weaker than expected. I peeked out the window and counted seventy-three raindrops. A nearby wind gauge, I learned later, registered an eleven miles-an-hour gust of wind. Hardly a hurricane.

Nevertheless, I suffered damage. Four dirty, wet leaves fell on my car. A wafting plastic shopping bag blew into my yard and suffocated my garden gnome. But the real damage occurred where the weakened storm touched down. A “For Rent” sign blew off a prostitute. And a frightened vacationing Kentucky woman endured a nineteen miles-per-hour big-hair wind gust mussing.

After the meteorological ordeal had ended, and I calmed myself down with my Almond Joy, I realized the panic I had just witnessed—and participated in—was reminiscent of the reaction to “The News at 11” snow-warnings back home in Seattle.

Cars would be moved to the base of hills by a slipper-wearing work force to facilitate an easier morning commute. Tire stores, at 7 a.m., would be faced with lines of cars—and their freaked-out owners—needing snow tires. Chains jingled like Christmas bells throughout neighborhoods. School district superintendents developed ulcers. All this commotion and the temperature would dip to a nearly precipitation-free 33 degrees on my block. Less than 150 snowflakes would fall countywide, disappearing on impact.

The panic was for nothing. The chaotic parking lots and congested traffic were needless. The racing heart, rising blood pressure, and feeling of one’s stomach perching in one’s throat were unnecessary. But, I suppose, these incidents made for good practice for when a major snowfall or hurricane did occur. And, of course, serious ones do occur, causing destruction, mayhem, and possible death, even if the areas hit were spared by previous false alarms, like the A&F experience I had just had. As is said, it is better to err on the side of caution.

The hysterical, frantic, over-the-top behavior, nevertheless, always made me laugh. Why, I would think, do normally reasonable, sane, calm people go bonkers over iffy weather warnings that have time-and-again proven to be worst-case scenarios. I just don’t understand the over-reaction. There is no reason for the extreme pandemon…Oh, I’ve remembered something from the day of the storm…OMG! OMG! Oh, my Gaaawwwd! How could this happen? This is horrible. They’ve been reported missing. What has happened to Cynthia, Theo, and his other wife Briana?

Dammit! Dammit! All this preparation for and worry about the possible hurricane caused me to miss my soap, “The Winds of Time.”

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Tom Nussbaum
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