Come On, Irene

I thought about what it would be like on my way back down the road. With the widespread destruction supers image from the newscast last night flashing over again in my head, I couldn’t help but think there was a slight possibility that I’d go home to nothing.

There was no real damage on Route 47—just some scattered branches and leaves bundled up on the sides of the road, an occasional water surge when I’d round a bend near a river or lake. My family—all 20 of us—and I were on our way home the second we got news we were allowed back on the island. I guess the damage couldn’t have been too bad, but the last thing I remember…

Friday afternoon was a dark and gloomy day. I walked from my car across the parking lot into Beach Creek, tightly holding my apron to keep it from being taken by the wind. The clouds were low, the sun was tucked away, and occasional raindrops fell and rippled on the bay that sheltered our outside dining room.

With word of the approaching hurricane, we listened to the radio in the kitchen all night. Mildly underestimating Irene’s capabilities, we continued our busy set pace flow of the restaurant, until we heard one bit of news come over the radio from the county, informing us to write our social security numbers, next of kin and names down on an index card and stick it in our shoes if we didn’t plan on evacuating the island. This stirred quite the panic.

I watched as half my tables got up and left before their appetizers came out of the kitchen. I stood outside on the front deck, my jaw dropped as I studied the line of cars waiting for a gas pump or to simply make the turn into WaWa (which ended on the opposite side of the island down by the beach, by the way). I helped flip the restaurant upside down, so anything damageable from the flooding would be salvaged. And then I hugged everyone good-bye and ran to my car with a lingering sense of fear that when I came back to the Creek it would be here no longer, which stayed on my mind while I waited in the half-hour line of cars for my own gas before I made it home to pack that night.

My family and I left the island the next afternoon, after driving around to run last minute errands. It was eerie to see town so dead, especially in the middle of August. Wild Ocean was boarded up, along with McDonald’s, both Wawas and every other local business, with “Go away, Irene” spray painted on the outsides. I took one last glance around as we made the left to take Rio Grande Avenue over the bridge and off the island, five cars total in tow. I didn’t look back again until we reached our hotel in King of Prussia.

We braved the hurricane in three rooms, but lived in one for the majority of our two-day stay. With the bouncing back and forth between news channels offering 24-hour coverage of Irene, the insane amount of food purchased and lined around the perimeter of the room by chance we lose power and the abundant amount of beer and wine flowing from red Solo cups, over conversation, Facebook pictures of flooding and Youtube videos capturing dangerous tsunami moments, we all sat and waited to hear news from down the shore—about our town, our friends who stayed behind, our homes. For a 48-hour period, we waited. But at least we did it together.

When I entered North Wildwood upon my return, I went straight to the beach. I parked on JFK and 3rd Avenues and trekked through the sand blown onto the street from the wind up onto the wooden bulkhead.

The ocean was gray, and the waves looked angry as they crashed and swallowed anything up in their paths. A few brave souls were walking along the water, and it dawned on me that we still had a beach and that it would take a little more than a category two hurricane to take that away from us. The Wildwoods were salvaged. Now it’s on to the next one you have to offer, hurricane season.

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