To me, the word hurricane conjures up thoughts of fruity rum cocktails, utter destruction, and complete inconvenience (not necessarily in that order). I've seen news footage of the devastation leveled by Hurricane Katrina, and I can't ignore local whispers of the extended power outages Wilma caused. Frankly, I don't have a battery stockpile. Or any batteries. Or even a flashlight. All in all, I'd be in bad shape if a hurricane decided to roll in tomorrow. How do you deal with Mother Nature when she's so pissed off that she's knocking down houses?
In my book, drinking is a good way to deal with anything, and if I have to face hurricane season, I'm going to do it with a beer in my hand. When I heard that Crane's BeachHouse Hotel & Tiki Bar, a tidy, 27-room boutique hotel in Delray Beach (82 Gleason St.), was hosting a hurricane kickoff party in its tiki bar, I made plans to blow by. Yeah, a portion of the evening's proceeds were going to the Red Cross, and I'd like to say that was the main reason for my attendance. But let's face it: I needed serious pointers on how to reason with hurricane season.
Ambiance: The woman at the fold-out table near the patio's outdoor entrance cheerfully sucked $20 from my wallet and presented me with a small ticket entitling me to a complimentary drink from the tiki bar. She directed me down a leafy lane. I crept around impressive walls of hibiscus, tiki torches, and palm trees like a booze-hunting mouse caught in a hedge.
The stone path and lavish landscaping finally gave way to my holy grail — a small, thatch-roofed tiki bar built on a sandy area beside a rippling pool with a rocky waterfall. I felt like Ponce de Leon, stumbling onto a little corner of paradise. Waiters toting trays offered hors d'oeuvres while a live musician played a reggae version of Madonna's "La Isla Bonita." The air was thick, maybe from the blanket-like SoFla humidity, maybe from the cloud of expensive perfume surrounding the pantsuit-clad women who laughed and left lipstick rings on the rims of their plastic cups. Clusters of other well-dressed drinkers talked in tight groups across from rows of rentable rooms and yellow staircases. If little ol' me was going to ring in hurricane season with a crowd of stylish philanthropists, I was going to do it clutching my equalizer of personal choice — an alcoholic beverage. Maybe alcohol would even distract me from the ominous storm clouds hanging overhead.
Drinks: At the bar, I slowly unclenched my (now sweaty) hand to pass the "free drink" ticket to the guest bartender, Delray Beach's former mayor Jeff Perlman. Rotund, dark-haired, and jovial, he smiled and asked what I wanted.
Jumping at the chance to boss around a politician, I demanded he bring me a beer of his own choosing. "And it'd better be good!"
He grabbed me a Yuengling; I heartily approved it and pumped it into my (dehydrating) body as fast as I could.
Bartender: As I gulped down my Yuengling, Jeff pointed out WPTV-TV meteorologist Glenn Glazer, the other guest bartender.
"Is he calling for hurricanes this season?" I asked.
"He said yes, if we don't get enough tips tonight." Jeff exaggeratedly ogled the tip jar, from which several dollar bills were protruding.
I wasn't about to be coerced into paying off a little wind and rain. If a hurricane wanted my money, it was gonna have to come dig me out of rubble and pry it from my hand.
"Hey, is it true we'll get a hurricane if you guys don't get good tips?" I called over to Glenn, who was busy pouring wine into plastic cups.
"Not only that," Glenn said, "but my striptease will be canceled. You don't want that — especially since I wore my special shirt."
He demonstrated the ease in which the shirt could be removed by using both hands to rip apart the first three snap-buttons, revealing a pie-slice-sized sliver of bare skin. Not tempting.
"So, no stripping in the forecast," I said.
I leaned back to stare at the sky. "But are we going to get rain?"
"Maybe a few drops," he said with a handsome TV smile. "You've got a beer in your hand, so why worry?"
Good advice. I made a mental note to add beer to my hurricane stockpile list and cross out batteries and bottled water.
Hurricane help: I told redheaded Leanne, a blue-eyed woman in a buttoned-down dress shirt, that I hadn't lived in Florida long enough to experience hurricane season. She quickly filled me in on some basics: Get a battery-powered TV. Hurricane season runs through November. Grocery stores will run out of milk. In the event of a hurricane, you could lose power for several weeks. How will I dry my hair? If you're lucky, the sun will eventually come out.
In short: Hurricanes totally suck.
"The worst part," Leanne's friend Stephanie, dark-complexioned, with ruby-red lips, chimed in, "is deciding what to take with you if you're running from a hurricane. You might never again see the stuff you leave."
I downed my beer and pondered the size of my car. Between my clothes, stuffed fox collection, and boyfriend, something would have to be left behind. BF is one unwieldy, space-hoggin' dude. Hmmm.
"So, why are we having a party for hurricanes?" I asked Tracy Sussman, the trim, blond Red Cross branch manager. "Hurricanes wreak havoc and leave devastation in their wake. My God, grocery stores actually run out of milk."
"We're not celebrating hurricanes," Tracy said, a small take-no-prisoners smile crossing her expertly lined lips. "Fifteen percent of the profit made in admission and drinks will go to the Red Cross — and we help with hurricane relief."
I felt momentarily reassured by Tracy's calm face and layers of bright blond hair — until it started pouring.
Patrons: I found a spot to wait out the rain, safely protected by the awning that was supposed to protect a half-dozen or so hotel-room doors. A well-dressed couple had escaped from the uncovered tiki bar area to the same spot — the guy in plastic-rimmed glasses and slacks, the woman a put-together blond in a pink-collared shirt.
"From what I've heard about hurricanes, I might as well leave the state," I complained.
"Nah, a hurricane's actually kind of like a campout," said Mike, who likes to describe himself as an "aging young man." "During a hurricane a few years ago, she went north and I stayed to hold down the fort. It was like being a bachelor on spring break again. All the men got together and had cookouts."
"You bailed on him?" I asked Mike's wife, Terri.
She shrugged. "One hurricane, Francis maybe, threw a ceiling fan into the neighbor's garage door. Impaled it. These things are serious — flooding, power-outs, property damage."
"So what blows most about hurricanes?" I asked.
"Damage and disaster," Mike said. "Having to stand in line to get ice."
"I've gone to the grocery store and seen people fight over a loaf of bread," Terri said.
"I'm moving home to Texas," I announced.
"Nah, you get tornadoes there," Terri said. "At least hurricanes you see coming."
I considered my options. "I've never heard of a tornado party," I said.
Perhaps Mother Nature was pissed about the hurricane kickoff party, because the rain didn't seem to be slowing. As I tried to wring out my notebook, I wondered where I could buy batteries in bulk. I saw Glenn heading through the rain to the other tiki bar area, which had a larger covered sitting area.
"You said a few drops!" I yelled at him, pushing a piece of wet hair out of my face.
"This is a few drops," he said.
"No, this is a torrential downpour!" I said.
"Nah," he said, smiling.
Why do I get the feeling I ain't seen nothing yet?