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On the rudeness of hurricanes - Ed Brock

In the way of most natural disasters, Hurricane Ivan showed total disrespect for the schedules of mere mortals.

For example, this was to be my third lengthy discourse on the war on terror and what we should do, but thanks to Ivan I haven't had the time to finish some research I need for that venture. Nor do I have the writing time since I spent this weekend visiting storm-struck Mobile, my hometown, so those of you waiting for another chance to curse my name will have to wait until next week.

Curse that bloody Ivan instead.

Last week Ivan, along with leaving a trail of blood through the Caribbean, was also threatening to ruin my big surprise. I was going to pop up at my mother's surprise 60th birthday party, doubling the surprise because as far as Mom knew I was in Japan for my brother-in-law's wedding.

But as Ivan bore down it seemed like Mobile was going to get the brunt of it, and so the party was cancelled. My plans were twirling up in the air along with scraps of tin roofs, sizeable chunks of ancient trees and the souls of the 70 people Ivan killed on his way in (he would kill at least 40 more in the U.S.)

But I remained optimistic and maintained my personal ruse, a choice that turned out to be quite correct.

Ivan had mercy on Mobile and laid most of its wrath on neighboring Baldwin County and the Florida panhandle instead. By Saturday my sisters and brother had power so the party was on for that afternoon, although I was the only remaining surprise. So I set out Saturday morning among the University of Auburn Tiger fans bound for the game and convoys of tree cutters and power trucks.

As you might expect, the further south I drove the more obvious it became that something wicked had this way cometh. Montgomery was functioning normally but on the stretch of Interstate 65 between Montgomery and Mobile the number of downed trees began to increase. Big street signs were crumpled up along the side of the road while some smaller signs were bent and leaning into the lanes just enough to make you swerve.

Most of the rest stops and gas stations along the way were without power and closed, but that didn't keep any number of travelers from driving around in their parking lots hoping to find, I don't know, something, before cycling back out and onto the highway.

Mobile itself was in the grip of that strange lassitude that comes in the wake of a disaster, and it was pretty disastrous there despite Ivan's relative mercy. Broken power poles were everywhere, and though most of the city was working, many neighborhoods were being told it could be up to three weeks before they were brought back into the bosom of our electric civilization.

Ice was something worth killing for, apparently, and almost every house was hidden behind mountains of rubbish.

The party went off well. Mom was so surprised at my appearance she dropped my sister's phone (I had been pretending to be on the line from Japan while I sneaked up on her.) One of my great aunts brought some gumbo made from all the seafood that was going bad in her temporarily defunct freezer. The concoction was, as my British friends would put it, "dodgy."

As a result of the power outages, and perhaps because people were tired from their recovery efforts, the restaurants that were open were doing an astounding turn of business. On Sunday I met with the folks for lunch at Morrison's, a local buffet, and the place was abuzz with storm talk.

"We were lucky," seemed to be the catchphrase of the day. From what I've seen of Pensacola and Gulf Shores I'd say that was accurate.

Gulf Shores, that fabled beach of my childhood, has been getting plenty of airtime on The Weather Channel and CNN lately. It's the place with a river where the main drag used to be and where alligators and deer from the local zoo swam through the torrent together.

The 1,000-pound gator "Chucky" will, I suspect, become part of the local mythos, but giant gators have always been part of that area's lure.

So that was about it. I visited an old friend who was helping his parents clean up their seven acres on Dog River and we sat amidst the shattered limbs of an old oak watching some guy on his Jet Ski. When I hit the road the gas stations and rest stops were still out south of Montgomery, causing me some inconvenience to the point of, well, let's not go there.

I got home late and my wife was angry at me for not hurrying home to take care of her in her fragile state. I tried to tell "It's all because of Ivan, dear," but she just didn't understand.

Darn you, Ivan.

Ed Brock covers public safety and municipalities for the News Daily. He may be reached at (770) 478-5753 ext. 254 or via e-mail at ebrock@news-daily.com .