Friday, 5:45 p.m., Ling and Sons Supermarket.
“Did you hear about the storm?” squealed my friend Gregory while stacking his shopping cart with canned lunch meats and bottled water. Then, without waiting for my response, with a hint of well-concealed excitement he reported: “I called a colleague window-dresser in Barbados earlier this afternoon. They told me on the phone he was gone; Cause of the storm’. What storm? I asked. Then they hung up, all huffed. Since, I didn’t hear anything on the radio, I called the airport weather man. The guy on duty mumbled something inconclusive about an oncoming hurricane and got off the line, in a rush. Confused, I called the Meteorological service and they NEVER picked up the phone. Do you know anything about an impending disaster?” Gregory was making an effort to sound peeved. “I’m going to get ready, anyway!” he assured me. No doubt, he was looking forward to an action-packed weekend.
Friday 7:00 p.m., dinner at home.
“Don’t be a dud. You can’t go windsurfing in a hurricane. It’s not the same KIND of wind,” explained Willy, a sleep-over guest who grew up under storm warnings in Florida. He was trying to educate his friend David, about the tropical system that managed to sustain winds over 39 mph to become a named storm, Bret, now threatening Aruba. “This could become the first Hurricane of the Atlantic-Caribbean season, if the winds reached over 74 mph,” Willy repeated studiously. He shared first-hand experience, being a Hurricane Andrew survivor. Obviously, my thirteen-year-old Aruban has never experienced a forceful storm. Growing up on the island, outside the Hurricane belt, the Hunger Belt, the Bible Belt or the Corn Belt, he has lead a very sheltered life. Roger joined in the conversation. He remembered Hurricane Hazel, relentlessly killing 53,000 people in Haiti, in the 50’s. Rosa, who happened to walk by, flatly declared she’d rather die than live through a hurricane, again. She is a native of the Dominican Republic and has terrible childhood memories.
Saturday 8:20 a.m.
I jump-started the upcoming natural disaster by turning my home emergency generator on. Be prepared, just in case we lose power, I lectured. ONE, TWO. ONE, TWO. TESTING. TESTING. The clunker has been in my yard for a long time. It was time for him to earn his keep. KABOOM. My deft, overly-confident gesture produced shameful results. Oh, how I love the subtle smell of burning wire, in the morning. PAK, PAK, went the light bulbs as the fax machine blew itself to oblivion. My phone lines, a/c adaptors, transformers and power-surge protectors gasped, then quivered once and collapsed. ALL circuit breakers snapped as the smoke lightly curled over the bougainvilleas in my yard. Go find an electrician on Saturday morning. And not just any Saturday morning. For all intent and purposes it was Saturday before THE STORM.
Saturday 11:30 a.m.
My subsequent visit to Nieuwstraat’s Radio Shack restored the operation of most of my electronic equipment to normal. I found out that Radio Shack was doing brisk business with flashlights, batteries and portable radios. The hardware store usually selling lamps at AFL 4.- was now offering the exact-same-old thing for AFL 17.50. The ordinarily quiet Arubans, were in the throws of an intense buying frenzy as if big wads of spare money were burning holes in their pockets. All in the name of THE STORM.
Saturday 2 p.m.
A whiny radio spot started advertising the unlimited stock of quality masking tape at `Office Systems’, by that subliminally instructing everybody to start taping their windows up. The line at the butcher-shop was forty minutes long, projecting heavy-duty barbecue grill action in local backyards, over the weekend. The checkout counters at the food-store were mobbed. Aruba was indulging itself in its national sport: spending more money than it’s good for her. People were REALLY having FUN, preparing for the worst. Life on an island tends to be predictable and basically, rather boring. Let’s have ourselves a weekend disaster.
Saturday, 3 p.m.
I found `Marathon’, my favorite video library closed, the movie racks propped against the windows, shielding the glass. All employees were gone. They were the ones in line at the food-stores, I bet. The entire downtown main street shut down. Buddy’s Divers at Seaport Marketplace was boarded with plywood so was Pizza Hut and the Royal Cabana Casino. Green, plastic garbage bags, were draped around all computers at De Palm Tours, in case the rain comes in. Appie, at the Watersports Center of the Radisson Hotel was nailing the asbestos sheets, covering his roof, down. He never got around to doing it before. Intricate patterns of crisscrossed, scotch-duct-masking tape, appeared on windows and doors everywhere. Did you notice, the care and regularity with which the first windows were done and the slowly deteriorating, sloppy, botched up ‘just-slap-it-on’ style of the last ones? I hope we don’t have to look at jail-house windows until Christmas.
Saturday 4 p.m.
Panic finally caught up with me. I joined the emergency purchase lines with thirty-six bottles of bubbly mineral water. They ran out of the fizz-free variety earlier in the day. Last minute, I added a few Clearly Canadian, a two-pound package of Chip Ahoy cookies, People Magazine and a D battery, the only one left on the stand.
With the airport officially closing for 10 hours, Aruba braced itself and hankered down for a possible encounter with Bret. I woke up every half hour during the night. Did I miss it? Did I sleep through it? I knew that while our house construction was sturdy and reliable, our roof was made from plywood and loose tiles held together by spit. Can we duck disaster or will we become an item on CNN’s World Report?
Sunday 10 a.m.
The wind picked up considerably. The satellite weather people on F3’s Weather Channel were very flippant about the possibility of 10 inch rainfall in Aruba. Ha-Ha-Ha, big floods. I had visions of me, knee-deep, searching for family members in the water. The weather people mispronounced the Peninsula of Paraguana and blundered the Guajira. What do they know? Why should they care? Will Aruba be spared or will it become debris in Bret’s wake?
True to ourselves and just because we were all asked to stay indoors and avoid public places, where flying coconuts present real life-threatening hazards, the entire Aruban population was out driving around in their wheels, radios blaring, waiting for the onslaught of the storm. The bodysurfers at Arashi had to fight over parking slots, the boardheads from Sailboards Aruba were out throwing their lives away at West Point.
Sunday 2 p.m.
Waiting for the storm that never came, we decided to go fishing off the cliffs of Malmok with Suzie, Michael and baby Chantal, our neighbors. While we were dangling our feet over the water, Bret, formed last Wednesday, in the mid Atlantic, fizzled to a mere tropical depression after having ripped through the coastal regions of Venezuela. It drizzled gently, but Suzie was wearing her emergency waterproof mascara so that no substantial damage occurred. The sea was steel green-grey and beautiful, we had a good time with our friends. David even caught a fish.
Now that it’s over, rumor has it that the Aruban government recently under much criticism for unprecedented tax hikes and draconian economic measures was only happy to issue storm warnings taking everybody’s mind off the latest cost of living increases. Officially waving his trigger finger, warning against tidal waves and torrential rains, the Prime Minister broadcast a brave ‘Do Not Fear, Do Not Panic, Together We Stand’ statement to his people, on TeleAruba. Watching the images beamed from Venezuela this morning I can’t help but think how lucky we are. Aruba – one lucky island.