Flip flops. They’re not really that practical in the summer, let alone in winds strong enough to blow a house down. But we were Brits abroad and we were going to wear them even if it killed us, which in a way, it nearly did.
We’d spent the first week of the vacation in proper, orange growing Florida. Disney Land was in one direction and Universal Studios in the other, and the only sign of nature was the grass made to grow down the sides of the long, four lane roads. I felt sorry for that grass; you could tell it wanted to die, really, and go to somewhere more fitting for a plant of its kind, but it was being forced to live by the regular sprinkler sessions in order to keep the locals believing they lived on earth and not on some Mickey Mouse run post-apocalyptic dystopia. You keep on going, grass, for the greater good. It had been a fairly lovely first seven days, with lots of trips out to see the sights (that all looked like each other, just with a different character on the door) and huge quantities of pancakes and bacon for breakfast. If you’ve never experienced an American breakfast before, well, you’re not missing out on taste, but you are missing out on experiencing the truest meaning of the phrase ‘all you can eat.’ It’s worth it for that alone.
It was the second week that caused the fun. And by fun, I mean problems. And by problems I mean a drive that almost killed us, which now I think about it wasn’t really that fun at all. We were spending the next bit of our trip in the Florida Keys, the beautifully laid back spits of land right at the bottom of the United States that act as the palm tree ridden barrier between the mainland and South America. The next country down is Cuba, which is where our issues came from. Admittedly this wasn’t in any way Cuba’s fault; they were as unfortunate in this as we were. We’d been seeing news reports for a couple of days now that there was a tropical storm approaching, but in our haste to eat more food and go on more theme park rides we hadn’t paid them all that much attention. Even the odd drenching and battering by the wind hadn’t put us off, so we got in our rental car and set off on the long, very straight journey to Key Largo, the most laid back of the laid back islands. We hadn’t been driving long before we came across concern number one.
“Why are we the only people on the road?” my mum had asked, noticing how empty the rest of the highway was.
“We’ll be going over the road they used for filming in The Terminator!” I told her, not answering her question at all but feeling like such knowledge would add excitement to the ride. Then a lorry wheel flew past my window, and it wasn’t attached to a lorry, but only I saw it and I thought it was probably one of the attractions, because Florida is just one big rollercoaster. I didn’t want to alarm anyone so I kept this sighting to myself, but soon enough we drove past the thing the wheel used to belong to. That caused alarm.
By the side of the road was the burning wreck of a sixteen wheeler. You could feel the heat coming from it as we slowed down to take a look, the now lashing rain doing nothing to help put out the flames.
“Why are we the only people on the road?” my mum asked again, this time with a touch more panic in her voice. This was the first of many vehicles we saw in odd locations on that trip, and only when we reached our destination did we find out why.
“How the heck did you fella’s get here?” we were asked upon arrival at our hotel, which it turned out was being used as a makeshift bunker.
“Erm, we drove…” my dad replied.
“Drove on what? The roads are all shut off! This is the worst hurricane we’ve had in 75 years!”
There was a look of shock on the faces of the hotel staff as we took our keys and headed off to our room. But it was just a bit of a breeze, really… wasn’t it?