Friday, 3:20 PM: My airplane plummets while a whole chorus of Emergency Alert tones saws its way through the cabin. Not a reassuring sound when your aircraft is currently making landfall—or rather, swampfall—in New Orleans.
Fortunately, the alerts weren’t emanating from the cockpit. The Emergency Alerts were simply notifying us that a bunch of our fellow passengers had not put their phones in airplane mode. Also, that a hurricane was coming.
When we successfully landed, my own phone had this nice little greeting from the National Weather Service: “Hurricane Warning this area. Check local media and authorities. –NWS.”
Now, I didn’t come to New Orleans for a hurricane. I came to eat my way through the city. It was a day or two before departure when I first saw news of this tropical storm sprouting in the Gulf. I knew it wouldn’t be bad, because it was named Nate. Nothing against Nates. I know Nates. It’s just that they’re all mellow, even-keeled, gentle fellas. I couldn’t take a storm named Nate seriously.
Besides, I was so driven by visions of turtle soup and beignets and Sazeracs that I could hardly conceive of concern for hurricanes and chaos. And, frankly, once I realized the likelihood of flying right into it, I was excited to face the storm. It was forecast to pass before press time, and therefore, to spare me the trauma of finding another topic to write about.
So to bring this experience back home to all of you, who only have to face natural disasters during wildfire season and blizzard season and avalanche season and bear season, I decided to bravely live-journalism how to weather a hurricane without compromising the culinary experience.
The following log was written in real time and remains unaltered, except where necessary to enhance flavor and drama.
Saturday, 9:30 AM: Nate was not supposed to reach Category 1 status this soon. But it skipped off the Yucatan and into the Gulf. Radar shows a white swirl filling the Gulf of Mexico like ice cream filling a scoop. It’s already glazing over New Orleans. Slight breeze outside, with moving cloud cover. I can hardly wait. Food pairing: Barbecue shrimp and grits in meunière sauce. Shrimp for breakfast? Oui!
2:17 PM: Driving around Lee’s Circle when the rain hits. It hits HARD. I’ve been to car washes and extended family dinners with less pressure. So we go to a restaurant. This is what you do during a hurricane, because the power never goes out in the French Quarter. And if it does, you can quickly get too drunk to care.
Food pairing: Oysters, jambalaya, shrimp po’ boy. Recommended cocktail: Hurricane. And another, because what the hell.
5:28 PM: Rain has abated. Walking around the wharfs and the Quarter. Curfew is set for 7:00, and many restaurants are closing early. Several big events are canceled. No wind, still air. I suddenly understand the meaning of the phrase “calm before the storm.”
Food pairing: Boiled peanuts in a plastic “Thank You” bag. Recommended cocktail: another Hurricane, this time in a plastic geaux cup.
7:44 PM: Streets strangely empty of people. Three Hurricanes, and I have to pee so bad my kidneys hurt. You can run around naked here, but public urination will get you locked up.
Food pairing: I think I left a Clif Bar in the car. Recommended cocktail: Don’t even talk about liquids right now, you a-hole.
8:17 PM: Back to the home base and its bathroom. Holy hell, I can breathe again, except for this force of nature that has me twitching. I don’t know what to do in a hurricane. Stop drop and roll? Hug a tree? I’m so boned.
Food pairing: Canned goods, crackers. Recommended cocktail: Bottled water stockpiled by the Airbnb host.
11:31 PM: I can’t take it any more this hurricane needs to hurry up and do its worst the anticipation is killing me I want my mommy
Food pairing: Loot the store. The end of the world is nigh. Recommended cocktail: Toilet water, if you’re so lucky.
Sunday, 9:08 AM: Nate bypassed New Orleans. Traveling at the fastest forward speed of any hurricane in the gulf EVER, it hit land at such a rate that it fell apart and was downgraded back to a tropical storm. As far as the news shows, it caused no damage. I’m sitting outside sipping coffee in the sunlight. And it’s just now hitting me: I’m alive. I survived.
The only downside of the storm is that I will spend my whole life saying I endured record-breaking Hurricane Nate, when it could have been a much more distinguished N name, like Nefertiti or Nuala. Even the full-barreled Nathaniel would have been an improvement. But beggars can’t be choosers. And whatever the hurricane’s name, it showed me that I can survive anything. Anything at all. So long as I don’t have to pee.
Zach Hively writes from Durango, Colo. He can be read and reached through http://zachhively.com and on Twitter @zachhively.