BUS-FSU Storm Warning, Part II

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Brad Eells may have been right.

  “It’s all your fault,” he wrote of Hurricane Dorian setting its sites on  Florida and causing the Boise State-Florida State game to be moved from Jacksonville to Tallahassee.

  His email was one of a number of reader responses to a column of two weeks ago, warning Bronco fans that “Tropical Storm Tim” would be at the game. My ability to attract violent weather while traveling, particularly to BSU games, is well documented. The trip to Florida was no exception.

  DAY ONE:  The trouble begins. A thunderstorm in Dallas, our stopover en route to Jacksonville, delays our takeoff in Boise. Arriving three hours late in Dallas, we’re told that we have ten minutes to make our connection.

  At some airports, this wouldn’t be a problem. At the sprawling Dallas-Fort Worth Airport, it is. Signs advertise that it’s a “global airport,” meaning that by the time you run to your gate somewhere in the next county, you feel like you’ve circled the globe.

  “How long do we have to board?” I asked the gate attendant between gasps and suspected coronary occlusions.

  “None. You have to board right now.”

  “But our flight from Boise was late and my wife and friends are behind me, running to catch this flight. Can you give them a minute?”

  She closed the gate just as they arrived. We’d have to walk to another distant gate to rebook for a flight several hours later. At the gate for that flight, an attendant announced that it had been changed to a different gate. 

  “But don’t worry, folks,” she said. “I think it’s still in the U.S.”

  She didn’t really say that; I made it up. But it was a very long walk, followed by still another gate change.

  Sensing our frustration, a friendly cart driver gave us a ride to a stairway leading to the next level, leaving us with only a quarter-mile or so to walk. Day One ended with our 3 p.m. arrival in Jacksonville being closer to 11 p.m. By the time we rented a car and drove to the day’s final destination, St. Augustine, Fla., it was after midnight.

  DAY TWO: Weather Channel headline:  “Hurricane Dorian upgraded to a Category Two. Takes aim at Jacksonville.”

  Jacksonville was roughly 40 miles away, too close for comfort. Floridians, however, take hurricanes with admirable aplomb.

  “I’ve lived here ten years and survived two hurricanes, both of them catastrophic,” a hotel employee told us. “This one only has 100 mph winds.”

  Only 100 mph. More than twice as strong as winds that blew down trees in Boise this summer. Hardly worth mentioning.

  DAY THREE: Dorian is upgraded to a Category Three, with landfall expected somewhere on Florida’s Atlantic Coast. This, of course, was where we were. I make a point when traveling in the Southeast to be  squarely in the path of any hurricane, tornado or tropical storm anywhere in the same time zone. 

  Speculation about where the hurricane would reach the U.S.  varied wildly among the hotel guests:

  “It’s heading for West Palm Beach.”

  “It’s turning toward Georgia.”

  “It’s veering west Toward Texas.”

  “It’s at Cape Canaveral and crossing the state to Tampa.”

  This from a man who lived in Tampa and was rushing home to board up his house.

  Hurricanes, in other words, are about as predictable as the president’s tweets.

  At stores throughout St. Augustine, bottled water and other essentials were selling out. Lines formed at gas stations, with supplies dwindling rapidly. We were in line behind a man who filled six five-gallon tanks, draining the regular pump before switching to premium. Then he filled the tank of his luxury convertible. At one point it looked like a fight would break out. It didn’t, but it was sobering to see how quickly things could get nasty.

  This was the day the site of the game was changed from Jacksonville to Tallahassee, out of the storm zone. We’d planned to spend the day in St. Augustine, the nation’s oldest city, but with the hurricane strengthening to a Category Four (catastrophic), it seemed prudent to leave early for the hotel we’d booked in Jacksonville, monitor Weather Channel updates and decide what to do next.  

  DAY FOUR: With the storm bearing down and Jacksonville in its path, what to do next was pretty obvious – get out of the bulls-eye as quickly as possible. That meant canceling that night’s reservation in Jacksonville, booking rooms in Tallahassee and, if possible, flying home from there after the game.

  The hotel part was easy. My wife booked rooms in Tallahassee on her phone while Jacksonville was still in the rearview mirror.

  The airline part was another story.

  Our friends who were flying on Delta changed their reservations to leave the morning after the game. American couldn’t get us out for another day and a half. We’d have to book an additional night in Tallahassee, where hotel operators were overwhelmed with calls from desperate BSU fans. The hotel where we’d booked the first two nights could squeeze us in, but the rate would be double. Taxi companies increased their prices as well. Hurricane rates.

  DAY FIVE: What’s it like to go to a football game in the deep South in August? It’s like being on hot, metal seats in a Turkish bath with the Southern sun parboiling you into a limp, soggy mess. Paramedics carried people out of the stadium. My wife was so shaky and sick it took ten  minutes in a cold shower after the game for her to become something resembling herself again.

  The game itself? The first half, as you know if you watched or read the sports reports, wasn’t one of BSU’s best.

  “I feel like we’re playing Boise High School,” a Florida State fan was overheard  to say. 

  The second half, as you also know, was a turnaround for the ages. It was a happy group of Bronco fans who left Doak Campbell Stadium that day. To their credit, FSU fans were gracious in what had to have been a bitter loss. They congratulated us, thanked us for coming, wished us well for the rest of our stay.

  Did the game make up for the hurricane?

  No. It was a great win for Boise State, but no game can make up for the suffering of those who, unlike those of us who were able to fly away, were left to rebuild their homes and their lives.

  We never saw more than light rain, but Dorian taught me a lesson. Bronco fans worried about attending future games in the Southeast can relax. Tropical Storm Tim will be watching them at home on television.

Tim Woodward’s column appears every other Sunday in The Idaho Press and is posted on woodwardblog.com the following Mondays. Contact him at woodwardcolumn@hotmail.com.

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