On The Road: Storm Surge and the Bagels Left Behind

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By Annette Hinkle

“Hi Mom … We’re evacuating.”

It wasn’t exactly the phone call I was expecting just two weeks into my daughter’s first semester of college, but here it was.

For the record, I knew this was a distinct, if not inevitable, possibility when Sophie decided to attend the College of Charleston in the “Lowcountry” of coastal South Carolina. It’s called that for a reason, since virtually every piece of land hovers just at or slightly below sea level and hurricanes are a regular feature of life in late summer and early fall.

But really? We’d barely gotten the car parked back in the driveway after dropping her off there and hadn’t even yet decided what color we were going to paint her bedroom when the call came in.

It was Sunday night of Labor Day weekend, and Hurricane Dorian was on a rampage in the Caribbean, wreaking havoc as it built to Category 5 status, decimating the islands of Great Abaco and Grand Bahama.

According to Jim Cantore, who knows all about these things, Charleston was well within the “cone of uncertainty” for the coming days. You know it’s getting serious when The Weather Channel’s A-team shows up in your neighborhood. Earlier in the day, I saw that they were broadcasting just blocks from Sophie’s dorm and encouraged her to run down there and get in the shot so she could wave hello.

But by 5 p.m. that night, the city had called for mandatory evacuation and she had other pressing matters to attend to. Namely, getting out, since the school had announced it was closing Monday morning and everyone had to be off campus by noon Tuesday, ordered not to return until further notice.

“Are you evacuating with the school?” I asked.

“No,” she said. “One of my friend’s mom is coming to get us … I’m going to stay with them.”

“Okay,” I said. “Let the school know what you’re doing, call me when you’re on the road … and don’t forget the bagels.”

The bagels, of course, were New York-style onion and poppy seed varietals which my husband and I had purchased at East Hampton Bagels a few days earlier, boxed up and shipped south as the first care package of the year. Charleston may have a lot going for it, but between you and me, good bagels isn’t one of them. Fortunately, Sophie’s luck at finding good friends there has been much better. Within a week of moving in, she had already connected with a tight-knit group of liberal-minded girls in her dorm who had gone to high school together in a suburb of Charlotte, just over the South Carolina state line. That’s where they were headed on Labor Day eve, along with thousands of other Charlestonians fleeing the approach of Dorian.

Let me insert a thought here. The amazing thing about the world of social media is that if you find a Facebook group for parents, you can learn virtually anything you need to know about your kid’s college. But perhaps more amazing to me is the realization of how many parents fail to ask about important things in advance … things like approaching hurricanes, for example.

In the days leading up to Dorian, there were a whole lot of online posts from nervous parents across the United States who were concerned their kids would be left to fend for themselves while the school was shut down. I pictured poor, wet students forced to take shelter in doorways while foraging for whatever they could find blowing around the abandoned city streets as the storm raged around them.

No wonder these folks were nervous. I would be too if the first question I asked on our tour of the school last February hadn’t been “What do you do when there’s a hurricane?” I mean, look where you are. It seemed pretty obvious to me it would come up sooner or later.

It was on that tour that I learned students either opt to fly home for the duration, go to a friend’s house, or evacuate with the college, which puts them on comfortable buses and takes them to a university in the western part of the state where they are housed, fed, and entertained until campus reopens.

While I got the sense that most out-of-state parents opted to fly their kids home for the week (and it did end up being a week by the time all was said and done), that seemed like way more stress to me than it was worth.

No thanks.

Though it would have been nice to see her, I have to admit I was just as happy to have Sophie go on an adventure with her new friends and explore what life is like in their part of the world. It seems to me that if a kid comes home too soon after starting college, there’s a strong risk of homesickness setting in. A week back in her own bed, running around a familiar town and seeing friends who are still here can be a strong reminder of what she’s left behind, and how much new territory she has to navigate in the months and years ahead.

At least, that’s how this mother sees it. I also really enjoyed the fact I didn’t have to weigh in on Facebook about the complications of securing transportation to the airport in the middle of lane reversals, or the overall uncertainty of when to book a (very expensive) last minute return flight.

Instead, I heard from my daughter about what it’s like to live in a part of the United States that’s completely different from the East End. During her “hurrication” week, she and her friends even worked in a side trip to the mountains and a visit to Asheville, North Carolina, which Sophie really liked in an “I could live here” kind of way.

But most important, the impromptu road trip gave her a chance to bond with new friends on their turf. She made her own plans, without input or help from me, though I’m very thankful to the parents I haven’t met who put her up for the week. The whole adventure was one more step away from home on the road to independence and my daughter is now officially having unique experiences that don’t involve me in places I’ve never been.

As for Dorian, in the end, she skirted Charleston with a glancing blow. Winds blew, power went out, water rose and streets flooded. Soon, The Weather Channel lost interest, packed up and headed out in search of the next named storm (even if it’s one they will name themselves). Through it all, Sophie’s second floor dorm room fared quite well … but the week away was not without its casualties — yes, those  bagels from home were forgotten in the bustle of evacuation.

“We’re back!” read her text the following Sunday. “The room is fine but my bagels, on the other hand, are not.”

“Oh,” I wrote. “They turned blue?”

“They turned white actually! And smelled quite pungent!”

Chalk it up to the heat and humidity of the Lowcountry. Funny enough, when you think about it, bagels look an awful lot like hurricanes from above, don’t they? Especially once they turn white with fuzzy mold. Hopefully, we’re done with hurricanes for the year, but I guess care package number two will soon be on its way. I mean, we can’t sever every tie in the first semester, now can we?

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