Unwanted vacation guest


To book a four-day vacation at a nice beachfront condo in sunny Florida, you only need a few things: money and time off work. Booking a four-day vacation for the entire family at a nice beachfront condo in sunny Florida three months ahead of time for the very weekend a Category I hurricane makes landfall in your area takes something else: dumb luck.

To say that Hurricane Nate was an unwanted guest at our not-so-sunny beach vacation would be an understatement. But it did make things exciting. We learned a lot.

We learned what you should and should not do in 50 mph winds. We learned why the best donut place in Laguna Beach didn’t close during the storm. We learned what happens when you order pizza delivery during hurricane-type weather. (Hint, I think they are still laughing.) But that’s not all.

We learned what not to say during an elevator ride up to our room. We learned what two raised red flags atop flagpoles on the beach means. We also learned why you don’t walk on the beach, let alone in ankle deep water, when giant waves are crashing to the sand just a few feet away.

And when I say “we” above, I really mean me. Below are only highlights from our windblown stay. To list everything would fill much more space than the allotted word count for this column. As you read, keep in mind, no one was hurt during our stay except me. My pride took a horrible beating.

The elevator ride. Pulling into the parking lot, wind was already bending palm trees to their breaking points as dark clouds swirled overhead. We hurried to the elevator, barely able to control our luggage cart. While the doors started to close, The Wife cautioned a young boy, “Step back, honey. Don’t want to catch a finger in the doors. You might lose one.”

The 6-year-old boy looked to the back of the crowded elevator, “You mean like Grandpa Four Fingers?” Grandpa stood tall with a gap-toothed grin proudly holding up his right hand. Yep, it was missing one finger.

Suddenly a blast of air down the shaft violently shook the elevator car we were in. Trying to alleviate our awkward situation, I said the first thing that came to mind, “Only thing worse than renting a beachfront condo during a hurricane is being on the top floor. With this wind, wouldn’t want to be stuck up there.” A quick glance at the control panel explained why the rest of our trip to our eighth floor was blanketed in silence. The only other button illuminated was for the twenty-first floor. That was the top floor.

Pizza delivery. There’s no pizza delivery while a hurricane is swirling around. But, if brave or foolish or hungry enough, takeout is available. After a six-hour drive with a 4-year-old in the backseat, our elevator incident, and Nate the Hurricane about to make landfall somewhere in the Gulf, I figured nothing else could go wrong.

So I placed an order and braved the elevator and the storm to drive to the pizza place. Driving fire trucks for 28 years in all kinds of weather makes me an expert. The “expert” driver here quickly learned a heavy fire truck doesn’t get blown around all over the street like our lightweight hatchback.

Driving in 35 mph winds is not the dumbest thing I’ve ever done, but holding onto an extra large pizza box as the wind lifts you off the ground was. That is until the beach walk.

Early the next morning, there was a lull in the high wind bands thrown off by Nate, so The Wife and I ventured out to survey the damage with no real destination in mind. Stepping off the elevator, we spotted a man holding a large box. I noticed it because it was pink. The Wife noticed it because it had Thomas Donuts printed on the side.

He stated the place was famous and never closes. As the man boarded the elevator, smells of sugar wafted past us. We now had a destination and a life and death reason to brave the storm. If we didn’t get a huge box of donuts, we were simply going to die.

Since 1971, Thomas Donuts in Laguna Beach has been in the same location serving only one thing: the best tasting donuts this Georgia boy has ever tasted. They actually do serve other food items, but with a box full of the world’s best donuts, why would you want to eat anything else?

At the window I asked why they were open. The donutier gave a sugary smile, “Even during a hurricane you gotta have donuts.”

After dropping off the donuts at our condo room and changing clothes, The Wife and I decided to take a beach walk to watch the giant waves crash in. It only took until dinner for our family to devour the contents of that pink box. It took the rest of our vacation for them to stop laughing about what happened on the beach.

Red Flags. One red flag raised on a flagpole in front of your beachfront condo means there is high hazard from high surf and/or strong currents. We didn’t know this. Two red flags raised means water is closed to the public. You are not to go into it for any reason. We didn’t know this either.

Two red flags and one not-so-happy Beach Patrol officer in a white pickup truck with blue flashing lights announcing a loud warning on a PA system means: Get out of the water immediately. Start an intelligent argument why you shouldn’t get a ticket for not knowing what two red flags mean. And eventually plead to the nice Beach Patrol officer not to take a trip to beach jail with you stowed in the back of her pickup.

We should’ve known better. And by we, I mean me. I also learned you can fly a kite during a two red flag warning, but if you do so while wearing an extra large rain slicker, you’ll become the kite.

Our trip wasn’t a total washout, though. The condo did have a lazy river pool, a swimming pool with adult beverages, and a kid-friendly pool equipped with water slides, sprinkling umbrellas, water cannons, and a ginormous bucket that constantly filled then dumped water on the kids. We even saw Grandpa Four Fingers and crew all having a good time under the bucket. When they came back to their poolside table, we told him about Thomas Donuts. He gave us another gap-toothed grin.

Only a five-hour drive away, we don’t have to wait for our vacation next year to enjoy the best donuts in the world. We can get an early start in the morning and be back with a dozen by dinnertime. And by we, I mean me. Donuts won’t ruin your dinner if they ARE your dinner.

[Rick Ryckeley has been writing stories since 2001. To read more of Rick’s stories, visit his blog: storiesbyrick.wordpress.com.]