It’s almost like I attract hurricanes on work trips. I know of only one other co-worker in my company who has been stuck in a hurricane on a client visit, and he happened to be training me on that trip.
Déjà vu. Again.
I find myself wondering how many times one can experience déjà vu, when it relates to the same event. This is the story of a 3rd time.
After grabbing the redeye flight out of Bogota, and a 2-hour nap in the airline lounge, I quickly realize my fellow first-class passengers on the plane to Los Cabos are mostly newly-weds on their first vacation as spouses. And they make sure to let everyone in the cabin know it. (Did I act this way on my honeymoon?) Mimosas, prosecco, whisky and beer immediately fill the cabin and flow endlessly, as our Puerto Rican flight attendant appears almost desperate to get the passengers intoxicated to a point where the upcoming news might not be so poorly received. (Why did my detox plan have to overlap with this?)
[DING] This is your captain speaking. We will be pushing back shortly headed to Los Cabos, 3 hours and 16 minutes in route at a cruising altitude of 38,000 feet. We’re expecting mostly smooth flying conditions until about 1 hour before touching down in Los Cabos, where we’ll be turning the seatbelt sign on a bit early as the early effects of Tropical Storm Newton may cause some turbulence in the area.
Tropical Storm Newton? What the hell is Tropical Storm Newton?
Okay, so here’s the thing about déjà vu: it transports you back in time, sort of like smelling a certain perfume, or a certain air freshener. In this case, the transportation back in time takes me simultaneously to two different places. Two client visits. Two hurricanes that I had heard nothing about until already onboard the last plane into a destination I shared with them.
And here’s the thing about hurricanes: there’s nothing you can do about them. You begin searching any information you can find about the storm, its path, its strength, its speed, but in the end any amount of information leads to the same conclusion: you will be shut in whatever structure you find yourself for an unknown, yet lengthy amount of time. You will probably have no communication. You will probably not have power. You might get wet. You most certainly will be bored. (Why did my detox plan have to overlap with this?)
People do funny things in hurricanes. I once witnessed a German woman and an American women get into a fist fight at the Hilton Newark Airport hotel during hurricane Sandy, fighting over who would get the last slices of turkey for their cold sandwich. Three days of no power, communication, running water or hot food can make people crazy. But you learn some little tricks: fill the bathtub while you can, glow sticks are your friend, print books are better than eBooks, and do not, under any circumstance, let anyone else know that you have a portable battery cell phone charger.
I arrive at the resort, to be greeted by a committee of hotel executives: the HR Director, a Personal Concierge, the Front Desk Manager and the Training Manager. Generally just one manager would suffice to receive a guest, even an in-house guest, so when I was welcomed by five of them this time, and at The Ritz-Carlton, Cancun in August of 2008, I learned how serious hotel managers can be about preparing the hotel and the employees for incoming hurricanes.
This one is a very warm welcome indeed. Despite the overwhelming size of the welcome party and the subliminal solemn vibe and noticeable anxiety in the handshake of the managers, the guest services team members are delighted to offer me a fresh towel and the traditional welcome drink: a hand-crafted house specialty Margarita. (Why did my detox plan have to overlap with this?) “No thanks, I’ll take the lemonade.”
“You do know a hurricane is expected in tomorrow?”, asks one of the managers. I certainly do, but only as of about three hours before this now-seemingly-redundant question. The resort is clearly preparing for the inclement weather, in a noticeable rush moving furniture and fixtures around the property. Also, the women filling sandbags down on the beach and men carrying them up to the pool area to the 10-foot-tall sandbag pile are a dead giveaway.
What I didn’t yet know was that the Tropical Storm has already been upgraded to a Category 1.
“We need to speak”, says the HR Director, wasting no time to get us seated in the restaurant to review the week’s agenda along with the Training Manager. When it really comes down to it, two days of work can be squeezed into a much shorter window of time. In short: tomorrow we won’t be doing anything, and we hope to be able to get our sessions rescheduled for Wednesday and Thursday morning before my flight leaves, but if not we’ll need to change my flight out to Friday. That is not ideal. But, few things are ideal when it comes to hurricanes.
In an effort to quickly get on with such an abundance of slowly-passing time, I make my way down to the pool area, where I quickly realize that I am the one of very few guests thus far who know that a hurricane is coming. I suppose the mark of a good vacation is when time slips away with the delight of infinity pools and infinite cocktails blinding the vacationer to his or her surroundings and the truth that a natural disaster is only 12 short hours from becoming a very real part of this September holiday.
Woody and Johanna are a nice couple from Atlanta. They fill me in on their oh-so-wonderful vacation and how the hotel and employees have been superb, how they would come back again and how they’ve planned for a 7:00pm dinner date to enjoy the burger night theme at one of the restaurants, to be accompanied by several margaritas because, well, the margaritas here are just so amazing. Johanna even invites me along to their dinner date. I’m flattered. My wife would never invite a stranger along to our dinner date. In good faith that Woody will be eternally grateful, I gracefully decline.
I can’t help myself. I have to tell them. Once they learn of the incoming hurricane, they both immediately jump to action and call the step daughter, who is studying meteorology at the University of Missouri. She’ll know what’s going on. And she does: she knows that the storm has been upgraded to a Category 1 with the possibility of reaching Category 2, that expected landfall is approximately 6:00am tomorrow morning, and that it is a quickly-moving system that should be over by Tuesday evening. She knows precisely the same information that has been passed out to all guestrooms in the hotel about 30 minutes prior. Good vacation indeed.
The calm before the storm is a phrase widely applied in many situations. As with many things, the phrase suffers from devaluation as a result of overuse. In the case of hurricanes, though, the phrase is most appropriate. I find it difficult to think of a situation more peaceful than sitting at a beach resort the evening before the arrival of a hurricane. The stillness of the air and the sea, the absolute lack of birds or other wildlife stirring about, and the quietness of the people prepared to hunker down for an unknown amount of time must be rivaled by few things in life. (Why did my detox plan have to overlap with this?)
If you’re wondering how long before a hurricane arrives, I suggest you take consul with the flora and fauna.
I think I’ll go to bed early.
[BANG] A palm tree branch hits the window. You wouldn’t think palm tree branches, as light as they are, would make such a loud noise when they bang into sliding glass doors. But they do.
It’s begun: that incessant hissing noise of the wind and the rain that reminds me of the sound the large vacuum cleaners make when cleaning out a car, except without the noisy motor behind it, and with more decibels.
I am from Nebraska. In Nebraska we have tornadoes, which for me rank quite high on the list of impressive natural forces. Tornadoes and hurricanes are very different. For one, you know when a hurricane is coming, whereas tornadoes tend to be more of a[n] [unpleasant] surprise. Hurricane winds are very different from Midwestern thunderstorms or tornadoes in that hurricane winds never let up. The trees just bow down to the force of the storm and don’t bother to sand back up until after she’s long passed. I guess that’s why they differentiate between ‘sustained winds’ and ‘gusts’ when talking about hurricanes.
The wind and rain are still beating strong and we still have power. A taxi driver told me the hotels in this area are all equipped with a power plant, so we shouldn’t be without power on property, even though it is almost certain the rest of the area will be without power for a few days.
Tuesday, 7:45am (100% battery remaining)
Power goes out. Apparently the backup power generator has failed. Not that the power really mattered anyway; the TV would only turn on to no satellite signal, the wifi wasn’t actually connected to the internet, and the air conditioning was uncomfortably cold given the temperature of the hurricane-stirred air outside.
Another little tip: take the hot shower while you can as soon as (or before) the power goes out. You don’t know when you’ll get hot water back.
I’m reminded of my Hurricane Sandy experience in Newark, where on the 2nd and 3rd days of no power, people were lined up for 8-10 hours at a time to use the one outlet in the hotel that had emergency power, to charge their cell phone for 10 minutes. Why? To make phone calls? Nope, there was no cell service. To use the internet? Nope, there was no internet connection. To take pictures or video of the inside of their dark hotel room? Perhaps. One must find ways to pass the time somehow.
I think we should all live without power for a significant amount of time every once in a while. It helps you realize what’s important. Take batteries for example: batteries in western society are commonplace and rarely relied on for survival, an almost insignificant part of our lives (unless we suddenly can’t charge them, which is the point at which people start to loose basic control of their logic centers in the brain). Batteries in the deep Amazonian jungle, on the other hand, are among the most precious commodities; without batteries, you may find yourself navigating the jungle at night and have no idea what you’re about to step on or whether the tree where you’re hanging your hammock happens to be home to a venomous snake. Electricity is among the most significant inventions in the history of mankind, yet it is among those that has most dulled our sense of priorities for survival in this world.
Tuesday, 8:55am (85% battery remaining)
[KNOCK ON DOOR] “Good morning sir, we’ve brought you a courtesy breakfast, due to the weather”. Wow, this place is much better than the Hilton Newark Airport hotel during a hurricane! The yogurt, fruit and burritos are just as good as anything I would have found on the now-dead iPad room service menu. Considering the circumstances, really even better. If only I had power to make a cup of coffee.
Tuesday, 10:30am (66% battery remaining)
[KNOCK ON DOOR] Gilberto, the room service attendant, asks to come in to make up the room and change the towels. He has stayed on property last night, along with 5 other room service attendants, on the top floor one of the empty residences. The poor guy didn’t get a wink of sleep; the thatched roofs don’t make for a great wind barrier against hurricanes and as of 3:00am (which is when he also lost communication with his family) the employees were suffering from the constant battering of the roof from the strong winds and rain. Just two years ago, residents of Cabo San Lucas were hit hard by a hurricane that destroyed a large part of the structures in the area and decimated the hotel business for several months. Certainly they’re having their own cases of déjà vu.
I work in the talent management business, where we study human potential and aptitude. We measure the likelihood, for example, for a hotel employee to be naturally service-oriented or have a natural smile. These employees have natural service aptitude. Even without a wink of sleep the night before, amidst the worry of how their family members have coped with the storm, they trek on, executing their routine tasks without basic services like electricity, all with a smile on their face. There is a particular comradery that develops among people, employee or guest, stranger or friend, during situations like hurricanes. The effects of hurricanes can drive people to conflict, but they also pull people together.
Tuesday, 11:15am (57% battery remaining)
The rain has stopped, long before expected.
I’m going to the pool, in a hurricane. Just to say I did.
Tuesday, 12:00n (57% battery remaining – yep, hibernated while away. Little tip #6: conserve any battery power you do have.)
I take a quick walk around the property, amid the diminishing yet strong winds. The damage is much worse than I thought. The wind has broken doors and windows in some buildings, knocked down a number of trees (one palm tree snapped right in half about halfway up), and even pushed over a small bulb-shaped cactus that was only about 10 inches high. How did that happen? I’m also learning that I among the lucky few who didn’t end up with water covering the floor of their room as they got out of bed this morning.
I am amazed by the positivity and good spirit of the army of employees already well on their way to cleaning and manicuring the property back to its normal state, even as the storm hasn’t completely passed yet and the winds are still strong enough to hold the seagulls in place without flapping a wing. One woman is so optimistic she tells me the sun should be out by noon (her counterpart doesn’t seem convinced). Some people are to be admired.
I stumble across an enclosed banquet space which has been converted into a temporary restaurant. Not a bad idea considering the primary outdoor restaurant spaces are undergoing cleanup and repair in the aftermath of the storm. I stop in to look for a cup of coffee, which it seems is being heated and prepared one cup at a time, evidenced by the understandable lengthy serving time and the fact the server only brings out one cup at a time. One woman is visibly irritated by how long her cup of coffee is taking. Some people have a hard time letting go.
If terrorist groups or North Korea really want to hit American society where it hurts, they should decimate the US coffee supply. Pure anarchy would result.
Tuesday, 12:30pm (44% battery remaining)
[KNOCK ON DOOR] “Sir, we just want to make sure you’re okay, and that you have everything you need. Is there anything we can get for you?” I’m impressed. I feel like Laura should be worried about something other than whether or not she can get anything for me in the midst of a hurricane. “We are hoping to have power back sometime this afternoon and soon we should have information from the airport as to whether or not they will have flights out yet today.” My flight isn’t until Thursday.
I wonder if we’ll end up doing any work today. Maybe I’ll go talk to some the managers to see if I can help with cleanup.
Tuesday, 1:20pm (41% battery remaining)
[KNOCK ON DOOR] “Sir, I brought you some extra water and bananas.” Nice one, Teudola. I literally could stay in my room all day, without asking for anything, and be perfectly fed and hydrated. Well impressed.
Tuesday, 2:30pm (39% battery remaining)
I head out for some lunch. The hotel has managed to open one of the main restaurants, cooking some Mexican basics (nicely done, I might add) with gas and lighting the kitchen with battery-powered lanterns. They have even managed to keep the beer cold and have ice on hand for margaritas, and the majority of the guests have happily indulged. (Why did my detox plan have to overlap with this?)
The word is going around that wind speeds in the storm reached 140 mph, which officially makes this a Category 2 storm. One guest can’t get over how exciting it is that she and her husband experienced their first official hurricane. There are certainly worse ways to live through a hurricane.
The storm has passed and the winds have died down. The occasional sprinkle still falls every 30 minutes or so, but doesn’t last for more than two or three minutes.
What do you do with a tree that was knocked over by hurricane-force winds? You lift it back up and tie it to its neighbors with a big rope. Or, at least that’s what they do at the resorts in Los Cabos.
I find the most boring times during the hurricane experience happen after the storm has already passed. During the storm, there are plenty of visual and audial stimuli to liven up the day, to keep one distracted from the reality that you will be closed in a confined space with little to do for a substantial period of time. I might reinforce little tip #6.
If you’re going to buy a new laptop, and if there is any chance you’ll be in a hurricane at some point during the life of said laptop, then I might suggest you consider battery life as one of the key performance criteria in making a buying decision.
Tuesday, 4:30pm (5% battery remaining – oops, forgot to hibernate when stepping out for a walk. I might reinforce little tip #6.)
Thanks to my mistake in forgetting little tip #6, and with still no sign of a revived backup power generator, this will be my last update. I end not in melancholic cries of boredom or disappointment for ending so abruptly, but in gratefulness from having filled several hours of my abundant down time having pulled together this meaningless story that, evidenced by the fact that you’re still reading, has now filled some of your perhaps-not-so-abundant down time. So I leave you with one final thought: Can you have déjà vu of a future event?
(1% battery remaining…)