Dodging a Bullet – Hurricane Irma

The last week has been nothing but a stress ball for millions of Floridians. Sitting on the edge of your seat staring non-stop at the television as Hurricane Irma slowly crawls towards you. It’s almost like it’s a contest with every meteorologist coming up with new words to scare the shit out of you.

This is the biggest storm ever recorded in meteorological history

This is twice the size of Hurricane Andrew that pretty much wiped South Florida clean of buildings

Evacuate now or you will die!

As you try and go about your daily work, all everyone that comes into the bar wants to talk about is if you’re staying or if you’re leaving, and if you are leaving, where are you going.

A week before it made landfall in Florida, the models had it going in every direction you could think to escape. So you wonder and ask yourself over and over… “If we leave and go to Georgia, will we be safe there?” “If we head up to our family in South Carolina, one of the models is heading that direction too!?” “Do we stay and hope it misses us?” “What if we stay and at the last minute it makes a turn and we’re stuck here?” These scenarios run through your head non-stop.

Hurricane Irma, Spaghetti Model, Bonish Photo, Every Miles A Memory

Tell Which Way You Recommend to Evacuate and Be Safe?

Then you have those questions you lie awake at night asking yourself once you’ve decided to stay…. “Do we stay in Cedar Key with friends who have homes that are up out of the flood level?” “Do we stay at our house that is 10′ above ground, but rocks slightly in mild winds?” “Do I act like a tough guy and say I’m not leaving no matter what!” or do I do what every family member that doesn’t live in Florida begs you to do and as soon as there is a tropical disturbance in the Atlantic, you pack up everything you own and spend the Hurricane Season in Michigan where apparently its safer to live dodging tornadoes and monthly power outages.

Numerous nights before the storm was even close to Florida, I’d roll over and open my eyes to see Cindy lying there staring at her phone. When I’d grumble and ask “Why are you up at this time of the morning!!??” she’d reply with an anxiety stricken voice “The storm is getting bigger and coming right towards Florida!” For the past week, I don’t know if either of us slept a solid night without getting up numerous times to check the forecast. Not that it matters, but your mind just has to know what direction it’s headed even though we all know that as soon as it makes landfall, it’ll change direction multiple times again and again. It’s a very sick game your mind plays on you wondering the entire time.

The neighborhood bar, for us being our own Bonish Studio, is a great place to be the week before a storm is coming. You will hear amazing stories from locals who have stayed through every storm their entire life. They’ll laugh in your face if you even mention leaving town, let alone leaving the state to go hide somewhere else. Florida natives talk of past Hurricanes like old flames….”Wilma really was mean to me.” or “That Ivan, he took all I had, I’m still pissed at him!”

Then there are those that suddenly have a doctorate in meteorology and can whip out facts that sound so ridiculous you have to grab your phone and check them. Some regulars just stop in to let you know they’ve packed up most of their belongings and they’re headed to a friends house or family member who lives a few states north. And although no one will say it out loud, many wish they could take that vacation out-west and come back after October is over and the storm season has ended.

Then you look at a map and realize that most of the North Western United States is burning up from both drought, heat and fire. So where do you go? Where is it safe to live? Everyone talks of retiring to the Caribbean, but after this hurricane, I think most will rethink that.

Those armchair quarterbacks who sit behind their keyboards preaching on social media “Why didn’t you leave, you knew it was coming!

Until you live in the path of a storm you can not make that statement fairly. If you’ve never lived in a coastal community then you can’t comment on hurricane evacuations.

I do believe it’s different for those who live in cities that are literally under sealevel. That’s a different story in my book. I agree, they should leave when they know a storm is coming. But if you live in a newer built house, one that is built to current Hurricane Building Codes, you live on higher ground out of the flood plane, or you live away from where the storm surge will affect you, then the gamble becomes very strong.

Sure it’s easy to say “Grab your belongings and drive to a safe place.” but here are a couple of things to consider.

When the news shows every road sitting at a stand still because you have millions of Florida residents all trying to evacuate on the two main highways exiting the state, do you risk being caught on the road during the storm?

I talked with numerous local women, single women who you have to take into account would be driving multiple states away, risking getting caught out in a storm, running out of fuel or being stranded in a motel along the side of the highway where the storm might still knock the power out for days or weeks. Now you’re a single woman, on your own in an area you’re not familiar with. Multiply this ten fold if you’re elderly, handicapped or someone with special needs. You now see why the lure to just stay put where you know your surroundings and know where your friends are gets all that much stronger when everyone else is telling you to just pack up and leave. A small town like we live in is a very tight knit community, it can be good and bad at times. Bad if you’re doing something you’re not supposed to because EVERYONE knows your every move at all times. Safe and Secure if you’re in need of something or if you need to be taken care of. It’s one of the reasons we live here.

Our area is very dog/pet friendly. I’ll bet 9 out of 10 residents have a dog or cat. Leaving and finding a safe place to stay with a pet makes it all that much harder. And please don’t get me started on the people that left without their animals, that’s a whole new level of low in my book. So now you have that issue of leaving and the arguments of “Should I stay or should I go?” become harder.

This is when sticking it out in your small community with friends, fellow parishioners and the safety of your everyday surroundings becomes a big security blanket. I’d rather stay in this town after it’s been devastated by a Hurricane, even if I’m living in a shelter or in a spare bedroom of a friend than staying in a shelter in a big city.

For a small coastal community that is very isolated, I’d say that most of our residents are very self-reliant. When the news was showing the long lines of every grocery store with empty shelves and people fighting over food supplies, our little market was still nicely stocked, our gas station still had fuel and diesel and most of the residents were going around checking on their neighbors to make sure they had everything they needed and if they needed help  putting up storm shutters or help getting things buttoned up.

Most of us have pantries that stay full year round, but especially so during storm season. We all keep a few cases of bottled water in a closet in case a power outage or storm comes along. Most of us have enough food to last us a few weeks if the supply chain was to shut down. Since almost everyone owns boats, we all have fuel tanks sitting in sheds filled up and ready for a day on the water. Almost everyone owns a generator and has plans made in case the power is to go down. Needless to say, we’re all preppers without really bragging about it or getting on any bandwagon. This is another reason it makes it hard for many of us to leave when a storm is approaching. Why leave the security of everything you have to go somewhere without?

Now while you’re debating, arguing with your spouse or loved one about what to do this entire time, you’re both putting up storm shutters, picking up everything you own that is on the ground and putting it above flood level. For us, with last years storm, we knew that if we were to have a 9′ surge, we had 2′ of water inside our building. So we got a bunch of folding tables and raised everything in our gallery a minimum of 4′ off the ground. This meant we were closed for two days prior to the storm hitting South Florida so we could button everything up.


Hurricane Prep, Cedar Key, Bonish Studio, Hurricane Irma

Everything raised atop tables to be above what the water level last year during Hurricane Hermine

During this time, you’re phone is buzzing non-stop with family and friends that either don’t know what you’re going through or are telling you what the news is saying as if you’re not glued to the television already.

Cindy finally typed up a message saying “We are good right now, we’re staying with friends who are on high ground and we have plenty of supplies. We will contact you when we can, but know we are good right now.” She would just copy and paste that to any text message we were getting. You don’t want to be rude and not reply, or not talk to your friends or family, but put it this way, it took me about a half hour to put up my storm shutters on the building. I left my phone inside on the bar to keep me from being distracted and when I got back inside, I had 5 missed phone calls and at least a dozen texts. remember all of these calls are coming in before the storm has even hit South Florida, so you have no idea where your going, if you’re going or if the storm is even in your path.

The guessing and not knowing is probably one of the worst things. This goes on for days and days. Where do we go? What should we do? If we do leave, what is priority to take and what can you live without.

To put it in perspective, stop everything you’re doing right now. Sit here and think that you have to leave your house due to a storm approaching and you can only fit whatever vehicle you own will hold. You have 3-4 days to decide what you bring, what you leave behind to maybe never see again and all this time you have to decide if you go to a friends house one town over, or family 3 states away. I’ll bet that each day, hell, every few hours you’ll change the list of items you’re packing. It’s a stressful game to play with your mind.

When we finally decided that we were staying, we filled up every fuel can we have, topped off our generators and started moving supplies from our house to Heath and Jolie’s. We had made the decision to accept their invitation to stay in a spare bedroom. Their house is on high ground, is over 100 years old and has survived hurricanes since the 1800’s. We agreed that with our combined supplies, worse case scenario, we could last a few weeks without any power or water, before we’d have to really start roughing it. And lets face it, we own a bar with over 40 high end bourbons on the top shelf. If the shit really hits the fan, between our liquor supply and the ammo we sell, we have two major commodities, and lots of it on hand to either barter with or drink and erase our pain.

It didn’t make sense to try and ride it out by ourselves out at our house. If the power went out, we’d be 6 miles from downtown Cedar Key. Although Cedar Key had a mandatory evacuation, like I said earlier, I’d rather be stuck on an island filled with my best friends, fellow preppers and in an area that I know, then stuck out in the woods with just the two of us.

Once everything was buttoned up, supplies cataloged and situated, we had nothing to do but wait. This is the hardest part. Sunday morning it was raining hard. VERY HARD. It continued to rain ALL DAY. And the Hurricane didn’t even hit South Florida till that morning. We were just feeling the outer bands of this monster and the rain was coming down in sheets.

Heath’s dad Mike Davis had told me a few days earlier that when a hurricane this size approaches the state, it’ll suck all the water out. He told us stories of past storms where you could walk out to the surrounding islands and never go over your knee in the water.

Hurricane Irma, Lowtide, Bonish Photo, Cedar Key

You could have walked out to Seahorse Key and probably never went deeper than your knee

True to his word, Sunday afternoon you could see dry ground over a mile out from the shore. I wasn’t about to go walking out there in the middle of a hurricane, but I’d be lying if I didn’t say that I really wanted to.

Hurricane Irma, Cedar Key, Bonish Photo, Low Tide

Looking West from the Bridge heading to Dock Street – The Tide was LOW

Throughout the day, the storm made landfall and instantly slowed down, which was both good and bad. It was great for us. If it slowed down, it meant that when it made it’s way north, it will have broke apart and not be as strong as it was when it made landfall. But slowing down meant that where ever it made landfall would dump massive amounts of water on that area, which it did in Southwest Florida.

I’ll admit that I do not wish a Hurricane on my worst enemy, but we paid our dues last year almost one week to the date. So I kept praying to just have this storm disapate and only hit us as a Cat 1 or Cat 2 at the worst. We can handle both of those. A Cat 5……we’re all screwed.

This is where the term ‘Dodged a Bullet’ has been used so many times these past few days. Talk to anyone in town and every person says “Wow, we really dodged a bullet this time!” Call it a blessing, an answered prayer, a close call, thank which ever God you believe in….I’m just glad it broke apart as soon as it made landfall. This storm could have done to the entire state of Florida what it did to the Caribbean Islands that got so devastated, luckily it did not.

That night we rode it out best we could. High tide was supposed to be around 5am and the eye wasn’t supposed to pass over us till around 10am Monday morning. So we were much better off than Hurricane Hermine where it came ashore during high tide which happened to be a very high King Tide.

It was hard to sleep with the sounds outside and your mind playing tricks on you the entire time. The sounds were making you wonder if things are breaking apart or is it just trees falling. I did get up once in the middle of the night just to walk outside. I had to see if the water was in the street in front of our building which is only one block from Heath’s front porch.

When I could see that the street was still intact, granted it was soaking wet from how hard it was raining, but it was NOT a few feet deep like last year, I was able to go back to bed with my mind at ease.

Hurricane Irma, Cedar Key, Bonish Photo, Tree Damage

Tree damage during Hurricane Irma

The next morning we all woke before the sun came up. I grabbed my camera and walked around town. It was earily quiet with the wind still howling, but no noises you’d normally associate with a typical Monday morning. The smell of pine trees was so strong it was like you’d just broke off a branch and held it under your nose. Obviously Cedar Key has a lot of Cedars and random pines. They are not the strongest tree to withstand high winds for long periods of time.

It was 180 degrees different than last year as I made this same walk.

After Hurricane Hermine I was in total shock with the amount of debris and destruction it had left in its wake. Irma was much nicer to our little town.

Wandering around town in that pre-Sunrise twilight all I could see was downed trees and limbs scattered everywhere. This is where the smell of juniper was coming from. It would not have been all bad if I was carrying a Gin martini in my hand, but I was not. I’d yet to even have a cup of coffee.

The tide was still low, the lowest many of the locals said they’ve ever seen it in their lifetimes which was a good thing. I’ll take a low tide and tree damage any day over the millions in flood damage the town was dealt in this card game we play each year. Last year being a losing hand, this year holding but not really winning.

Heath and Cindy met up with me down on Dock Street where I was just listening to the wind howl and standing there Thanking God for sparing us this time. We all drove around in the truck driving each street to see if we could see any major damage and to make sure no one needed any help. Luckily for everyone involved, other than lots of lots of tree damage, we could not find a single house with any major damage.

Over the course of the next few days, as we spent numerous hours piling up tree limbs out by the curb, everyone we talked with would emerge mumbling a thankful praise that we dodged a bullet.

Everyone had expected the worst! Our prayers had been answered!

There are many areas in Florida that are devastated, the Keys, Jacksonville, Naples and parts of Tampa were hit really hard. Many areas are still without power and water! I almost feel some sort of guilt that we only had to work for a few days to clean up the streets and yards of tree debris. It was more like a neighborhood yard cleaning party rather than a hurricane recovery effort.

Everyone I talk with has such a positive attitude. When you ask if they fared well, most reply with an upbeat story of “Oh, it just knocked down my fence in the back yard! But it was old and wobbly and needed to be replaced, so it just means I’ll do it sooner than I had planned.” or “It brought down a few dead trees and some various limbs in my yard, but I had planned on having them taken out anyway.

Now the rebuilding begins and the process of everyone trying to get back home.

With the Texas refineries still being hit from Hurricane Harvey, and the Port of Tampa being one of Florida’s main supply hubs, many stations are without fuel. Many residents are without homes so the motels are filled. The stores are still without food due to trucks not running due to fuel shortages….all this prepping doesn’t look so silly now does it!?

For many of us, we’ve been going at it full bore for over a week now. Days of moving and getting your house or business prepared while being at stress level 2000 the entire time. Then a few days straight of having your stress level go even higher as you sit and wait for Mother Nature to either kill you or just tease you…she’s one mean bitch!

Now we’ve spent the last few days working on putting our homes and businesses back in order and trying our hardest to destress. All this time, we’ve had zero income and lots of lots of out-go! Fuel prices doubled the week before the storm as did a lot of food costs.

So if you see or talk to someone from Florida for the next week or so, please be nice. Hell the next month or so….We’ve all been affected one way or another. Some have lost their entire livelihoods while others have been displaced and stressed to their limits.

I would like to say a huge thank you to our friends Jolie and Heath who offered up a room and their house for a safe haven. We can’t tell you how much that meant to us.

We also feel overwhelmed with the amount of phone calls, text messages and general concern we received from friends, family and acquaintances from around the country. It makes you warm and fuzzy knowing you have people praying for you and your town from all around the world.

Boat Anchor, Hurricane Irma, Bonish Photo

I put the bucket on the deck of the boat thinking it would help keep the boat from flying away

Jolie Davis, Cindy Bonish, Cedar Key, Hurricane Irma

Jolie and Cindy stretching their legs after being cooped up in the house for multiple days waiting for the Hurricane to hit. Notice how low the tide is behind them

Hurricane Irma, Cedar Key, Bonish Photo

The day before the storm blew through. This is what our property looks like now after being select cut

Cedar Key, Low Tide, Hurricane Irma, Bonish Photo

Low Tide below what used to be Coconuts or the Captains Table, depending on how long you’ve been in Cedar Key

Cedar Key, Hurricane Irma, Bonish Photo

Cedar Key Fire Department flying their Hurricane Flag

Hurricane Irma, Bonish Photo, Cedar Key, 83 West

Lowest Tide I’ve ever seen in Cedar Key

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5 Responses to “Dodging a Bullet – Hurricane Irma”

  1. LORI CHADASeptember 15, 2017 at 2:27 pm #

    Great post, glad you are okay! Thanks for sharing! Keeping you, all of Florida and Texas in our prayers!

  2. Jeff DwyerSeptember 15, 2017 at 9:32 pm #

    HI Pat,

    We read your post with relish. You crystallized everything that makes Cedar Key such a special place for everyone who knows it. We’re so happy to hear that everyone made it through Irma without serious problems. Stay safe and keep the doors open. We’ll be walking through those doors in a couple of months, and we want to see your welcoming smiles.

    Jeff & Elizabeth

    • Pat BonishSeptember 16, 2017 at 12:13 am #

      I’ll have a Guinness waiting for you

  3. Pat AscencioSeptember 16, 2017 at 2:16 am #

    Prayers all answered &. You are all ok. Love you take care. Loved your article 😍

  4. Jodee GravelSeptember 16, 2017 at 2:30 am #

    Another awesome post.

    So easy for us “outside Florida” to assume we know what’s best to do – we have no idea how many factors determine the decisions residents must make.

    Glad Cedar Keys was spared the devastation. That low tide is really eery!

    Wishing you and Cindy calm skies, seas and nerves.

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