There was a point when I wondered whether they were pulling my leg.
I got the bit about their elegant home being built on the highest point of Broward County. And I followed the logic of wanting to be in place to mount rapid damage assessments and make repairs as the night wore on.
It was just that a massive hurricane was roaring in towards Florida and from the Mayors’ first floor balcony I could see and hear the Atlantic Ocean, no more than 100 metres away.
Their home was in a mandatory evacuation zone, just outside Fort Lauderdale. But as I had already learned, “mandatory evacuation” zones did not mean what it sounded like they meant. The Mayors – veterans of two decades of hurricanes were very definitely not evacuating. Unlike me, who was preparing for my first such encounter. (That was a joke for sub-editors.)
The Mayors had readied their home, just as they always do. Storm shutters had been closed over the windows. Garden ornaments had been secured. An inch or two of water had even been let out of the koi pond to allow for flooding.
For sustenance, there was a roast turkey, pots of chicken soup and two types of freshly baked bread.
In 2006 they had survived without power for six weeks. Back then they clubbed together with neighbours, who got a share of the Mayors’ generator in return for taking turns at cooking on the barbecue and dining together in the street.
“Whatever was the next thing to go off, that’s what we ate,” explained Deborah.
I left them to it on the Saturday afternoon – with some kind of idea in my mind of a disaster-themed street party, drinking punch while bandaging up survivors – to return to my hotel, where I was to spend a nervy night, watching the winds pick up through the picture windows which looked far too big to me to have any chance of making it intact through a hurricane.
I thought of their food and plans for a barbecue as I dinnered on cucumber and beef jerky. The wind lashed rain across my door, sending a puddle spilling across the floor.
But we survived. The TV failed for a couple of hours, and I heard the tell-tale freight-train noise of a tornado rumbling through. But as the light came up on Sunday morning, the hotel was still standing and we were all in one piece.
The next hours were a blur as I raced around assessing the damage, interviewing residents and finding something to eat. I couldn’t reach the Mayors. The phone network was overloaded. It is fair to say I was worried about their fate. The bridge leading to their ocean-front street on Barrier Island was closed for a chunk of the day.
In the late afternoon I gave it another try. This time, as well as offering up my press card, I told police officers that I was going to see friends and was allowed through.
Ocean Boulevard was inundated with sand. A sea surge had deposited part of the beach on the road. But as I turned into the Mayors’ cul-de-sac it was clear they had escaped almost all damage. The driftwood, sand and assorted detritus was deposited only on the beach end of the road, indicating a fairly benign high-water mark.
Craig chuckled as he recalled their night. Their only concern came from an odd grating sound which echoed through the house even when everything should have been locked down.
“Debbie forgot to close the cat flag,” he said.
A long table had been set up in the driveway of the house across the street. With a cold beer in hand I took my seat just as the burgers came off the barbecue.
There was still work to be done. Craig later helped rig up a neighbour’s air conditioning unit to their generator and there were plenty of fallen branches to clear.
But for an hour everyone assembled for a cheeseburger and a plate of salad. It was one of the simplest I’ve had – nothing but minced (ground) steak seasoned up with a little garlic salt and pepper. It was served on a polystyrene plate with plastic knives and forks.
No mucking around. It was that sort of day. And it was perfect.
(This all happened in September. It just took me a while to publish.)