Monday 24 Oct 2016

Blown Away by Bob
AJ Robinson

Back in the summer of '91, I took my (then) girlfriend Jo Ann to the Island of Martha's Vineyard. For her, it was her first exposure to the place - after listening to my tales of my childhood there. She truly didn't think the place was real - she didn't see how any place could be as wonderful as I had described.

We flew up there, and encountered a problem right away - the airline lost our baggage! Fortunately, they got it sorted out, and - of all things - the first night we arrived was Grand Illumination Night. To me, it was no big deal - just another illumination. But, she had never seen such a thing, and through her eyes, I was renewed and saw it fresh.

After that, I took her to all my old haunts: Sunset Lake, the Flying Horses, the clay cliffs of Gay Head, and so on. We were also in luck as the West Tisbury Agricultural Fair was taking place then. So, we went to that as well. Here was yet another instance of one of my joys of childhood brought to life, and she was flabbergasted. The place was so "Normal Rockwell", so "old style Americana" as to not be believed!

So, all in all, it was quite the fun little vacation.

And then came word of the storm. Hurricanes were not unheard of in New England, but they were rare; we tended to have what were known as Nor-Easters. This year, there was a storm churning to the south called Hurricane Bob, and it was headed our way. Initially, we took no note of it - after all, there was little chance of it hitting us. Well, that changed - soon it was on a collision course for the island!

We found it rather amusing when Jo's parents called and told her to drive off the island as soon as possible. They knew little of the island and thought it was like Long Island - a place connected to the mainland by a bridge or tunnel. No, only planes and boats were available - and they were all grounded or docked due to the weather. We were stuck there, and there was no getting out of the storm's path. So, her parents said good-bye to her!

Such confidence in our ability to survive, huh?

The cottage we were staying in was quite old and not exactly... shall we say... durable? So, we all moved into my brother's house. Steve, ever the older brother, tried to play patriarch. He put on his foul-weather gear and cut down a dead tree, put tape on windows, and tried to be very commanding (we giggled behind his back).

Then the storm hit, and we all huddled around the TV to watch the reports. And then came news we had not expected - there had been a coup in the Soviet Union! The KGB and the military had taken over and Gorbachev had been arrested and was missing. As the power died, we were left to wonder: was this it, was someone going to get an itchy trigger finger and push the button? We had no battery-powered radios, so we had no way of keeping tabs on the world; what was going to happen to us next?

The wind and the rain howled and roared outside the house, and during the time when the eye passed over, we ventured out to have a look around. As it happened, a cop came by to shoo us inside. We did so, just in time for the back end of the storm to hit, and once more the land was torn apart. We did not sleep too well that night.

Come the morning, the island was a mess, but it was still alive - as was the world - the Soviets had sorted things out on their own, and peace was the order of the day. We found that we had running water, but no power or phone service. Ironically, the old cottage was actually the best place to be - it had a propane gas stove! So, Jo and I had water, cooking, and warm beds to sleep in. Despite it being August, the weather turned cold, and we spent our evenings curled up in front of the fireplace.

My brother, his real estate office without power - and no one inclined to look at properties just now - spent his days working on the clean up. At night, he'd come over for a hot shower and meal. When power was restored to downtown Oak Bluffs, we went to dinner and took in a movie. After that, we rented a car - one of the few people who wanted one - and took a little drive around the island. We saw trees snapped like twigs, buildings flattened, power lines twisted up like black licorice, and boats either sunk or scattered across the countryside! Yet, the storm had not robbed the Islanders of their humor. Outside the movie theater someone had spray painted a sign that proudly proclaimed their upcoming double feature: "Gone With the Wind" and "What About Bob?"

Finally, our last night on the island, life was slowly returning to normal, and the Oak Bluffs Fireworks were held. We walked down to Ocean Park and listened to the band play as darkness fell. Jo Ann found it all most amusing, like something out of "Music Man" - all it needed was Robert Preston leading the band. Once again, it was a cold night; so I bought Jo an "I Survived Hurricane Bob" sweatshirt, and got a t-shirt for myself.

The next day, we went to the island airport - still in a somewhat state of disrepair, and flew home - and they didn't even lose our luggage this time.

Our daughter loves to hear stories about that trip - she was born nine months later - and no, we didn't name her Roberta.

Combining the gimlet-eye, of Philip Roth, with the precisive mind of Lionel Trilling, AJ Robinson writes about what goes bump in the mind, of 21st century adults. Raised in Boston, with summers on Martha's Vineyard, AJ now lives in Florida. Most of the time he writes, but sometimes he works at Disney World to renew his fantasies and get a few dollars more. AJ writes, with insight and passion, about his family and his dog. His liberal, note the small "l," sensibilities often lead to bouts of righteous indignation, well focused and true.

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