Thursday, September 1, 2011

Rock You Like a Hurricane

It's been several days since I've written anything. For that, I blame my vacation. I've been too busy, trying to relax, to sit down in front of the computer. And when I find myself in front of the computer, there's that issue of sorting through the hundreds of photos I shot (dare I say, thousand or so?).

If you read my last post—not yesterday's Wordless Wednesday post, but the last one where I actually wrote—I sort of left you hanging: we had a dead van and a hurricane breathing down our necks. If you follow me on Twitter or Facebook, you know that we managed to get off Cape Cod and ended up riding out the storm in Boston.

For those of you who only read my blog, let me back up a bit.

On Saturday morning, I woke up early, showered and shaved, packed up my bags and as much as I could, and then drove our rental car to the garage, where our van sat from where it was towed the night before. To my surprise, the garage was open and there were a few of Rick's staff on hand. Apparently, he had made the decision to open his shop to fix as many of the cars as he could, to get them back to their owners before Hurricane Irene hit the cape. One of his priorities was to install my new alternator.

I dropped off my keys, and left them to their work.

Listening to NPR at the cottage, we heard that the Governor of Massachusetts, Deval Patrick, would be announcing a state of emergency later this morning, in advance of the storm. This would ensure that towns would be on alert and the National Guard would be standing by in case help was needed.

For us, this was worrying news. We packed as quickly as we could and hoped that our car would be fixed even more quickly. Most of all, we crossed our fingers that no other problems would be found, negating our chance of getting off the cape. In the NPR reports, we heard that if the wind speeds exceeded 70 mph, the bridges over the canal (which separate the cape from the mainland—but never call the cape an island!) would be closed.

Translation: we'd be trapped on Cape Cod, unable to leave until after the storm had passed.

With our belongings packed, we spoke with the owners of the cottage, asking if there was anything we could do to try and secure as much as we could. We moved lawn furniture and the barbecue into the garage, as well as the garbage bins. We closed and locked all of the windows. We unplugged the TV, DVD, and wireless Internet router (that one, only at the last minute—I wanted connectivity). But that was all we could do. If there were going to be sea swells with the storm, we hoped that the cottage would be far enough away from the beaches that it would be safe.

We were all packed, but we had nowhere to go. There was no word from Rick.

And so we headed in to Harwich, to do some last-minute shopping. To take in this pretty town one last time. To capture some images before the storm.

The call from Rick came a little after 11:00. We were in a small jewelry and scent shop, Sativa, when we learned that the van was fixed, there were no complications, and we were good to go.

We drove to the garage, thanked Rick and his team profusely, and then headed back to the cottage to load our belongings into the van. From there, we raced back to the Barnstable airport to drop off the rental (it was at this point that the governor declared the state of emergency). We then went to Weymouth, where I bought the alternator, to drop off the old one, which was worth about $60 or so back to us. On our way, we faced heavy rain that brought traffic to a standstill. And it was here that we started to worry about where we would go to ride out the storm.

During our stay at the cottage, Lori and I talked about what we would do at the end of the week, when we left Cape Cod. We had only booked the cottage for a week. We considered taking our time in getting back to Ottawa: perhaps a trek along the New England coast; maybe a night in Boston. The only plans that we had for the rest of our vacation was the following weekend, in Toronto—we were getting together with my parents and my two sisters. Between now and then, we were free.

Hurricane Irene put a damper on that idea. Before our van had any problems, we decided to leave Cape Cod early on the Saturday and get home before the storm wreaked havoc on the New England states. By the time the van was fixed, we had it packed, dropped off the rental, and dropped off the alternator in a downpour in Weymouth, it was almost 3:00. And there was no way that we were going to outrun the storm.

We drove into Boston and stopped at Copley Place, where there are a number of nice hotels. We decided on the Westin, and Lori tried to see if they had any last-minute (literally) deals. We chose the Westin because it seemed to be the only hotel in that area with a pool, and if the girls were going to be stuck indoors, they wanted to spend some time swimming.

There were no deals. The offered rate was way more than we were planning to spend for a hotel room.

So we parked the car in an underground garage in a shopping mall and we made our way to a Starbucks, computer in hand. We fed the kids, got ourselves drinks, and started surfing for hotel deals.

Here's a plug: if you don't care about the name of a hotel but want to ensure that you have all other criteria met for your accommodation, go with Hotwire. You don't find out about the hotel itself until after you pay. But you can choose the type of hotel (four stars or higher), the amenities offered by the hotel, the area, and the price range.

We chose hotels in the Copley Place area (they're all four stars); we set our price range and specified that we wanted a pool. Only one hotel met our specifications, and the price was pretty good (it was only $11 more than our top range). We still didn't know the name of the hotel, but we were pretty sure which one it was, and so we went for it. We put our money down and spun the wheel.

It was the Westin.

We were set up in a nice room on the 19th floor, overlooking Copley Place, the Boston Public Library, and the Charles River. And we faced away from the coming storm.

Room secured, we decided to walk around the neighbourhood, to see the area before Irene arrived. It was raining off and on, but there were no winds. We strolled along Newbury Street, lined with shops and restaurants in beautiful brownstone buildings. Many of the shops were already closed, their windows taped with a massive X, an small effort to hold the glass together in the wind. A few shops even boarded up their fronts, leaving no doubt that a storm was on its way. It was while we were wandering the shops on this street that the rain came down in torrents. We sought shelter in the Prudential mall.

One of the benefits of staying at the Westin was that it was interconnected, through a series of glass overpass walking bridges, to other hotels in the square and two shopping malls. The mall where we sought shelter from the rain was on the far end of these linked buildings from our hotel. We wouldn't have to step outside again. Also, when the hurricane was scheduled to hit Boston on the next day, we'd have a place to go to keep safe. We were happy, and my stress, which I had kept bottled up ever since our alternator started giving us problems, had begun to lift.

By the time Irene reached Boston, she was a Category-1 hurricane that was being downgraded to a tropical storm. Throughout Sunday morning, we stayed glued to CNN and to a Boston news station. We saw the destruction that Irene had unleashed in the Carolinas, in New York, and in the areas surrounding Boston (Weymouth had power outages, flooding, and toppled trees—I hope the people I had met at the auto dealership were fine).

In Boston, rain fell in horizontal sheets. Winds battered trees, ripping off leaves and branches; in some cases, toppling larger trees. A tree across the street from Cheers fell, blocking Beacon Street until emergency crews could cut it and take it away. From one of the bridges in Copley Place, we saw a tree fall near an underpass. No one was hurt.

Though the winds were strong and the rain was heavy, it really wasn't that bad. Boston was a smart choice for us. Had we heeded warnings by family and tried to make it home, we would have found ourselves in harm's way and potentially in a lot of trouble. We would have been in Vermont, where there had been a lot of flooding and damage to trees. We saw the aftermath on our trek home. You can also see the damage in Boston from my blog post from yesterday.

We stayed two nights in Boston. On the Monday after the storm, we were met with a beautiful day. Explored the Back Bay area, Beacon Hill, Boston Common and the Public Garden, and we took a trolley tour of the city that showed us the U.S.S. Constitution, Fenway Park, and the old North End and harbour. Our guide was a lot of fun too: "theh aah no aahs in 'Bahston.'"

We decided to pack up and head home late on Monday afternoon. Seeing New England was sort of out of the question. People had their hands full, cleaning up after Irene. We decided that we would return again, would once again enjoy the warmth and hospitality that the New Englanders offered. Hopefully, without any car trouble or hurricanes.

I'm still sorting through my photos, but I will post them on Picasa soon. Maybe next week.

After all, we're still on vacation.

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