The Eye of the Storm

The gas station is quiet today. I pull in and keep the radio running. The announcer is talking about two tropical storms heading for the Gulf Coast.

Where the storms will land, nobody knows. The meteorologists have taken to calling the two approaching systems “dueling storms.”

As of this morning, the storms are veering for Texas and Louisiana. That could all change tomorrow.

The announcer says: “…And the dueling storms could combine in a rarely seen natural occurrence, circulating together, and the catastrophic destruction would be…”

There is a woman at the pump beside me. She is Latina, with a backseat full of children. I ask what she thinks about the storms. Just to get a feel for what people are thinking.

She has a red surgical mask and a soft voice. “Oh, I never know what to think. I don’t feel right hoping for storms to go somewhere else. That would just mean it’s gonna hurt other people. So I don’t know.”

I notice a crucifix hanging from her rearview mirror.

She’s right. A hurricane is coming. It’s going somewhere. Someone’s losing a house. Hoping for such a storm to avoid me personally seems like a selfish thought.

The woman goes on, “So I just pray for everyone to be safe. This is what I tell my kids. We pray maybe for the storm to weaken.”

On my other side, a man is tying lumber to his truck, pumping diesel. No mask. I ask what his thoughts are about the dueling storms. At first he ignores me. He’s not exactly Joe Friendly.

Finally, he says, “I don’t care what happens, dude, as long as it’s not hitting me.” Then he drives away.

Funny. Ask two people, and you will get two different answers.

The cashier behind the gas-station counter has an even more distinct outlook. She is tall, wiry, with a surgical mask bearing the Wonder Woman logo.

“My family lives in Louisiana,” she says. “I was gonna evacuate to my mom’s house if the storms came here. But now…” She laughs. “I think my family’s coming to me.”

She gets four text messages during our short chat. All from family members, she tells me.

“What else can go wrong in 2020?” she says.

I crawl back into my truck, take off my surgical mask, then turn on the radio. It’s ironic. The novel coronavirus isn’t being talked about on the radio this morning. Only dueling storms.

In a weird way, it’s almost nice having a change of discussion.

“…The storms are projected to make landfall early in the a.m. on Tuesday, and might strengthen into a major system unlike anything we’ve ever…”

I pull into the grocery store. I hate supermarket shopping during a pandemic, but my wife needs butter.

Back when the pandemic began, some supermarkets had security guards out front who would zap your head with thermometer guns before you entered. I once saw two older people get turned away because they had temperatures.

When they walked back to their cars everyone backed away from them like they had Black Plague. I felt sorry for them. I don’t think they knew they had fevers. What a way to find out.

The store is empty today. There is an employee stocking shelves. She is masked and gloved. I would guess that she’s in her 30s, but she’s wearing so much surgical protective gear that she could be 70 or 15 for all I know. All I can see are her eyes. I ask for her thoughts about the storms.

“Sucks,” she says. “I told my mom I’m moving to Dothan next month. I already put in my notice here. Last thing I need is hurricanes, I got kids to think about.”

She sounds like she’s mad that I interrupted her. “I gotta get back to work,” she says.

I can’t help but notice how different people have become after this trying summer. Some have become more generous. Others have become sharp. I hope I fall into the first category. But I’m not so sure. There are too many moments when I behave like a fool.

I wander toward the checkout line. Ahead of me, standing ten feet away, is a man wearing a T-shirt that reads: “I’m Local.”

I’m immediately smiling. Just the kind of guy I’ve been waiting for. You don’t see many locals in this store anymore. Back in the day I used to see 9,128 familiar faces in these aisles. But now it’s hard to find one face I recognize.

“I like your shirt,” I say.

“Thanks.” The man speaks with a New York accent. “I’m not really a local, but we’re trying to be. My wife and I moved here two years ago.”

I ask him how he likes it.

“Compared to New York? You kidding? Man, listen. This place is heaven. Everyone is so nice and hospitable.”

He goes on to tell me that his wife had an autoimmune disease flare-up last year. Everyone in his neighborhood banded together to take turns cooking them casseroles for a month during her treatment.

“That kinda thing don’t happen in Queens,” he says.

I ask what he thinks about the two incoming storms.

“Look, I don’t care how bad the storms are, or where they hit, ‘cause I know that no matter where they go, I’m gonna be out there helping clean up. I have a truck, I have chainsaws. I ain’t afraid to work. That’s what we do for each other, isn’t it?”

We bump elbows. Because I have to admit, this man makes a very good point.

Dueling storms. May God have mercy on us all.


  1. Christina - August 23, 2020 7:29 am

    Yes may God have mercy on us all! We are in this together!

  2. Meredith Smith - August 23, 2020 7:39 am

    Sean, please be safe. I’m thinking of you. And your family. xo

  3. barbinal - August 23, 2020 9:28 am

    This is very familiar to one you wrote when we were expecting another hurricane. Good thoughts though.. Keep up the good work.

  4. Robert M Brenner - August 23, 2020 11:06 am

    Everyone be safe and remember there are people all over this great nation thinking and praying for your safety…🙏❤️

  5. TrixC - August 23, 2020 11:20 am

    Humanity is still alive. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and experiences. Stay safe. I would hug the Latina woman if it were allowed.

  6. Melinda “Lindy” Holmes - August 23, 2020 1:25 pm

    Sending lots of prayers for you and everyone on the gulf coast. I have family in NOLA, I’m checking on them today. I recently moved to Hot Springs, Ark, so they probably wont evacuate this far, so all I can do is send lots and lots of prayers!!! Let us all know how you are fairing, as soon as you are able!
    Lindy H

  7. Jan - August 23, 2020 1:34 pm

    Praying for all who may be touched by the storms whether it be the storms from the sea, the storms of the pandemic or the storms raging within the hearts, minds and souls of many throughout our country.
    Much Love! Stay Safe!

  8. Rhonda - August 23, 2020 1:56 pm

    There are many dueling storms in this country right now. The examples of the heart you give are sure signs of the choices. Its also amazing at the judgement by folks who don’t know what its like to stand in the middle of your house and watch the walls breathing. Knowing you have nothing but prayer between you and hell’s wind. She is right you know. I’d rather be her with nothing than him with too much.

  9. Bobbie - August 23, 2020 2:12 pm

    Amen to Rhondas comment! Only God knows where the storms land. Wherever it is, I pray for safety and protection, especially for the responders and emergency teams. God bless you all. Be safe Sean and family. Lots of prayers going out. 👍❤️

  10. Teresa Blankenship - August 23, 2020 2:34 pm

    Well said my friend 🙏

  11. Jamie Eisner - August 23, 2020 3:14 pm

    Just a random thank you. I came across one of your articles on Facebook a while back and enjoyed it. Occasionally I would see another one. I have been slacking on reading anything other than work related documents for several years so I subscribed. I own a small garage door business in Washington state, my wife owns her own small business selling house plants online. She has family in Gainesville and until the pandemic we would regularly visit them. I enjoy your writing as it usually brings a smile to my face. I appreciate that it’s usually lighthearted and not to pointed.
    I hope you and your family stay safe and the approaching storm. Keep up the good work and thank you for peeking my interest in reading again.

  12. Susan - August 23, 2020 3:46 pm

    Thank you, what a great reminder that kindness goes a long way.

  13. Melissa Roth - August 23, 2020 4:05 pm

    I love your innate curiosity about people. And, I love that you can indulge that curiosity in the Deep South. I’m a Southerner transplanted to the Colorado mountains. Don’t get me wrong. I love it here mostly because of the weather. No hurricanes. No tornados where I live.(Those are reserved for the plains out toward Kansas.) No bugs. A lot of NO things that you have in the South. But, I guess what I miss second most about Alabama is that you can talk to people in the grocery store line and at the gas pumps without people wondering what your ulterior motive is. The #1 thing any of us transplants miss is the food. Colorado is not known for good cuisine. But, as a Southerner and a retired psychotherapist I am addicted to wanting to know what other people think. You give me a daily dose of home. And, I want to thank you for it.

  14. Susan Ellzey - August 23, 2020 4:07 pm

    Amen… is it the South great👍😉👏

  15. Susan Ellzey - August 23, 2020 4:12 pm

    Funny how my iPad doesn’t understand my southern drawl😳🥴😉

  16. Linda Moon - August 23, 2020 5:15 pm

    I just watched The Weather Channel and heard the Governor of Louisiana speak. He’s unselfishly looking out for his people. You do that every day, Sean, when you write about this 2020 world we’re in. Perhaps God Himself is giving some mercy through you. We of the renowned Southern Hospitality might have more dueling storms than Queens dwellers do, but not as many dueling people. Thank you for your words of everyday LIFE!

  17. Betty - August 23, 2020 5:17 pm

    What an amazing day you had. At least you took the time to find out a little bit about what people are feeling. Otherwise, some would have just been labeled unfriendly grumps. Maybe, they feel better getting it off their always make my day better. Stay safe.

  18. MAM - August 23, 2020 6:32 pm

    I really liked this one! It’s fun to talk to people you don’t know when you’re waiting in line or pumping gas! and I believe the two “dueling” storms in the Gulf are a symbol of the dueling going on all over our beloved country. I don’t want to see severe damage in any of the duels. Only prayer can help! And prayers go out to you and yours!

  19. Susan Parker - August 23, 2020 8:55 pm

    Sean, you and Jamie take care. Bug out if you need to.

  20. Jan Fincher - August 24, 2020 12:57 am

    Your family is in my prayers. We prepare early on every season and then sit and wait until it’s our turn. We’ve been here in Charleston almost five years and haven’t left yet. Most of the time because nobody in the family wants to see our family pulling up with four dogs in our cars. And we’re usually too broke to book a hotel.
    I’m with the guy who wrote before me, take your mother-in-law, wife, pets, and whatever widow that might live on your street and get on out of there. Keep us up-to-date, of course.
    That’s half the fun of a hurricane, talking about it for seven days before you even get the outer bands and a sprinkle. Much more opportunity for angst than a tornado.

  21. that is jack - August 24, 2020 2:01 am

    Well dude, I did enjoy the read. been AWOL for awhile. WE are in Northern CA at the moment. Just in from a trip from NC, MI, UT and Oregon. We re visiting family and friends that we will never see again. Our last hurrah. Headed to LV to see a cousin then across country back to NC then Florida. Hoping the dueling storms will kill each other and die a calm death.
    Love from California.
    JAck & Sherry on the road.

  22. Chasity Davis Ritter - August 24, 2020 2:14 am

    Still praying Sean….

  23. Theresa - August 24, 2020 3:01 am

    Sean, I really appreciate your writings, often reading them to my mom or best friend (they neither have email). I family friend introduced your words to me and they are food for my southern Tennessee soul. Yes, God have mercy on all in the storms’ paths…any storms really. Please stay safe and God bless us every one.

  24. Pam Beauchamp - August 24, 2020 6:47 am

    Prayers for folks safety🙏🏼

  25. Harriet - August 24, 2020 11:02 am

    Hi Sean,
    I haven’t written a comment in a while. I’ve been working a lot so that’s good. I just wanted you to know I still read your column every morning and I love it. You are the BEST!!!! ❤️

  26. Patricia Gibson - August 24, 2020 2:05 pm

    Praying for you guys🙏

  27. Martha Barnett - August 24, 2020 2:37 pm

    Great story today! And such a reminder Of the importance of attitude, gratitude and faith. I can totally relate to the NY ‘local’ having moved to GA from New York 9 years ago! So glad I did, storms, virus and whatever else!

  28. Arthur Portas - August 24, 2020 3:28 pm

    I’ve also heard the storms called the “Doublemint Twins” which made me chuckle!

  29. Donna - August 25, 2020 7:35 pm

    You’re so right! This pandemic has brought out the best & the worst in people. Praying I will stay positive and loving & can find a way to help. Thanks for your inspiration!


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