Normally at this time of year, I am working on an annual digital signage prediction post. And it will come, eventually. This year is different. Two weeks ago, I was communicating with friends and customers in Houston as they fought through the devastation of Harvey. A week ago, I was thinking about taking a week off to help recovery efforts on the east coast of Florida. Yesterday morning, my wife and I woke up, looked at the forecast track of Irma, and changed our plans to hunker down in Sarasota, where we have lived for 25 years.  In an hour, we were showered and packed. We took pictures of our home, and hit the road with our 19-year-old cat. Eleven-plus hours later, we got to our destination, the Big Easy. As my friend Rick said sarcastically when I told him we were headed for New Orleans, “Good plan, Ken, head for the high ground!” As it turns out, I’d rather be here than Georgia or Carolina, where so many of our neighbors went. We are safe, and concerned for our family, friends and neighbors back in Florida. Writing is my therapy, so read on if you wish.

Some notes and thoughts from the road:

The drive was amazingly less stressful than anticipated. I-75 flowed well. I-10 had only two jams, and one was due to a big accident. Our cat, who routinely howls when awake, hungry or using his litter box, was docile and managed to eat, drink, sleep and use a litter box in the car. We were amazed. Ok, the kitty valium helped, but he has been a 5-pound trooper.

The number of road hogging, road clogging RVs and campers, many trailing conventional vehicles, was amazing. Their general inability to maintain high speed caused several anxious car drivers to do stupid things, and I did see one accident where an RV had flipped after contact with an SUV. They have a right to the road, of course, but please stay in the right lane.

The level of planning at the Federal, State and local levels has been simply incredible. Florida’s Governor Scott has worked tirelessly leading the execution of nightmare plans decades in the making. His energy and leadership has been admirable. I saw Tampa’s Mayor Bob Buckhorn on television, and he was realistic, prepared and resolute. Watching the professional emergency planners execute is inspiring. I wish most digital signage projects were planned half as meticulously. Trust these people, they have trained for this for many years.

As we drove north and west, seeing the convoys of power trucks, emergency heavy equipment, first responder and National Guard units heading south was like watching an army advance to the front. The people in those convoys are selfless and brave and deserve everyone’s thanks and respect. They certainly have mine.  This most definitely includes the thousands of nurses who volunteered to stay behind to help special needs Floridians unable to evacuate. Heroes all.

At our hotel, we ran into people from Houston who still can’t go home. They are sad and frustrated. I am empathetic, as you might imagine. We don’t know when it will be safe or sensible for us to return, but our intent is to be cautious and try to make the best of what is a nightmare.

People here in New Orleans– residents, visitors and evacuees, have been so friendly and supportive. Sometimes a smile is the best medicine. The weather is nice. I feel guilty.

It is an eerie feeling sitting in a hotel room 700 miles from home and watching the gradual wave of devastation sweep across the state we love. As I write, our neighbors in Naples and Ft. Myers are preparing for what is likely to be the heaviest hit in mainland Florida. Captiva, a very special place that took years to rebuild after Charlie, will undoubtedly be pummeled again. And they won’t be alone. While my beloved Sarasota will not be spared, my heart goes out to everyone to the south.

Much has been said about how Harvey and now Irma have brought Americans together in a time of political and ideological strife. I have now seen it firsthand. No one with a human soul is doing anything but being a good friend or neighbor. But of course there are exceptions. If you are one who wishes to use a crisis to spout political talking points, a pox upon you. You are not helping, and you likely never will. <end rant>

I have three fantasy football teams. Sunday games have kicked off. I didn’t check my lineups, and I really am not into it today. I am more concerned for my son, daughter-in-law and grandson who are hunkered down outside any flood zones back in Sarasota. I am more concerned for my co-workers who also stayed behind.

I have seen and heard the word “surreal” a lot.  But this is very real.

We don’t really know what lies ahead other than bad news. As I write this, the eye of the storm is in between the Keys and the mainland, headed north. Nobody in Florida will be spared the effects of Irma, and it will be felt in Georgia and beyond. People are displaced. Lives will be disrupted, and lives have already been lost. My hope is that both disruption and death can be minimized, and that people will continue to work as a community (as our friends in Houston have) to start the recovery process.

Thank you to the dozens of family and friends who have sent messages of concern and encouragement. We will recover, we will rebuild and we will refine our emergency plans. In the mean time, we wait, we pray and we care for each other.