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‘Tis the Season to Buy a Generator

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Yes it’s true, “cold” in Florida is a relative term — water here freezes at 72, and so do the people.  Up north, the temperature falls below 32 and snow falls from the sky; here, the temperature falls below 32, and iguanas fall from the trees.  You might think a shower of long green lizards falling limply from the limbs would be a sad occasion, but in South Florida we take it as evidence that a) iguanas don’t belong here and b) the seasons do change — life is more than hot and hotter; not every day requires air conditioning; and barbecued iguana tastes a lot like chicken.

As does everything else.

Nonetheless, except for the occasional lizard-razing cold front sweeping down the peninsula a couple of times a year, in winter we Floridians tend to forget the weather threats that impend.  Most looming, of course, are hurricanes, things that thanks to post-Andrew building codes represent less of a threat than ever.  We can go decades without a direct hurricane hit on our sandy shores, but when a ‘cane does come you can be sure of two things:  iguanas really can fly if the breeze is strong enough, and you’ll probably be without power for a few days or more.

So don’t wait for The Weather Channel to scare the bejeezus out of you with minor-key organ music that sounds like a dirge, and red-flashing cyclone graphics that make Florida look like a bowling alley with your house as the headpin.  No!  This holiday season plan for the future, people!  Buy yourselves a generator!

Generators generate two things:  electricity, and friends.  You could be a hermit, but install a generator and you’ll draw a crowd.  Because when you have electricity and nobody else does, you’d be surprised to learn how many friends you suddenly have!  In your mind you’ve created a list of people you’ll let ride out the storm in comfort, but your neighbors aren’t reading your mind and even if they could they couldn’t give a hoot if you want them or not:  That flea-riddled cat hoarder who lives next door?  You can be sure she’ll show up with her entire brood.  The guy around the corner you once caught stealing your landscaping stones at 6 am?  Yup, and he’ll even give you your rocks back as a token of good faith.

Long lost relatives?  Check!  First to arrive is Uncle Harvey from Homestead who you thought had died in 1968.  Well no, your bad:  Here he is, at your doorstep, dragging his own brown Naugahyde Castro Convertible in the back of his blue pickup with the rusted-through fenders, “In case you don’t have enough beds,” he assures you, because obviously he has your interests in mind.  Then there are others who obviously do have your interests in mind — they’re the ones who ask only to stretch an orange extension cord from your house to theirs, “just to keep the refrigerator running,” when in fact they’ve wired their whole house to be hooked to you and your gas bill.

Hardest to turn away are the Millennials, for two good reasons:  first, as youngins, they tend to be cute.  Second, they can use technology to fool you and spoof text messages to themselves and make them look like they come from you: “Sure you can stay!” they text themselves from you, and if you object they claim it’s not the first time you’ve texted them drunk.

And they would be right.

Plan your hurricane guest list on an Excel spreadsheet, then exact a monthly tribute from each potential squatter, I mean guest, calling it your Bad-Weather Layaway Plan.  Once you have enough booty in your Cat-5 Piggy Bank, it’s time to pick a generator.  Know this:  Generators come in two types — expensive, and extremely expensive.  The expensive ones run on regular unleaded, and they’re classified as “portable” meaning that, during a blackout, some thief or knave could slip into your backyard and port the generator away.  A good suggestion would be to chain these generators to a tree or dig a moat around them and fill it with loyal alligators, to make sure that you and only you control whose house your portable generator is actually generating for.

Another downside of portable generators is they run on gasoline, meaning you either have to own your own gas station to keep yours running, or find a station that operates on batteries.  If you find one that operates on batteries call ahead — if you have cell service, and they feel like answering — to make sure they’re willing to let you fill your 300 bright-red one-gallon gas cans you illegally store in the attic, one can at a time over a 4-hour period.  Make sure as well they have an armed guard to care for your physical safety, since the line for gas will be several miles long, and tempers will be less than a millimeter short.

The second type of generators — the extremely expensive ones — are called standby generators because that’s just about all they ever do:  stand by.  They stand by waiting for the power to go out, and when it does — god willing — they turn themselves on.  Unless of course you didn’t buy that 49-dollars-a-month monthly maintenance plan, which if you didn’t ensures that your generator won’t ever turn on even if you say pretty please, and nobody will come out to fix it until the power is back on again.

The extremely expensive generators are particularly good if you live in an area with natural gas, which according to the television is cheap and abundant.  If you don’t then you’ll have to get a propane generator.  The bright side of propane is it burns hotter than natural gas so you’ll use half as much; the dim side is it costs three times more, so you’re screwed either way.  Then you’ll have to decide where to place the propane tanks — underground is more aesthetically pleasing of course, but way more expensive and it wreaks havoc on your lawn.  Above-ground is cheaper but it does lend a trailer-park air to even the nicest of homes.

Let’s say you’ve installed your extremely expensive standby and now you’re standing by:  you could be standing by for years and nothing ever happens.  Then one day you hear dirge music on The Weather Channel and see bright-red bowling-alley cyclone graphics with your house in the strike zone.  Fret not!  You have your generator, you’ve paid your forty-nine-dollars-a-month monthly maintenance plan for a decade, you’ve even remembered to fill your propane tanks.  The squatters on your Excel spreadsheet are making their way over to your house.  Uncle Harvey who you thought had died in 1968 sent you a telegram saying he’s on his way.  And you spend days watching The Weather Channel, trying to figure out the spaghetti maps — one day they look like linguini, the next day like rigatoni, you’re hungry and want a lasagna.  You have no idea whether the ‘cane will come or not — you’re in the Cone of Uncertainty where if you’re honest you’ll admit you’ve spent most of your life — but if it does come unlike most you’re prepared for off-the-grid.  If it doesn’t all you can do is send your squatters home, knowing that soon enough it will be winter again — no more hurricanes! — and iguanas will be falling from the trees.

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