Hold on to your hat: Here’s to eating a hot dog in a hurricane

Joey Blum

I dedicate this piece to:

Matt, Lily, Miles, Kyle, Isaac, Kate, Casey, Brett, Jake, and the many other firefighters I know working tirelessly and protecting us from the fires raging across Oregon. You have my admiration and gratitude.

And to:

Nick “The Trainer Dude” Hammond, whom I profiled in The Chronicle (Sept. 3, 2020). Barely a few days after the piece came out, Nick and his family lost their home to the Holiday Farm Fire burning on the McKenzie River, going from an evacuation call to destruction in a few hours. Before I knew what was happening, I received a call from Nick, but could not get through to him when I called back. That was the night of the evacuation. The following day, Chronicle publisher Noel Nash texted me with sympathetic words about the tragedy with Nick’s family. I still had no idea what had happened and was now terribly worried. When I finally connected with Nick, he told me his family was safe, and was staying with friends, but that his home and everything they owned had burned to the ground. 

Then, Nick told me that he was cleaning his gym!

Try to comprehend that: Two days after losing everything he owned to a cataclysmic fire, Nick got up, the same as every other day; drove to his gym, the same as every other day; cleaned the gym, the same as every other day; and focused on contributing to the lives of others that day, the same as every other day.

Nick is a man of enduring faith, and we laughed when he told me that just the other day he had been thinking that he had too much stuff. “I know God hears me talking to him, but I didn’t expect him to deal with that quite so radically. I asked and he answered.” Then he told me that everything was okay. “I’m doing what I’ve always done, cleaning the gym, taking care of my family and staying optimistic.”  

Those who know Nick understand that immutable truth about him. Good times or bad times, he will “keep hammering” and roll with the punches.  

It is with these people in mind I offer the following.

In August 1978, I lived in New York City for the summer. I was visiting with a friend on Long Island when Hurricane Belle bore down on New York. I sped home to the Bronx ahead of the hurricane, and prepared to watch the storm from inside. Then, honoring one of the more defiant creeds of my life to – “Never let good sense get in the way of a bad decision” – I thought, “Why not go against the grain? Why should I hunker down like everyone else from the safety of a brick tower, and instead, experience the storm full on, exposed, rain in the face, wind at my back?”

I went outside and braced against the howling wind, watched the trees (and the power and telephone lines) tremble, let the rain soak me to the bone, watching torrents of water cleanse the filthy city’s grime. And, the most beautiful part of the experience was when the literal eye of the hurricane arrived for a euphoric pause in the tempest and all went still, and I stood alone, in the center of a hurricane, in a city of 8 million people, completely at peace and alive. I thought all that was missing was a hot dog. If only I could eat a hot dog in the eye of a hurricane.  

As I write this, at least two hurricanes are upon us. Fire is burning our state and much of the west with smoke-filled skies shrouding our world as COVID-19 has us struggling to comprehend what to do.

News reports hammer us with threats; anger, Coronavirus, violence, protest, unemployment, and the normal diversions that help us stay sane like sports, restaurants, concerts, movies, church, school, picnics, are absent. The world has an abundance of ways to make us crazy.  

I’m not waiting for the return to a normal that never existed and I know there are some things you just have to ride out. Sometimes you have to walk into the storm and let it flow over you until the eye settles. In those moments you will never feel more alive and even enjoy the earth, wind, fire, rain.  

I wrote this piece with the intention of helping others find serenity amidst the chaos. I hope it does. We are not the first people to endure hardship.  

Here is my “hot dog” of the current “hurricane.” A week before the fires started, I developed a craving for fried chicken. Today, I will satisfy that craving, and the literal irony of it is not lost on me. (Using Emeril Lagasse’s recipe.)

Write to Joey at [email protected].



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