UMD and Hurricane Irene: That time two guys walked around in the rain for a while

My baseball cap blew off 10 seconds after we walked out the front door. Diamondback editor Jon Wolper and I wandered into the storm just after midnight Saturday night, when we had decided it looked awful enough to find something interesting.

The wind was blowing the rain hard, the tiny droplets stinging the faces and arms of the half-dozen people huddled in front of Commons 7. Water rushed down the road past the Mowatt Lane parking garage. Trees swayed dramatically. A Jimmy John’s delivery man dropped a sandwich off at Commons 5. Those guys are better than the Post Office.

Farther up Preinkert Drive, we saw lightning flash to the northeast, and four men in full-length yellow coats and hoods wandered in front of Caroline Hall looking like characters out of Despicable Me.

It was like this, except windier and more ominous.

Two men stumbled, soaked, past Shoemaker Hall and yelled after us. They wanted to know where Hagerstown Hall was. Wolper told them it was far, really far, and asked why they wanted to know.

They were freshmen, on their way home from a frat party. They just moved in, they said, and had no idea where they were. Just walk that way, we said, and stop if you get to the Comcast Center.

McKeldin Mall was a swamp. Parts of the sidewalk were submerged in three inches of (very cold) water, and the grass was matted flat where water was steadily flowing into a drainage grate. There were, as we’d hoped, students at the ODK fountain — about a dozen men, most in the fountain, most in their underwear. Several clothed gentlemen, seniors, they said, sat on the nearby wall drinking Natural Light, talking about how the storm had “been a disappointment up until now.” The wind gusted harder, and a tree branch blew in front of the giant spotlight shining on the fountain. One of them yelled, “come on, Irene,” for what was probably the 50th time that night, then two guys got naked in the fountain and ran from one end to the other. The beer-drinking men looked away.

We walked toward the Stamp Student Union, Wolper talked about how writers for the entertainment section never get to do Things Like This. The staircase between Stamp and the Nyumburu Cultural Center was littered with branches.

Walking up stadium drive, the rain started to hurt. The wind made it hard to walk up the hill, and the massive light pole overlooking the soccer practice field swayed and clanked loudly enough that we didn’t stick around to watch it.

We walked past a man running towards Ellicott Hall with a destroyed red and white umbrella. On LaPlata Beach, between LaPlata and Cumberland Halls, three shirtless students were running in circles on the astroturf. We asked them what they were doing. “Enjoying the hurricane, motherfucker,” one said. Another, named Leo, said the storm “could be better.” They wandered off, with no destination, into the dark.

On the sidewalk leading up to the North Campus diner, what was at one point a metal trash can lay on its side next to the sidewalk. It weighed at least 80 pounds and offered no evidence of how it got there. Maybe it was that guy with the umbrella.

Walking towards the Denton Community, we spotted the first and only females we saw all night. There were large branches lying on the ground in the picnic area in front of Elkton Hall, and two 20-foot pine trees had been ripped out of the ground next to the apiary. We looked for the bees. We didn’t find any bees.

Near the alumni center, we passed a group of three men. They were yelling; one fell off a curb.

You fellows enjoying the hurricane, I asked.

“Absolutely,” one of them said.

Where have you been, we said.

“…Absolutely,” he said.

We moved on.

The trek calmed down after that — a front-end loader drove through Lot 1, a tree was uprooted in front of Knight Hall. A Diamondback photographer was in front of the ODK fountain talking about all the mysterious white vans he’d spotted roving the campus and about the strange men wearing yellow coats in the shadows. (We found some more yellow men walking away from Woods Hall; they said they were with Facilities Management and were checking buildings for flooding and making sure drains were clear.)

We got back to find out that power had gone out of a large portion of South Campus and that, rather than Prince George’s County having 30,000 people without power, it was now 114,975. But the worst seemed to be over, and the Sunday forecast predicted College Park to be mostly sunny and 80 degrees.

As I write this in the dark on a dying laptop, it’s still raining hard, and there have been several noises that sounded like explosions outside of Commons 7. Everyone’s smoke alarms are beeping with startling volume, which seemed annoying until College Park Patch tweeted about a tree falling on a house on Dartmouth Avenue.

At least it’s supposed to be nice tomorrow.


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