COCOA BEACH – One of Orlando’s favorite beach escapes would have been wall-to-wall with Labor Day sunbathers -- but for Hurricane Dorian.
Most restaurants, beach shops and hotels were stacking chairs, aligning sandbags and turning off the vacancy signs. Sunday traffic on State Road A1A through Cape Canaveral and Cocoa Beach was with a purpose other than vacationing.
Brevard County’s barrier island evacuation notice had been for early Sunday morning, resulting in many people clearing out on Saturday. But as Dorian has defied forecasts, officials moved the notice to Monday morning.
Cocoa Beach police said the notice is not mandatory but that emergency calls won’t be responded to when hurricane conditions arrive.
“It’s not that I want to be here, but I don’t have a car and I’ve got eight cats,” said Art Robinson, 71, who lives in a mobile home in Cape Canaveral, just north of Cocoa Beach.
A neighbor, Chris Jennings, gave him a ride to the gas pumps at a Circle K because that’s what neighbors do, he said.
Robinson filled four, 10-gallon cans with gas for a generator he bought used in 2004 when Hurricane Jeanne hit.
Jennings, 55, had been ordered to clear out a storage shed because of the approaching storm and his contents, from crutches to a barbecue grill, were in a disorganized pile in the back of his pickup.
Ryan Russell, 32, pulled up to the pumps in an SUV and braked hard. “This storm coming or what?” Russell said, jumping out.
A native of Cape Canaveral, Russell said hurricanes there follow a rule of opposites: the bad ones according to forecasters aren’t so bad, and the weak ones according to forecasters flood the most cars and knock down the most power lines.
“I hope this one blows through,” Russell said.
At the South First Street beach access in Cocoa Beach, the ocean was already working itself into a froth.
The far thin, rim of the Atlantic was blue, closer in was khaki green and still closer was brown waves that broke into a 100 yards of white foam. The roiling surf spewed a hot mist into the air. There were no swimmers.
T.D. Day, 58, a Cocoa Beach resident for nearly 20 years, predicted the tide and waves would reach the board walk, were he was standing and sipping a beer, by late Sunday night.
“You can tell something is coming,” Day said. His friend, Mark Donner, 57, concurred. “I can feel it in my bones.”
Day said of the relatively few people still in Cocoa and Cape Canaveral “that anybody still here now is probably going to stay.”
But the National Hurricane Center’s forecast at 11 Sunday morning was a little too daunting for her and she decided to leave Monday morning.
In Cocoa Beach, a small shopping strip with a karate studio, H&R Block and Oriental Food Mart was clad in a fortress of plywood.
In Cape Canaveral, an Ace Hardware and a Winn-Dixie were open, as was a Wendy’s “until 1 a.m.,” its sign stated.
The marine businesses at Port Canaveral were boarded up and their parking lots were empty. Cruise ships were gone. The port is not a beginner with hurricane prep, having gone through Matthew in 2016 and Irma in 2017.
Just to the south, “We are the last restaurant open in Cape Canaveral,” said Christi Gardner, 42, a worker at Kelsey’s Pizza Pasta Kitchen on State Road A1A.
Gardner is a veteran of Florida hurricanes. A co-worker, Petra Kubo, 28, is a novice. Between them, they served only four tables Saturday night.
Down the street, McDonald’s, Zachary’s Restaurant and Thai Thai Sushi Bar were closed.
“I’ve never seen this city so dead,” Gardner said. “I rode my scooter this morning and there was no traffic, which is weird because everybody said they are not leaving. Maybe they are just staying home …"
”... drinking,” Kubo said, cutting off Gardner. “But not me. I’m not drinking. This is my first hurricane and I am scare to death.”
Gardner said she is not leaving because of her experience with Hurricane Irma. At the time, she was living in the Keys and evacuated to a hotel in Georgia.
“It took us so long to get back home,” Gardner said. “I’m not doing that again.”
Zachary’s manager, Richard Virgovic, was sweating through his shirt and irritated by a bolt that had stripped while installing a storm shutter. He said there was no deadline for closing.
“It’s minute by minute,” Virgovic said.
Bartender Genya Richter, 40, said only crushing wind or a power outage would stop service of draft beer, liquor, wings and fries. “We’ll be open until we can’t be open anymore,” she said.
“We’re just trying to make people happy,” said waitress Jenny Cooley, 35. “There won’t be any strangers in here.”