A neon light in the storm

Published 10:06 pm Thursday, September 1, 2011

This Saturday, as Hurricane Irene was having its way with Hampton Roads, a number of thoughts went through my mind. Would my family and friends come out of this crisis OK? Would the meager possessions that I didn’t have strapped to my back be safe in Norfolk, or would they be found floating down Granby Street? And, would harm come to me, in some way preventing me from again enjoying life’s simple pleasures?

After only a brief spell without power at the Holiday Inn Express here in Suffolk, where I stayed this weekend, the major concerns, much like the storm itself, subsided for a while. I was left to consider a more immediate concern after all the candy bars, potato chips and snack crackers were gone. I was getting very hungry.

In the midst of the mad scramble to provide the good people of Suffolk with their news and information, I’d forgotten to heed my own advice and grab a few cans of Beefaroni. And there simply wasn’t a single Funyun to be found. (So I guess someone had taken my advice here in Suffolk, after all.)

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Perhaps more hungry than logical at the time — or perhaps that’s just my usual state — I hopped into my little Ford Focus in the middle of the storm to find some food — at the very least, I hoped, a stray can of Chef Boyardee that had fallen from a frantic stranger’s stockpile of bunker vittles.

Somewhere on Godwin Boulevard, not far from my hotel room, a beacon shone through the murky gray skies and storm-pounded landscape. While stopped at an intersection, just beyond a small fallen tree, I saw a neon sign, reading “Open.”

This was not an oasis, but an honest-to-goodness open-for-business sign shining brightly at Shun Xing Chinese restaurant.

I’ve only truly cried twice in my life — once when I fell off my mother’s roof when a swarm of bees attacked me in the face and the day I learned they’d discontinued the McDLT at McDonald’s — but tears of joy streamed down my face as I drove up to the restaurant.

I entered Shun Xing almost completely oblivious to the hoards of people waiting for their orders. It was like getting to the Super Bowl for me; I was just happy to be there. And after the most delightful wait I’d ever had the privilege to sit through, I was holding teriyaki chicken, sweet and sour chicken, and sesame beef right in my hands, smack dab in the middle of a hurricane.

It might seem a small thing, devouring a ridiculous amount of my favorite food in a hotel room. But it really made me feel things would be OK.

It also helped me put things in perspective. First, I could not help but acknowledge how lucky I and so many others in the area were through this hurricane. Take it from someone who was working in the newspaper industry back during Hurricane Isabel — the devastation can be mind-boggling.

It also made me realize for those who did suffer losses in this storm, it’s important to remember that life will carry on, wounds will heal and we should all feel fortunate that it was not much worse. And like the open sign at Shun Xing, there’s a light at the end of every rough journey.

Mostly, I felt it necessary to extend a thank-you to the staff at Shun Xing Chinese restaurant for being open and doing their best to offer food in the middle of a hurricane. It must not have been easy.

I hope my patience and cooperation was an adequate demonstration of my appreciation for the effort they made. Even though I can’t remember what I did with my fortune cookie from the meal I had on Saturday, I certainly feel like I gained wisdom from this hurricane.

Plus, I learned that Shun Xing makes awesome sesame beef.