In the final hours of daylight before Hurricane Earl's arrival, Morehead City's downtown streets remained mostly empty.
A Red Cross disaster relief van, parked in a desolate lot, reminded passers-by of the serious business that might come. Until then, at Jack's Waterfront Bar, their pre-disaster relief would come in longneck beer.
Many Morehead businesses, including the famous Sanitary Restaurant and Fish Market, closed early. At Jack's, they raised the big garage doors at 4 p.m. to welcome Earl's cool breezes and a couple of dozen drinkers. Beach music boomed from the giant speakers inside, as locals gathered on the bar's outdoor deck to commiserate on the storm that, most agreed, would not be a big deal.
"This is a no-risk hurricane party," said David Sledge, who lives in town.
Along with the battening of hatches, the application of plywood window coverings and the run on the grocery store's white bread, the hurricane party is a must-do for many coastal dwellers.
After all the work that goes into securing a home, the hurricane party is a respite before the cleanup work begins, said Vada Palma, an Atlantic Beach town commissioner.
Playing it safe
Palma planned to spend the night with her sister in Morehead City, but not before stopping at Jack's, where she sipped on a cup of Natural Light cut with ice cubes. Always cognizant of appearances, she swaddled the cup with a leopard-print, fringe-ringed cozy that she chose to match her black dress.
Palma said she stayed in her three-story home on pylons for a hurricane - once. The house swayed. Everything rattled.
"The wind is like the gates of hell being unleashed," she said, before copping to her love of hyperbole. Even so, she wasn't going to take a chance at home when her sister lives so close and off the barrier island. "She lives in a nice, stable, one-story brick home. It does not shake and rock and roll."
For Sledge's wife, Stephanie, enjoying an al fresco beverage is part of the pre-hurricane experience. The air is different before a hurricane. It feels great to be outside.
"First, we journey to the beach to see the waves," she said. "Then we find a bar."