Escaping Hurricane Florence

…and we ended up in New York City.

Some of the best adventures happen when you’re not expecting it.

The start of the fall semester seemed to be going normally, as I was finally getting settled into my routine.

Then, out of nowhere, there were rumors about a Category 4 hurricane ravaging the Carolinas. Everyone panicked—buying cases of water and stocking up on canned goods—and eventually we were told by the university to evacuate.

But to where?

For students that lived on the coast, they were definitely safer in Chapel Hill than at home. And for someone like me, who only lives 20 minutes from campus, it really didn’t make a difference where I was.

Many people escaped to other parts of the state where the hurricane was not supposed to hit as hard. Some had no choice but to stay in Chapel Hill.

My best friend Jaein jokingly suggested that we should go to Villanova University, where the majority of her friends she met from studying abroad in South Korea went to school. I didn’t know a single thing about Villanova, except for the fact that their team shot a last-second three pointer and stole our chance at a national championship title in 2016. I didn’t even know where Villanova was located until I pulled up Google Maps.

Seven hours away, I thought to myself. The drive can’t be too bad. 

What Jaein thought was a joke quickly became a plan that I was devising in a matter of minutes. We called up her friends about coming up for a few days, and they welcomed us with open arms.

So that’s where we decided to go. Not to Charlotte, or Boone, or Atlanta like the majority of students did. But to Pennsylvania.

Wednesday, September 11

Jaein’s study abroad roommate Tori, who is a senior at Carolina, also decided to accompany us on this adventure. We packed up our bags, loaded them into my SUV, and left that Wednesday evening, just hours after we got the alert to evacuate.

And so we drove. Instead of driving for seven hours straight, we decided that DC would be a good place to stop and rest. While this trip had no limits at this point, we made the smart decision to take care of ourselves and to slow down time a bit. And we also wanted to do some sightseeing while we were at it.

The three of us split a budget-friendly hotel room at the Hampton Inn, which was located in the middle of the city and had free breakfast. We explored downtown, walking by the White House and the National Monument.

After just three more hours of driving and passing through Maryland and Delaware, we made it to Pennsylvania. It was a state that I had never been to before. We pulled up to a dorm where Jaein’s friend, Tim, met us and helped us unload our bags. We moved my car to the guest lot, in which we had to explain to the parking attendant why exactly we were visiting from North Carolina.

Tim was extremely kind and selfless to let us take over his single bedroom in the dorm while he slept in his other friend’s room. Then we met the rest of Jaein and Tori’s study abroad friends, such as Ivan and William. Even though I knew none of them, I immediately felt as if I had been friends with them for a while too. They were all so eager to host us, even though it was a completely random occurrence.

It’s weird to spend time on another college campus. Especially at Villanova, which is a small private school that has about a third of the undergraduates that Carolina does. The dorm where Tim and William lived in also housed the main dining hall and many classrooms. There was no “Franklin Street,” as Villanova is tiny and is certainly not a college town. Instead, the students had the city of Philadelphia in their backyards.

While the school itself was not too interesting, the guys took us downtown for dinner, and we ate at an amazing dim-sum restaurant in Chinatown. In North Carolina, authentic Asian food is hard to come by, nevertheless dim-sum. We feasted on our food.

The hurricane was getting worse at home, and the university also canceled classes for Thursday and Friday. We were stuck in Pennsylvania anyway, so there was no way we were coming home before then.

Thursday, September 12

Tim and Ivan skipped their classes that day to continue hanging out with us. Tim is a huge foodie, so he knew the best spots to go in Philly. We went to Chinatown again, eating the most amazing dry hotpot. They customized our orders, so we got to pick all the different kinds of meats, vegetables, and noodles we wanted. Another round of food coma for us.

After walking around the city for a bit, we visited Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens, an indoor and outdoor mosaic art gallery. It was beautiful to walk around.

For dinner, we ate at the best Korean barbecue restaurant that I’ve had in the United States. We could grill unlimited meat, vegetables, and had all of the side dishes we could ever want. This whole trip was basically defined by us obsessing over Korean food, as there really are not many options back in Chapel Hill.

While all of this was happening, Ivan was having difficulties with his bank account over at Chase Bank. After talking to a customer representative, Ivan needed to go to NYC to the headquarters to resolve the issues he was having.

We all looked at each other, knowing exactly what each of us was thinking. Let’s go to New York together.

So we booked an Airbnb for the five of us and a $14 Greyhound ticket for the next day to New York, which was less than two hours away.

Friday, September 13

The Greyhound bus was a pleasantly comfortable ride, and it dropped us off right at Times Square. I had just visited the city last month, so I still had my MTA subway card. We first took care of Ivan’s business with Chase bank of course, and then it was time to explore.

We spent the rest of the day shopping and dining in SoHo, and afterwards we decided to check out some of the nightlife. After an extremely long day, we crawled into bed at 5AM.

Saturday, September 14

After rushing to check out of our Airbnb, Ivan brought us to his cousin Danae’s apartment, who lived in Midtown and works for Yves-Saint Laurent. We also met Ivan’s other cousin and younger sister. Danae’s apartment and lifestyle was everything I wanted for myself in ten years.

The eight of us went to brunch at 11AM. We figured that we had plenty of time to eat and chat, given that our bus was departing at 2PM. But instead, we got lost in conversation. At my end of the table, Danae, Tori, and I were having a serious heart-to-heart as we talked about our lives together. We laughed–and even cried–by the end of the brunch. We almost missed our bus back to Philly.

Back home, the hurricane was thankfully not as severe as we had all anticipated. Class was going to resume on Monday, which meant that it was time for Tori, Jaein and I to make the seven-hour drive home.

We packed up our bags and left Villanova that same night. We said our goodbyes, and hoped that Tim and Ivan would be able to visit us at Carolina sometime soon.

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