Hurricane Sandy brings Marylanders an unexpected off-day

With one day before Hurricane Sandy was expected to knock out power for much of the area, Marylanders like Rob Reichel spent Monday braving the wet and windy weather to ensure their families had what they needed to get through the storm.

"We wanted to cook another nice dinner tonight while we still have power," said Reichel, 48, as he shopped at the Giant on York Road in Baltimore. He said he was motivated by the need for more milk and other provisions, along with "a little curiosity" about Sandy.

With many businesses, government agencies and schools closed, Marylanders made the best of an unexpected if uneasy free day. Many made last-minute runs for groceries, liquor and whatever batteries were left on the shelves. Others took the opportunity to see the coming storm before its full intensity forced them inside.

Some wanted the chance to get out of the house, anticipating days of stir-craziness this week should the power go out and schools and businesses remain closed.

"We know we're going to be having cabin fever this week," said Martha Caplan, 50, who with husband Sailor Mohler, 39, and daughter Olivia, 6, ran errands and lunched at Alonso's on Cold Spring Lane on Monday. "Our power always goes out."

The Cedarcroft area family then planned to have a movie night — or afternoon — because no one had work or school in the immediate future.

"We've been watching movies," said Maddy Blakeman, a Loyola University Maryland student who with a group of friends slept late and then headed to the Roland Park Bagel Co. because classes have been canceled.

Blakeman, who turned 19 Monday, is originally from Vero Beach, Fla., so she is all too familiar with hurricanes. She remembers one from middle school, when a tree fell on her family's house, they lost power for days in the midst of the Florida heat and, finally, decided to head to Disney World.

"My mom said, 'We have to go to the magical place where there is still power,' " she said.

After surviving five days without power during the summer derecho, Reichel wasn't too worried about this storm. "It's nice when the power goes out, and you can get the kids off the screens for a bit," Reichel said of his 11- and 14-year-old children.

Those who were forced to drive Monday proceeded with caution and tried to limit travel to the morning and early afternoon, before the storm intensified. Flooding and high winds closed many roads and bridges around the state, and Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake barred travel on city streets from 6 p.m. Monday until at least noon on Tuesday.

Hal and Peggy Laurent made the slow and nerve-racking journey from Cumberland to their Butchers Hill home Monday morning. Hal Laurent, 58, a computer programmer, had volunteered to help with an ultra-marathon in the Western Maryland mountains over the weekend.

"We really noticed that the wind had gotten more pronounced when we stopped at the South Mountain rest stop. Umbrellas were useless at that point, turning inside out when the wind gusts came," he said.

Piloting the couple's bright green Honda Element grew especially hazardous as the morning wore on, Laurent said.

"Driving was tough," said Laurent. "As we got closer to Baltimore, it got even worse, wind-wise. The calm inside the [Harbor] tunnel was a welcome relief."

Many seemed to be heeding the travel restrictions, especially as the rain intensified and the skies darkened. Some who stayed in enjoyed the coziness — pots of soup on the stove and books on the lap. Others took advantage of the time.

"I'm tackling my to-do list," said Cheryl Pascall, 26. Like most nonessential Baltimore city employees, Pascall had the day off, and she was cleaning her Mount Vernon home. "I don't have any excuses today."

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