Saturday, September 30, 2017

The Story Of A Table

That these wires are still down causes me and the neighbors on my street endless aggravation. People are on their roofs putting down tarps, ladders, nails power tools are all in use. An injury would lead to a lawsuit, its inevitable as these wires are preventing fire trucks and ambulances from getting on our street.
Somehow electricity has been restored but trash collection is impossible. I call it Mumbai Street to designate the hopeless wire confusion that reigns here. My neighbor put in the crosspieces to fit his huge pick up underneath but these wires which would carry TV from a cable company and phone/internet service from American Telephone and Telegraph are no ones responsibility and no one will fix this mess. 
 Mumbai Street in all it's decomposing glory with rain forecast for this my weekend off work:
So in approaching my rented home in grumpy mood I come across the picnic table which had been shoved into the middle of a heap of trash in the yard by 140 mph winds. It had looked like this in the shadow of the palm:
And now it looks like this, restored to its proper place and function, a sturdy bit of construction not diminished by a category four storm:
This is the man who built the table 20 years ago, my landlord's father Mike, a proud Cuban-American. I guess it took Hurricane Irma for me to find out the story behind the innocuous picnic table. They built it for the family to sit around when they came to the Keys to spend a family vacation here.
 The table is massive and  very heavy and built to last. It must have been built properly because it is completely unscathed. The wood is worn and its comfortable to sit at as the proportions are correct but also the worn surfaces feel good in the way only old wood feels. 
Mike is attached to this house as it has a lot of happy family memories which makes me feel even more aware of my good fortune renting here. I have always liked the house because it exudes what must be all those happy vacation memories. It is also well built and solid. No water got in and we were in the very center of the massive hurricane that covered all of Florida.
He's an old man but full of energy is el viejo.  I was glad to meet him even under these dire circumstances. Luckily we need touch up only but we are apparently looked after by a caring capable family.
The street? Thats a mess and not going to change for a good long while I guess and those wires will stay down until someone gets hurt no doubt and then there will be hell to pay.
Still I feel I am a lucky man.

Friday, September 29, 2017


To say the word got out would be an understatement. In times like these a hot meal served without fuss or delay is a life altering experience and people lined up for a slice of that.
I compare our situation to that in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands and aside from wind strengths and construction codes one has to be grateful for the Overseas Highway. Also that it stayed mostly intact and the places where it didn't were quickly fixed. So we were lucky to get to meet the new Denny's disaster food truck. Seen here dispensing buttermilk pancakes and coffee to survivors. It was a truly simple yet great thing.
I ate at Denny's  all the time when I first came to the US in 1981 and rode coast to coast on a Vespa P200. I had never seen such a  place before with huge menus and over the top descriptions of food that sounded too good to be true to someone not used to rhetorical flourish in day to day use. I ate the Grand Slam Breakfast all over the place and pancakes and bacon and eggs set me up for the day's ride. I've always had a fondness for the quintessential 24 hour diner, much more so than bland fast food eateries which hold no nostalgia value for me.Denny's was the American diner only ever seen at the movies.
So to be served free food by smiling clean people in a fast moving line was really quite amazing. The offerings were smart and simple: pancakes bacon and hot coffee and cold water. Stand in line with hands outstretched and a few minutes later you got a seat all to yourself. Easy and fast - and free. It was so nice we came and ate here twice at Mile Marker 15.
In the photo above the lady on the left took a  few minutes to tell us about this eighteen wheeler serving food. She said it was a new idea dreamed up at Denny's headquarters in South Carolina after they saw the damage inflicted by Hurricane Harvey in Texas. I guess the food truck craze must have struck somebody because this is probably the world's biggest and it has to be the most organized. 
 It's hard to explain how much this gesture meant.
 But I'm not going to forget it. And in a world gone mad with fear and aggression and deprivation a plate of hotcakes and bacon makes a world...of difference. It's not a cure for cancer but it is a cure for the blues. At the moment you can't ask for more.
Next stop Denny's said was Immokalee. Lucky them, lucky us.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Upper Keys - Irma

I took my first drive to the mainland last week to buy a 2012 Ford Fusion to replace my 2010 which flooded and died in hurricane Irma. It was an instructive drive which I took as passenger as I was in need of rest on my day off. I napped and took photographs pretty much at random as we went, It was nice seeing a tanker truck on its way to keep fuel lines short at gas stations:
Obviously the Overseas Highway is full of work trucks of one sort or another the whole way. I was surprised at the extent of damage 80 or more miles from the eye which landed somewhere close to my home at MIle Marker 23.
I got stuck behind a wrecker for a good few miles, with it traveling unloaded and apparently at random. Here at Lower Matecumbe where the road is always covered in sand and impassable after a hurricane.

The amount of debris was impressive and grew even more when I drove back in my new-to-me Fusion at which point I was driving and not taking pictures:

Indian Key, the only other township in the Keys in the early 18th century when only a few people lived scattered on farmsteads on the other islands in the chain:
Tea Table Keys, showing a lot of burned vegetation still:

Curfew in the Upper Keys was moved back to midnight. That curfew ended at dawn seemed weird to me as dawn is close to 7am which would be difficult for people who drive to work at 6am...and there are plenty of them still.
Porta potties line the highway on the north side. Its a smart idea as there are few restaurants and gas stations open to relieve returning evacuees. Very handy...

At the end f the county on Card Sound Road the old toll booth scheduled to come down soon has already lost its blue awning which asked you not to forget your keys...
An automated Sunpass booth was scheduled to grow here by February 2018. 

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

After The Storm

Many years ago, eighteen to be precise, my wife and I found ourselves going to the movies one night. We left the dogs on the boat in the marina after a very long walk, and picked up a cab at the gates for the drive round the waterfront to the more upscale side of town where we found a shopping mall with a theater. I forget the title of the movie but it was some Hollywood production, in English with Spanish subtitles as they rarely seem to dub movies in Mexico. Halfway through the film the projector stopped, the lights came up and we had an obligatory intermission when people could buy candy and catch up on missing plot lines. It was rather charming.
 Leaving San Diego October 1998, Baha Ha Ha VI Rally. Gemini 105 catamaran hull #529

After the movie ended we stretched and got up out of armchairs and waded through a  sea of wrappers and popcorn containers to the exits and then we realized once again we were back in Mexico, more precisely Acapulco and we had thousands of miles yet to travel before we reach Key West. Damn! For a moment there we had been transported back to the US in the dark, back to he familiar, the easy and the known. And it wasn't that we weren't enjoying the journey necessarily, we just wanted a break from the daily grind of living in a foreign culture.
Panama Canal, Miraflores Lake, Emma and Debs wishing they were ashore August 1999

These days I feel like that a lot of the time. I wish I could wake up and walk away from this culture of torn up trees and quirky electricity and boil water orders and so forth. You can't make the argument that any of this is fun, but like choosing to go sailing with your family, choosing to live in the hurricane belt with your family is up to you. And even so there are good bits to being caught up in a Category Four storm,
At anchor in the wild and lonely Pacific Coast islands of Panama, of our favorite cruising grounds. 1999

To get to live through a major hurricane is an event in one's life that some people crave. They want bragging rights which I find odd. I knew before Irma showed up that despite leveling an entire Third World island that lacked building codes like ours (and ours could be a lot stricter!) only one person among 1800 died on Barbuda. The chances of my dying seemed remote, especially to someone who defies death every day by commuting by motorcycle. The thing is, the adrenaline rush passes, the survival of the event transforms into the survival of the drudgery that follows, and it is a drudge to survive after the storm has gone.
Now it is endless clean up, removing debris, filing paperwork, talking to adjusters, waiting for electricity, flushing toilets by hand and so forth. And just like in a Acapulco that warm tropical night two decades ago I would like to be transported away, even if for just a little while to a place where the grass is green and tree have leaves and no one is surprised to see running tap water or menus outside open restaurants. This is the part about the storm that people elsewhere don't understand. You don't die in hurricanes you just get fed up and bored and angry. You just want the damned electric lights to work and keep working. This is how for the past two weeks we entered and left our street. Had we needed an ambulance or fire truck it would have been curtains. As it was we all drove through our neighbor's yard to get in and out:
Just room enough for a sedan or a pick up truck thanks to the efforts of my neighbor Jose who propped the wires up on cross beams of his invention, no thanks to Keys Energy for their lack of help:
I am sure you are tired of hearing about the daily drudgery but my world has shrunk. For a week I was happy to forget the name of the President, Governor Rick Scott did outstanding work organizing relief and being a presence to remind everyone help for us was important to him and I am grateful. This storm has changed me. I am not willing to assume that there will be no more hurricanes. I know there will be more and this circus will be repeated. I cannot take for granted water or electricity or phone service after the abysmal collapse of everything civilized following Irma. My expectations are low. We have electricity now but tomorrow who knows? I came across friend steam cleaning his garage of mud with an electric appliance. I turned to my wife and said: "They til have electricity" as though it could have been in doubt. I keep doubting.
A group of Latter Day Saints came by a friend's wrecked house and put order inside and out in a couple of hours. She couldn't believe it. One woman said she flew to Miami from San Francisco the day before and there she was with her family of all ages tearing it up. It was a hell of thing and saved Kathy a bunch of grief and despair. Better change our stereotypes of the Mormons I guess. There is kindness in the midst of wreckage.
After it all goes into the history books I will be left with a vaguely unsatisfactory feeling that even when I know what to expect I still fail to measure up to my own standards. Hurricanes  get you like that, you never what exactly they will end up doing even if you yourself know the sequence of emotions that go through your mind after the storms have blown away. And still I'd rather be two hundred miles away in a green and pleasant land they used to call Florida - the flowery state.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Rusty The Refugee

Leaving Rusty during the month of July to be with my family in Italy was hard enough but then came Irma. Through hurricane season the plan at the back of our minds is for my wife the evacuate as soon as schools close. Sometimes in a low category storm if  she feels confident and has a reliable friend staying at home my wife will join them always with the dog. In this case there was no doubt evacuation was in order. She went early, leaving at 6am on the Wednesday beforethe storm and she got to Pensacola well before the chaos that followed as much of Florida evacuated on Thursday and Friday. Then she went to see another college friend in Birmingham, Alabama, before ending up with a third friend in Asheville followed by a visit with her sister who was working in Marion, North Carolina. Then she turned around and came south stopping with yet another friend in Palm Beach before coming home. And more importantly bringing the little prince safely back. And along the way as I pined I got these postcards:

 Fellow refugees Chuck and Wayne met up with Layne at Therese's house in Pensacola for mutual commiseration.

The fine clean sand of the Florida panhandle:
He found evacuating stressful and did a lot of sleeping