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Chasing The American Dream

October 29, 2005


Friday, 10/28/05 7a.m.
Forgive and forget. I was never good at either of those until I made a conscious effort to change. Nowadays, it comes more easily to me. So I forgive you, FEMA. So I win at the forgive and forget thing, but I may lose out on the, “Fool me once shame on you, fool me twice shame on me,” deal. I’m off to get ice at Camp FEMA…

Getting up early has its privileges. I’m the eighth car in line. I took a look over across the park and saw the big trucks and the military vehicles so it looks like Camp FEMA is still operating. I just asked the guy ahead of me if he knew whether or not they were actually going to hand out ice and water. He didn’t know. I turned on the radio and got confirmation that, yes, FEMA was handing out ice and water. Now comes my favorite part of waiting in line, sleeping.

I think of all the hardships, if you call all this hardship, sleep is the most difficult thing I’ve faced. For the last 22 months, I’ve had to fall asleep with the TV on. It started because the quiet was driving me mad. My brain was on overload and buzzed with a million thoughts. The couch and the TV, oh and eventually some meds, cured me. It’s too quiet now. My ears are getting sore from the iPod earbuds. So my best sleep comes now, waiting for ice in my car in the middle of 54th street…

8:12 a.m.
A ruckus wakes me up. The lady behind me is screaming that some cars are trying to cut in line. I give her the look like, “Hey, you woke me up; and besides, do you really think there’s something I can do about that?” My eyes shut…

8:22 a.m.
Short nap. Cars are starting. The cops are opening the park gates. I’m thinking I might just get outta here early for a change. We slowly roll into position; we’re split into two lines so I’m the 4th car from paydirt. For the first time, I focus on Operation Ice and Water. There are pallets and pallets of what looks to be gallon water jugs and individual bottled water packs. I don’t need water, but the bottled water would be nice. There are tons of people standing around not doing much. The cops are in black, FEMA staff is (or is it ‘are’?) dressed in yellow t-shirts, and the National Guard are in their traditional fatigues. There are army tents and those camouflage army jeeps. I’m trying to process all this. I’ve seen this in the movies. I’ve seen it in New Orleans after Katrina. Somehow, I just never pictured myself in one of these scenes. So I watch and wait…

9:08 a.m.
Well, they said, “Opens at 9,” and they weren’t kidding. What’s disappointing is that they could have started at 8 from what I could see with all those people standing around. So NOW, everyone is springing into action. The plastic is coming off the pallets, and everyone is moving into their strategic military position. The cops stand at car #1, and FEMA and the Guard man the ice and water stations…

9:18 a.m.
DHL 18-wheelers are arriving and blocking our way. The other line is moving; we’re stuck…

9:25 a.m.
The trucks move out of the way and the cops tell me to pop the trunk. I slowly roll toward the line. Before I could even say anything, a yellow-shirt throws 3 gallon jugs of water into my front seat. A split-second of panic hits me. No, not because I didn’t get the water bottles. The ice! I ask a Guard where the ice is and he points to the big yellow DHL trucks. 10 a.m. he says. Oh my god people, was I steamed! So the people behind me get ice, and my reward for arriving early is no ice. Hmm, all’s fair in love and war, I guess. And this is a war, right?

9:27 a.m.
I decide that since I’m out, I’m gonna make my way over to Richville otherwise known as Weston. There is lots of money in Weston as I’ve said. Most residents lost power for only an hour. I heard on the radio that their stores are fully powered and are selling refrigerated items and ice. I figure while I’m there, I might return to the Bagel shop and try my luck again. My mind freezes for a second because I see a strange sight. A green light. Out of habit, I slow down to stop but notice cars are going through the intersection normally. Another green light. Wow, these people have it made. I stop at the first grocery store I see. No lines. No ice either. The store manager tells me 3 p.m. I walk back to my dirty hurricane-blown car. It stands out like a sore thumb. The fancy cars in Weston are all clean somehow. No sign of a hurricane. I guess having power and water gets your car washed. Nice. Next store. Like the other one, it’s wonderfully air-conditioned, clean, refrigerated items in their coolers but no ice. Exasperation. I’m going home.

10:03 a.m.
My growling stomach reminds me hunt for the bagel. My memory tells me that three years ago, when I worked here, there was a Dunkin’ Donuts down the street. I’m thinkin’ Iced Coffee over a bagel so I turn right instead of left. So far this morning, I’ve seen all of two gas stations open. You can tell their open by the miles and miles of cars waiting. Insanity. One of these lines is blocking my way. I can’t get to DD. Now I have to make a U-Turn. I don’t know why I did, but I took a look to my left and there it was. Starbucks. My elation was quickly tempered. I told myself not to get too excited. Iceless ice stations, iceless grocery stores, bagelless bagel shops, hell, it may not even be open and even if it is, who knows what they’re actually selling?

First clue, cars in front. Good sign. Second clue, guy coming out with two coffees. At least their serving. I’ll take anything. There’s one person in front of me. One. I must be dreaming. My turn. “Do you have ice?” “Yes.” I’m in shock and can barely eke out, “Iced venti, iced coffee unsweet.” I’m so excited, I can’t stand it. I ask the Barista how long have they been open, and she tells me 5 minutes. I smiled. Luck is changing. I fixed up my iced coffee and took a slow sip. I think the last time I had a smile this big was when I last saw Andy in July. Mmm, did that taste good or what? Thanks, Weston.

11:30 a.m.
According to the paper, only 25% of Broward residents have power. As a reward, our curfew has been relaxed from 7 p.m. to 11 p.m. Party on.

7:00 p.m.
There’s only so much PB&J one man can take. I need something else. I’ve walked by that gross Chinese place for 5 days now. There’s no power, I don’t know how they’re doing it, but I’ve decided to go for it. The place is pitch black sans a few small candles. There are guys cooking back there. How they can see what they’re doing is beyond me. The guy in front of me asks the Chinese woman how they are keeping their food cold. I turn to the guy and tell him that some things are better left unsaid. I suppose if the Shrimp with Garlic Sauce gets me, they’ll strike it up as a Wilma death. I’m so hungry I’m shaking. I open the brown bag to find my food, not in the traditional Chinese take-out box, but in a nice plastic-domed bowl. The white rice was housed in the little box. I took a bit and for one thing, it was piping hot. Hot food! Excitement! Now I’m sure if I came back a month from now, I might think the food tasted horribly, but the Shrimp tasted like Lobster to me. It had flavor, the veggies were crisp, and the sauce was nice and spicy. I’m in heaven. Hot Chinese food and an Iced Coffee from Starbucks. Can it get any better than this?

8:00 p.m.
Man the flashlight lantern and the vanilla candle. Time to study. My last quiz, I only got 65%. I need 75 to pass.

3 a.m.
Chapter studied. I got 36 of 48 questions right. 75% right on the money. Gotta sleep now. I’ve got a date with Starbucks in four hours…


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