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Chasing The American Dream

October 29, 2005

THE WILMA FILES, THE DAY AFTER.

Tuesday, 10/25/05 8:30 a.m.
Different. Things are most definitely different. I walked outside. I’m guessing it’s around 65 degrees and there’s not a cloud in the sky. I guess Wilma sucked all the heat and humidity out of South Florida. I’m bored as hell; I’m taking a walk to see if anything around here is open.

It feels surreal. A beautiful day yet there is destruction everywhere I turn. Every step I take is calculated. Downed power lines, broken signs with twisted metal, shattered glass from street lights and lamp posts, mud pits, snapped and broken branches impeding my path. The neighbors are out. Staring. Probably wondering like me, “Did this really happen?” I’ve lived here for nearly two years, yet I know no one. But I’ve met more people in the last 24 hours than in all of those months. Everyone is friendly now. We all say, “Hi how are you,” to each other with friendly yet pained smiles. It’s a lot like the holiday season when all of a sudden people become outwardly happy and friendly. Why? Maybe because we all have time now. There’s nowhere to go, no one to see, no reason to get in the car, no jobs to go to because they’re all closed. So we take time to say hi. I think that’s a good thing. Shame it’s the exception rather than the rule.

I’m leaving the friendly grounds in search of a newspaper. As I walk, I’m noticing how widespread the damage is. There isn’t a tree in sight that is unaffected. There are no traffic lights. They all blew away. Intersections have become dangerous four-way stops. At least that’s supposed to be the rule, but some people zoom their way through without stopping. I’m wondering how the hell I’m gonna get across the street? Certainly not the conventional way. I guess I’m going to walk against traffic in the middle of the street. Surely they’ll slow down. Two days ago, I would have surely been run over. Strange guy walking in the middle of the street toward busy traffic. But it’s different now. People understand. They’re slowing down and waving me across the street. I made it. Unheard of.

I reach the parking lot. It looks like some sort of wasteland. Downed trees blocking all conceivable routes. Broken signs dangling by the thinnest of wires. Stop signs flattened. No power anywhere. Nothing is open. The sight of my Starbucks closed saddens me. There’s a news chopper overhead surveying the damage. I wave my hat to them like they can really see me. Who knows, I might have just made the local news. Cars carefully negotiate through nature’s obstacle course. I walk back home. My neighbor tells me he got a flat tire riding over a stop sign. I notice he’s carrying two gallons of spring water. He says Publix (grocery store) is open. Publix is further down from where I just came from, but I decide to walk it anyway. Heck, nothing else to do but study.

I can’t make or receive any phone calls. The cell tower must be damaged or something. I can’t send or receive text messages in my apartment. I have to walk outside to the street. Frustrating. I make it to Publix. The parking lot is mobbed. Cars are parked every which way around the downed trees. I brace myself for chaos. Sure enough. It’s like being at a football game or something. People packed in tight, and it’s very noisy. Shopping carts are stocked full of dry goods and beverages. I’m just here for a lousy paper. There are no cold items on the shelves due to the loss of power. All my refrigerated food is certainly spoiled by now, but I can live on PB&J and dry cereal for a week if I have to. Damn, no papers to be found. I decide to buy a box of cereal (some new “Life” with yogurt clusters) and some Diet Dew.

I look around. No one wearing suits or chinos. Guys are in shorts, t-shirts, and flip flops. Myself included. Hair styles are come-as-you-are-bad-hair-day-and-all or hat-covered. I don the hat. Two-day beards are the norm. Women utilize the hat, the ponytail, or the tie-it-up-in-a-bun deal. We all look like tourists or perhaps a less-better looking cast of Lost. The lottery is down. Damn. I want to try for the $40 million.

I enjoy my walk back home. I don’t look forward to studying. Studying with a flashlight and a candle sucks. I am getting behind now. I’d rather write this post, old-style pen on notebook, than hit the books. Back home now. Far away noises of chainsaws and police sirens. I can hear neighbors chatting. It’s all so different now.

1:00 p.m.
I ran two miles around the neighborhood. I normally reserve this route for Sundays, but I wanted to see how the rest of Plantation fared. One thing is becoming apparent to me. It may take a year or longer for Plantation to return to what it looked like pre-October 24th. It’s visions of Hurricane Andrew. True, Andrew blew in at nearly 200 mph, and Wilma blew through here at 125 or so. But at that speed, what’s the difference, really? Every neighborhood I run through is trashed. Most streets are impenetrable due to downed trees. I can’t even find the sidewalks to run on. It’s sad. A town that was so beautifully tree-lined and tropical now just lies in waste. For the lucky trees that didn’t blow down, their look is bent at a 45-degree angle and sheared of leaves and branches. Visions boggle my mind. Huge, concrete, sturdy pillars of steel bent sideways. Each intersection has it’s own pile of scrap metal formerly known as traffic lights. It’s so much lighter out with all the trees down. It doesn’t look like Plantation. As familiar as I am with this neighborhood, I have to ask myself, “Did I make the right turn?” It just looks so different. There’s no doubt we took a serious direct hit. I have no idea what the news is saying or showing, but as I say, the effects of Wilma will last for years. It’s ugly and unattractive now, but it’s real.

I guess I hadn’t been through enough lately so the powers that be threw Wilma my way. I feel lucky though. I’m safe and writing to tell about the experience. My toughest decision of the day is whether to go with Blackberry or Red Raspberry on my peanut butter crackers. I’m not sure if I return to work tomorrow. My iPod and phone (as useless as it is) and computer (as useless as it is) are all running low on battery power. I just cleared out my fridge of just about everything but have plenty of PB&J to last me. I think getting power back is not a matter of days but a matter of weeks. I hear millions are out of power, something in the neighborhood of 98% of the tri-county area. I feel mentally prepared for whatever comes my way. What more can I say?

7:00 p.m.
Curfew. When is the last time you had a curfew let alone a 7 o’clock lights out? I’m standing outside watching cops patrol the streets with their blue lights flashing. I heard on my crapass a.m. radio that people waited in line for hours to get ice and water from FEMA only to get turned away. Yeesh! Is this what’s in store for me tomorrow? I’m going for ice and water.

I finally saw her. I have this pretty neighbor. I’ve seen her only once when she moved in nearly a year ago. I had left her a welcome gift. A CD and a bottle of wine. Never heard from her. Not even a thank you. Maybe someone stole it. After all, they stole my welcome mat. Maybe I spooked her. I’m good at that, you know. Lately, I’d been thinking of writing her just to say hi and ask her if she ever got the gift. Well, all bets are off now. She’s the one neighbor I wanted to meet. She wasn’t here for the storm, but I saw her pull into the parking lot. She wasn’t alone. Surfer-type boyfriend was in tow. I got to see her reaction to the devastation. The expression on her face was priceless. I think I’ll remember that more than the disappointment of her having a boyfriend. Good night all.

2 Comments:

  • Glad you're okay. Thanks for the personal account of the storm. It helps to make it more real for those of us far away and "unaffected" as they say. Stay safe.

    By Blogger Amy, at 5:15 PM, October 29, 2005  

  • I think the reason that everyone is so nice is because people feel more like one another and everyone knows what everyone is thinking about.

    Sorry I haven't been around lately; glad you are okay.

    By Blogger PepGiraffe, at 1:27 PM, November 01, 2005  

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