Not Eudora   By Harry Welty
Published Aug 19, 2004

Bonnie and Charley

The captain pointed out Bonnie's circular outer arms as we few over her to our destination in West Palm Beach a little north of Miami, Florida. Our flight to visit my Father-in-law, to straighten out some family business, was taking us into the state during Florida's first recorded assault by two simultaneous hurricanes.

Although we had checked out the weather reports before departing from Duluth we didn't know how bad Bonnie or Charley were going to be. We would eventually slip in between the two storms. Bonnie was breaking over Florida's panhandle by the time we breezed by and it had been downgraded to a "tropical storm." Even so, Bonnie would still manage to spawn killer tornados in the Carolinas as it passed north.

Charley was still south of Cuba and wouldn't reach our latitude until well after we landed. So far it was only a 2 on the 5 point Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Scale. Forecasters weren't sure yet where it would hit land but they were predicting a touchdown somewhere on the Gulf coast 150 miles to our west. Everyone there was urged to flee to the East.

Floridians are pretty nonchalant about Hurricanes. They have built thousands of million-dollar homes along their coasts well within reach of a typical hurricane's storm surge. In this they are not so different than well-to-do Americans out west who build mini-mansions with cedar shake roofs in arid hills surrounded by tinder dry forests.

You don't have to be rich to be nonchalant. Lots of Floridians, many of them old and infirm, live in fragile trailer homes which are vulnerable to the 75 mph winds which mark the boundary between a tropical storm and a level one hurricane. After the level-four Hurricane Andrew hit South Florida in 1992 tie-down regulations were stiffened but only locally. Florida's Gulf Coast continued to enjoy looser regulations and less vigilant enforcement than South Florida which suffered 25 billion dollars in losses at Andrew's hands.

This is not very surprising as Florida takes a Republican inspired, hands-off attitude about government regulation. I found the attitude on display in a cartoon in my Father-in-law's newspaper. It showed a little girl trying to jump rope after a bunch of liberals legislated all the fun out of it by loading her down with more safety gear than a marine heading into Fallujah. As a final touch the do-gooders severed her jump rope lest she strangle herself.

The path eventually predicted for Charley took it over Tampa and so prudent locals packed up and fled east. Unfortunately, Charley suddenly changed course and headed for Ft. Myers a hundred miles south of Tampa. Ironically, Tampa's homes were left untouched while their owners, fleeing to Orlando, ran headlong into the hurricane. The lucky Tampans, who had been too complacent or too stupid to flee, congratulated themselves afterwards for their good sense. As far as they were concerned the Weather forecasters had simply cried wolf.

When Charley finally began its overland march it crossed the homes of my wife's Aunt, Uncle and cousins on Sanibel Island. One son remained in his home through the storm. He was unprepared for the storm's change of course or its unexpected leap from a category 2 to a category 4 monster. He spent the night hiding in his bathroom under a mattress praying that his roof would stay put. By his own admission it was a foolish thing to have done which meant it was just the sort of thing I would have done had I not been burdened with a sensible wife.

I watched this all play out on television (there's a lot of television watching at my in-laws) and remained safe. I watched a lot of PGA Golf, a lot of the Olympics, and a lot of 24-hour Hurricane coverage. The only thing we had to put up with was hot, muggy weather. After my fill of television I would excuse myself and work up a sweat by chasing anoles. These are Florida's native lizard. I like to annoy them until they open their mouths defensively. That's when I let them bite my ears. They make lovely earrings.

This would be an opportune time to bash liberals. Can't you just imagine those busybodies passing a law to prohibit lizard earrings? I'm sure it would be done for high-minded reasons like promoting good hygiene or preventing the spread of lizard pathogens. And while I'm at it, it's not a bad time to bash conservatives for the billions it will take to clean up after Charley. Some of this expense will be the price taxpayers pay for Florida's freedom from tough regulations.

Welty is a small time politician who lets it all hang out at: www.snowbizz.com