Thursday, October 27, 2005

After Hurricane Wilma

When you write for a newspaper in Florida, you write a lot about hurricanes and how to cope with them I did this piece two mornings after one of the biggest ones hit us.

For Cecile Levant, the search for a cup of coffee took her all the way from Century Village in Deerfield Beach to North Federal Highway in Boca Raton.

And to, of all places, a hardware store.

She stood outside the front door of Belzer's Hardware Co. on Wednesday morning with her fellow huntress, Merlene Humphrey, a home health aide who works in that same Century Village.

They had money in their hands from five neighbors who had the shared hope they'd come back with the small item that loomed large in their notion of survival: a Master Glow Backpack/Expedition Stove.

It is a contraption with two pieces: a grapefruit-size propane canister and a spider-shaped metal stovetop, which can grip a small pot or a can of beans, and heat it over a flame.

This feat seems almost like magic when the electricity is out for you and 6 million of your fellow South Floridians.

It was the second post-Wilma day that Levant and Humphrey made their way to Belzer's, their second 20-minute wait to be let in the door.

"I love a cup of coffee in the morning," said Levant, a pert white-haired woman in a pink workout suit, explaining her need for the stove. "That's why I'm so determined."

Thursday, October 6, 2005

Rosh Hashana shooting

This was a story that the cops reporters covered copiously. I was hoping to capture the elements that were particularly hurtful to this community. A child nailed it:

Date: Thursday, October 6, 2005
Edition: Palm Beach Section: LOCAL Page: 1B

The hole was about 2 1/2 inches wide, as indicated by the stick-on measurement left by detectives, and surrounded by webbings of shattered glass.

It pierced a wall-length window of the Chabad Weltman Synagogue west of Boca Raton.

Josh Goldberg is 6. He wore shiny black shoes and dress pants, his holiday wear, and stood on the sidewalk surrounding the shopping-center synagogue where he goes to Hebrew school once a week.

He stared with a look of sorrow at the uncovered hole and the shattered glass.

"The old man," he said, "shot a part of God's heart."

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Hurricanes, from Alpha to Omega

If you write a column in Florida for any length of time, you're bound to write a lot about hurricanes.

You don't often get to write anything funny about these hugely destructive events, but every now and then, just to relieve the tension, I'd try to raise a smile.

FEMA follies

FEMA did too little, too late in New Orleans after Katrina. The problems were different in South Florida. Here, FEMA doled out sacks of money to people who suffered no hurricane damage at all. Made me wonder if anyone there had any brains at all. Hence:

Date: Tuesday, September 20, 2005
Edition: Palm Beach Section: LOCAL Page: 1B

Dear Applicant:

Thank you for your interest in joining the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

As you know, this is a challenging time for our agency. Hurricane Katrina and the news media have created a difficult working environment.

We are looking for the very best people to perform the vital work of rebuilding the Gulf region and preparing for future disasters and terror attacks.

You can help us by filling out the following aptitude test.

(Note: If you have executive experience in Bush-Cheney election campaigns, or were a college roommate of an executive in a Bush-Cheney campaign, you may skip the test. You're in.)

Sunday, September 18, 2005

A record-making artist

Here's a guy I loved profiling, a Boca Raton retiree who played on Van Morrison's "Brown Eyed Girl" and untold other records I grew up with.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

New Orleans: Vulnerable, Irreplaceable

It's Hard to Imagine New Orleans After Katrina


    Jeff Fisk, who has lived all his life in Deerfield Beach, is a yard supervisor at the United Parcel Service hub for deliveries from Pompano to Delray.

    Last year, this slender working man spent many off hours researching, designing and making a costume to transform himself into the 400-pound Fat Bastard, the repellent Austin Powers character.

    It was foolishness. But there is a rational explanation.

    He was giving his all for Mardi Gras in New Orleans.

    In the past 10 years, Fisk and a number of his friends have traveled almost every February to New Orleans' prolonged party, a week or more of drinking, dancing, costumes and debauchery.

    The South Floridians are such regulars they've been admitted to a "krewe," a semi-select organization that stages the parades and costume balls that have been the city's signature since the 1700s.

    "We've been kind of welcomed with open arms," said Fisk, 45, of his reception into Krewe Tuck.

    Michael Bowders, 42, a fellow krewe member from our parts, said "It doesn't feel like people have the same walls between the social classes as they do here.

    "My friend who's close to a millionaire will go down to a bar and drink and talk with a homeless guy, and it's no big deal.

    "And then there's the architecture," added Bowders, who manages a camera store in Fort Lauderdale.

    "My friend Jeff and I just love to walk around and we look at the intricate detail, and we love it.

    "But it's got me so worried," he added. "Everything is made of wood ..."

    I knew what he meant.

    It was a day for worry if you love New Orleans. Hurricane Katrina was roaring through Louisiana.

    They call New Orleans the city that care forgot. But with winds blowing away sections of the Superdome roof, it looked like care was finally catching up.

    Wednesday, June 15, 2005

    Bonnaroo, the new Woodstock

    One of the things I can legitimately brag about is the fact I actually attended the 1969 Woodstock festival. Really. My teenage son is a music lover in the same way I was. So to take him to this generation's equivalent of the massive camp-out/rock'n'roll show, I couldn't resist.


    Date: Thursday, June 16, 2005
    Edition: Palm Beach Section: LOCAL Page: 1B

    The mud smell was familiar.

    I recognized it from 36 years ago. The same mixture of sulphury earth, rainwater, sandal leather and foot sweat was Woodstock 1969, intact.

    The scent of patchouli and marijuana was the same, too.

    And so was the descent into a life of grime: The lack of showers for five days, the revolting Port-a-Sans, the problematic sleeping.

    Ah, yes. That brotherly feeling of bonding with thousands, all getting gross together.

    I was living it again, this time with my 15-year-old son, Ben.

    He holds an enthusiastic, if exaggerated, reverence for the fact that his old man attended the original Woodstock Festival, the 400,000-strong crest of the counterculture.

    So, obliging and music-loving dad that I am, I was glad to take him to the closest modern equivalent, a festival in Tennessee called Bonnaroo.

    Bonnaroo is an annual event, created in the spirit of the old Grateful Dead. The fourth rendition began Thursday evening and ran practically non-stop until midnight Sunday. About 80 bands played on five stages on farmland 65 miles south of Nashville. About 80,000 people set up camp.

    Everyone seemed to be 20, wearing tie-dye and capable of dancing for hours at a stretch.

    "I haven't seen anyone as young as me," Ben said after we'd walked around awhile.

    "I haven't seen anyone as old as me," I said back.

    Woodstock was notable for the kindly vibes amid disaster conditions. That, and the killer lineup (Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, et al.).

    I remember one day's diet consisting solely of dry oatmeal and water.

    But at the well-organized Bonnaroo, there was plentiful pizza, shish kebob, chicken teriyaki and local barbecue. You could even get the comfort of a morning latte.

    At Woodstock, the apotheosis of the Generation Gap, we were rebelling against established American values.

    At Bonnaroo, my son and I were bonding generations. Reveling without rebelling, I showed him how to decline the friendly offers of intoxicants. We did this party drug-free.

    The music was great. And Bonnaroo did retain that Woodstock warmth.