By David Villano
By Jose D. Duran
By Michael E. Miller
By Allie Conti
By Kyle Swenson
By Luther Campbell
By Frank Owen
By Allie Conti
"Grab a beer. We'll go sit on the porch where we can smoke, and I'll tell you the whole story. It's the first time I been interviewed, so I feel almost famous. You got me remembering a lot of things I haven't thought of in a while. Here, knock the water off that chair and take a seat. Let's see, now. The hurricane.
"I remember they were tracking it, and I remember the next day when it come on TV, when they first started showing films of the devastation. My mom and my girlfriend and myself, we took a ride over here. It was a slow time for carpenters in Sarasota, which had a little to do with my decision to come over. I was thinking they were going to need someone in Miami who can pound a nail, get some shelters up, this and that. Then we come over and looked and I kind of got an idea what I needed to bring along. Two weeks later my truck was packed: canned goods, a Coleman stove, my sleeping bag, and my tools -- and my protection. They had talked about looting on TV, a lot of stealing going on.
"When I got here it was the Wild West. I stayed out at the Redland Tavern, right on Krome Avenue. There were dump trucks parked in the field nearby at night. There was a lot of campers, vans, guys sleeping in their trucks, and of course pup tents. I would probably say there were 3000 to 3500 guys who showed up like me, and I met 'em from Texas, Georgia, quite a few from Florida, some from New York, and one guy from Pennsylvania.
"The owner of the tavern, he was kind enough to run a hose off the back over the fence with a little enclosure so people could take hose showers. He also had free coffee in the morning for everybody. My hat's off to him. He did a hell of a job. They had meals, and it was a good place to go eat dinner. Evening meals: shrimp baskets, spaghetti, all kinds of stuff. My canned goods ran out after about a week, but by then I was making money. Some of these guys came down on a wing and a prayer. They didn't even have food to bring along, and some of 'em were starving. I'd see a guy not eating, I'd say, 'Eat some of this, I'm full.' But that tavern owner, he always managed to have food and keep his kitchen going, and if someone was hungry, he fed 'em.
"I brought my guitar down with me. In the beginning, right after the storm, we'd back the trucks up together and have a campfire in the middle. We'd all sit in the backs of our trucks and I'd play. Another guy played a harp. Sometimes we'd just have the stereo on. Of course, there was always plenty of music coming out of the Redland Tavern, till at least one or two o'clock in the morning. That guy, the tavern owner, he provided. But I'm sure he made a lot of money, too.
"There's one thing I do regret, and that's not keeping a journal. I thought about doing it shortly after I got down here. Actually, I even started one once, but I found that by the end of these twelve-, fourteen-hour days, when I would get home, clean up and eat, all I wanted to do was fall down and go to sleep instead of setting and writing for half an hour. Sometimes I would hit the sack and start writing and the line would just go down the page.
"The one character that sticks out in my mind the most was this carpenter who was the bouncer at the Redland Tavern. The place was packed, I mean every night, with guys spending that money as fast as they made it. The hookers were coming down from who knows where. Black gals, white gals, all kinds, at least four or five in there at any one time. They'd come in the door and fifteen minutes later they're going back out the door with somebody. There were fights that would go on in that bar I can't even describe. This bouncer, he would make a five-foot pathway right through the crowd. I seen him beat up four or five guys at one time. He would try not to injure them, though, because that would have cut into business. What he would do, he would bounce 'em off the walls -- boom! The guy was a gorilla. You could have put a football team on his back and he'd get up. I put my hand up against his one day. His fingers were like that much longer and that much bigger around. Muscles just bulged on him. He was a carpenter too, a local one. But I think he walked in there one day and the bar owner said, 'Please! I need a bouncer bad!' You know? 'And you're baaaad!' So the guy went to work for him. He didn't have to pound nails, just beat people up.