By Chuck Strouse
By Scott Fishman
By Terrence McCoy
By Ryan Yousefi
By Ciara LaVelle, Kat Bein, Carolina Del Busto, and Liz Tracy
By Pepe Billete
By Ryan Yousefi
By Kyle Swenson
"It was the Wild West, like I said. One guy came in there with a baseball bat just darin' anybody to fight, then he went out in the parking lot and started bustin' headlights and puttin' dents in fenders. He was crazy. The hurricane had got to him and he lost his cool. There was one guy come in there about four in the morning, and he had a machete. You know those little pup tents that you can fold up? He went out back and started whackin' through tents with the machete, just goin' down the line. Everyone slept with their feet to the door, right? He wound up cutting some people's legs pretty bad. The cops came and hauled his ass away.
"Other times I'd be sleeping and the thieves would come into camp. Maybe an arm would come reaching in the back of the truck, going for my tools. I would hear the door of the topper start easing up real slow: creeeak. I'd hit 'em with my flashlight or my knife, and they always took off. They were just checking to make sure you were there. Rip-offs I seen a great deal of, guys that came down just to rip off. I seen guys came down who were crooks, who would get in with a bunch of workers and then wipe 'em out. A lot of guys would stash their money where they stayed, so these guys would wait till they went to work, then back a truck up to the place and clean 'em out -- money and everything else. They definitely should not have been here.
"I got so when I came home from work I'd go in the tavern and grab a quick sandwich, drink a couple beers, and get out of there. Saturday night I might hang out for a while, just 'cause there's nowhere else to go. We could make a mad dash for the titty bar, but we had to leave early. It was a place called Piggy's -- Piggy's Nude Revue. It's next door to the place where they sell those key lime pies. The road right there beside it runs straight out to the Redland Tavern. And so we'd make a mad dash over there, hit that place maybe around 8:00, and leave at 9:30, make that mad dash before curfew. If we got caught out after ten o'clock, we would have gone to jail and the thieves would have stole all our tools. I think we made that trip only twice. These girls were ugly. You had to hold your nose on some of 'em when they went by. But buddy, they were tuckin' bucks right and left."
"By day I hung my sign out: 'Carpenter. Fix anything. Build anything.' I leaned it against the truck, hung my tool belt with my saw out and my drill so they could see I got my tools. I took the truck out on Krome Avenue and parked it on the side of the road. First day I didn't get no responses, but about noontime the second day a guy said, 'Can you put my roof on?' 'Yeah!' We went down about a mile from the Redland Tavern. I started on that and rebuilt it for him, put it all back together. Then I headed into town where I knew some guys and they said, 'Yeah, there's one place where you can work, they're hiring.' So I went in and I started rebuilding condominiums -- there was like 300 units, single story. I did that for about nine months.
"Good money? You bet. Carpenters making twelve bucks an hour, fifteen. Some making more. Many prospered, and many were fools and just blew their money as fast as they got it. Many stuffed it away. I know people from Mexico who came up and got paid cash. And they were sending that shit home. They'd keep enough to get a little food, a bunch of 'em would share a room with their sleeping bags, and they'd chuck that money home. It's worth a lot more down there, and they had families.
"Drug dealing was very prevalent. The dealers would walk through our campsites and work sites every day. I'd say they made a lot of money. That coke is probably the main reason a lot of these guys went home broke. Coke wasn't something new for any of us, but there was a lot of it all around us all of a sudden. I saw guys who were makin' $800 to $900 a week cash and be broke on Monday morning and want to bum a cigarette.
"Those that had families at home, I felt sorry for the families. Their men were over here cokin' it up and partying and then going back with nothing -- and probably wound up losing what they got back there, wherever they were from. Like I said before, hookers were making a fortune. I imagine there were quite a few who turned hooker just to do it because they knew most of the people they saw were gonna be gone. They didn't do it with their family knowing about it. I met married men who chased women. I saw a lot of married men who were here to get away from home. They needed a break from home and came here just to get away from their wives and kids, whatever: 'Bye, I'm going to Florida and fix the hurricane damage!'