Will the Last Hurricane Profiteer to Leave Miami Please Turn Out the Lights?

John Eugene Yoder arrived in Miami 30 days after the Big One. Three stray dogs, 48 pairs of tennis shoes, one girlfriend's college degree, seven hammers, 300 condos, and four years later, he's riding off into the sunset.

"I was probably one of the last few to get out of the Redland. Some of the others went to jail, some when they found jobs they moved closer to the city. They would leave the Redland and go live on the job site, which is what I did.

"But even after that condo job was over, I still had a lot of work because the people who had lived there realized the work wasn't done right, it still wasn't complete. So I went around and passed out business cards in all the door slots one afternoon. It didn't take long. I got four or five days' work, and during that time I got more. So I worked in and out of there for a year or so, even after the job was officially done.

"Dave, a boy that lives up in Okeechobee now, he and I moved into an abandoned house that didn't have any doors or windows. There was Louie that lived in there, too. At night I'd back the truck up inside, take out my Coleman stove, and set it up in the garage area. We had an old cable spool we rolled in there for a table. Then I found an electrical meter, shoved that sucker in, and got some juice going through that house! We found a little stove on one of the junk piles. I changed the burners and it was fine.

"We had three dogs that lived there, three strays, and boy did they guard the place, too. At that time there were a lot of loose dogs that were hungry. If they smelled you cooking, they'd get at the food any way they could. The animal control people were having all the problems in the world because people left their dogs behind when they left after the hurricane. The dogs that made it through the hurricane, some of 'em would get in packs. They were killing other stray dogs and eating them, eating anything they'd see walking. And these three dogs we had would guard that place like nobody's business. Each guy had bonded with one of the dogs, and named him, and the dog would sleep beside his bed. One day when we was off working, all of us gone, the animal control people come by and snatched all three of 'em.

"My girlfriend, Alice Savage -- everyone calls her Alee -- she'd come over for a week, do everybody's laundry for them because we were workin' twelve-, fourteen-hour days, do general housekeeping. While she was here she dashed off and went up to Barry University, drove up to the admissions office. Shoot, it wasn't a month later she moved back down and started college full-time. She graduated just this past month. She already was a paralegal. Now she's going for her master's in social psychology. She's got a minor in philosophy. She tries to reform me all the time. We're as different as day and night, but we get along. I tolerate her and she tolerates me. What more can you ask for?

"One of the things I've learned from being here, probably the main thing, is about different cultures. Miami has as many cultures in it as there are countries -- the Cubans, the Haitians, Jamaicans. This house I was working at yesterday, the people are from Saudi Arabia, and the whole community, the whole place is all Saudi.

"That's changed me a lot. In the military, I was in Vietnam, I was in Japan, I was in Okinawa, Hawaii. And after I got out I basically went back to my own culture. I didn't move out of it. It had been a long time since I'd worked around other types of people. Before it was, 'Well, so long as you don't come over and kick on my door I won't kick on yours,' you know? But when you're working in Miami, you have to actually deal with people.

"A lot of the people that called me, it was for defective work, cheap materials, and high prices. When I got in there I saw cheap paint that peeled within two years, surfaces that weren't prepped right before the paint was applied, lines cracking in the dry wall because they didn't tape it, doors that weren't working or were falling down. This one job I was working yesterday, it was full of doors that weren't setting right, heating units that weren't vented right. They had put in air handlers that were too damn small for the size of the house. I can go into these homes and tell where the work got done right after the hurricane. On the other hand, I seen a lot of 'em that were good jobs, and I was just coming in to change something that they wanted changed, not related to the workmanship that had gone before.

"I've learned a lot more about Florida codes and building. Things like building a new truss for a roof section out of plywood and two-by-fours. You gotta have so many feet of plywood, so many nails per foot. The inspectors were always hard on me, but after a while I got the hang of it and they'd say, 'Yup! That's a pretty good truss! Go ahead and put the roof on.' Them guys, the guys that went around on inspection, I seen 'em pass a lot of things they shouldn't of. But we'll say no more about that.

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