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 like oldies, some stuff from the Seventies. I like some folk music, music with a little kick to it, with words you can understand and sing along with. I play some Eagles; Marshall Tucker; Peter, Paul, and Mary; Neil Young; Crosby, Stills and Nash; some Roy Acuff -- 'Wabash Cannonball.' I got quite a few songs and groups that aren't as well-known, like the Irish Rovers. Do I write songs? Well, I wrote one song, a gospel song, but I haven't played it in a long time. At what point in my life did I write it? Well, let's see. I'm quite sure it was when I was doing a little stretch in prison for conspiracy to traffic."

"I met Dean Harden on a job site and we hit it off right from the beginning. He was wild and crazy, and I put up with him. The man's amazing, really. He always has something to talk about. We'd be walking around on a job, say, and see some mushrooms growing, he can tell you the Greek name for 'em and the Latin name. He has a degree in biology. He rattles out words that are this damn long. I've had pretty good luck meeting people that we had a lot in common, like to do a lot of the same things: snorkeling, fishing, getting drunk and wrestling.

It was Dean who first introduced me to my hideout, and let's not forget my hideout -- Jimbo's. I met soooo many characters out there. When I go out to Jimbo's, Miami doesn't exist. I don't have to worry about nothing. I can relax.

"I was working with Dean and he said he had this house out on the water at some place called Stiltsville. He said did I want to go out fishing with him this weekend. Hell, yeah! I needed a break to get away from the hurricane, to keep my sanity. Sometimes I'd work fourteen, fifteen, sixteen days in a row straight through. Well, after we came back from fishing he said, 'Oh, we got to stop at this one place.' We stopped at Jimbo's, played a game of bocce, drank a couple beers, and I was hooked. I said this is my hideout, and I ain't telling hardly anybody about it. I've sat out there with Steve Clark many a time, the mayor who just died? Toward the end there he had this toupee, and when he was at Jimbo's you could walk up to him and say, 'How's the rug doin' today, Steve?' He would drink rum and Coke, and it was his hideout too.

"You see, Dean's dad and Jimbo were like that -- tight. They both fought for this A-frame house out at Stiltsville. They were one of the first ones to build out there, going through the legal system, doing the paperwork, and Steve Clark, who was then an up-and-coming politician, he became the third partner.

"Before Andrew there were like 30 houses out there. The hurricane came through and blew almost all of 'em away -- except for the A-house. I went out and helped repair it, helped rebuild it. In 1999 the leases run out and the remaining houses are supposed to get torn down. There's been some very influential people has been out there at the A-house for the weekend and loved the shit out of it.

"Here's the thing: Four years later as I go around to different houses, I'm not running into the hurricane-related damage any more. A lot of the people have found someone to repair it, and then repair the repairs. These days it's stuff like, 'I don't like that window -- I want a bigger window. Can you build a porch out back? Can you build me a shed?' Like that, it's not hurricane-related. And if I can't find hurricane-related work any more, it's pretty well died out.

"I'd say I'm one of the last guys to leave, maybe the last. My buddy Paulo just moved up to Jacksonville a few weeks ago. Then there's Andy. He fell in love with a girl here and married her, so he's staying put. But the rest -- it seems like most of the people faded out after two and a half, three years. After that it was mostly local people, because the fast work and the fast money dried up. The companies that came in and paid high wages went back to wherever they were from.

"You know what happened when they were building the railroad out west in the old days? The work crews that were putting down rails, they would come through a town, and some of 'em would find somebody and settle down, maybe turn to farming, help the population boom. They would hit a town, meet a decent girl, and decide to stay, maybe some of them realizing the railroad work was going to run out, just like the work has run out here.

"Alee graduated, and I don't like Miami that well. I like its natural resources. I like the fishing. But I hate the traffic. Quite a few of the people are hard to get along with. I don't like going to the store and I can't tell the cashier what I want because he don't speak English. He's in America, he ought to learn. If I went to his country, I'd learn his language.

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