Waiting for Floyd

New Times reporters hit the road to bring you all the prehurricane weirdness fit to print

"No! You can't write that!" barked John Morales, his brown eyes flashing from behind rimless rectangular spectacles. "You don't understand; they'll kill us."

"And you're not going to write that we took smoke breaks outside, are you?" asked Josie Goytisolo, executive producer for special programs, whose brand is Winston.

Between spying on the competition and scurrying outside for (infrequent) nicotine breaks, the good folks at the Channel 10 Hurricane Help Line did offer quite a bit of succor. In both Spanish and English they described the latest forecasts, gave out the phone numbers of Red Cross and county government rumor-control hotlines, and directed residents (as well as several flustered tourists from as far away as Mexico and Great Britain) to shelter.

Tom Carlson

Goytisolo's phone rang. It was a South Miami-Dade woman whose elderly mother was stranded in the Forte Towers apartments in Miami Beach. Goytisolo, frazzled yet focused, began dialing the standard emergency numbers. Muttering and scowling as she navigated voice-mail hell, she eventually reached a fire-rescue lieutenant at the City of Miami's emergency operations center. The lieutenant in turn reached a Miami Beach fireman by phone, ensuring the woman's safe evacuation.

"That's the story," the producer stated, looking both tired and relieved during a smoke break. "We certainly made a big difference in one family's life." -- Ted B. Kissell

As the weary Channel 10 crew finished yakking, a clan of sailboat and houseboat dwellers giddily drank in Floyd's intoxicating breezes on the banks of the Miami River beneath an expressway overpass. It was after midnight -- long past the usual bedtime hour -- but the lights were still on at Duane and Janice Sargent's place, an old houseboat tucked into a twenty-foot slip built back when this was a swanky part of town. A strand of bunny-rabbit Christmas lights decorated one side of the boat. Refuse from the industrial waterway floated in the shallows around the vessel. Inside, a television droned with the banter of local reporters who had little actual news of the storm. Outside, on the wooden deck that served as a patio along the portside of the boat, Floyd was generating his own mysterious information flow.

Janice was reciting her poetry, which she has never put into writing. Bearing witness were an airport baggage handler named Mike who lives on a sailboat, a young Webpage designer named Fred who recently bought a houseboat a few paces down river, Janice and Duane's eleven-year-old daughter Ayla, and Lisday, a twenty-year-old woman from Camagüey, Cuba, whose husband was snoozing with their newborn baby in a catamaran docked nearby. Duane, a self-described "crazy old Vietnam veteran" who works at a nearby boat yard, had already retired to rest up for a 5:00 a.m. evacuation. Under a Perrier patio umbrella, a large pile of shrimp remained from a communal barbecue. Most of those present had shifted to a dessert of beer or Jamaican rum.

Janice, a youthful 49-year-old who prefers domestic vodka, was on a roll: "Knowing this hour to be my last, I traverse a crystal mountain," she began in a rich, raspy voice, one leg crossed over another, eyes closed. In blue jeans and a dark Bahamas T-shirt, Janice sat on a long bench fashioned decades ago from old planks of wood that had been part of the Orange Bowl. "Excited, my heart is beating fast./I pause to sip the champagne fountain./Slowly I pass the land of grass and across the sea my eyes I cast/Expecting to see the splintered mast of the shimmering shadow ship./On distant horizon appears that form and I relinquish helplessly my soul in the midst of raging storm while the bells of the underworld toll./The stars frown as they look down upon this nonmortal sight./And on and on into the night sails the shimmering shadow ship."

"Yay, Mommy!" Ayla clapped and yelled. Then she shouted, feigning horror: "It's raining. Woo hoo! We're all going to die!" Mike sat enraptured by Janice's poems. He begged for another. Janice thought she was out, but tried to please him: "The wind began to BLOW!" she bellowed, then let out a husky laugh, her finely combed blond hair tucked neatly behind her ears.

"No, you've got another one of my favorites in you," Mike insisted. Janice paused, then began again.

Earlier in the day, most members of this riverside community tied down their vessels. Mike, who asked that his last name not be published, secured his medium-size sailboat, Breeze, with five ropes attached at various angles and degrees of tautness. The approach of the deadly storm inspired Mike to put life into perspective. "You can sort of sense a sense of closure here," the philosopher-baggage handler reflected. "We've pretty much resigned ourselves that we can do with what we have. And that we have to live with nature's forces." If Floyd failed to turn northward and approached his floating abode, Mike's plan was to camp out in the garage of his landlord's house a few hundred feet away. "You can be sure that this is a place where people sought refuge," he theorized. "This is where people always came, this section of the river, because it provided food, shelter, fresh water, high ground, and protection from the storms."

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