By Trevor Bach
By Francisco Alvarado
By Trevor Bach
By Michael E. Miller
By Allie Conti
By David Villano
By Jose D. Duran
By Michael E. Miller
She came from the West, a demure Category One, letting us think she was steady, docile, and relatively harmless.
But when Hurricane Wilma blew ashore and crossed Florida in a flash, she was a bitch. She toppled a multistory dry dock in Sunny Isles Beach, launched a 30-foot sailboat and a half-dozen Jet Skis onto Bayshore Drive in Coconut Grove, and she popped out hundreds of windows from swaying skyscrapers in downtown Miami.
Six people died. County parks were all closed. Ninety-eight percent of us were without electricity.
It wasn't all bad news. Wilma also brought us together. Take the story of Dave, a psychologist who rendezvoused with an ex-girlfriend, Doris, on Sunday night at Le Tub, the über-rustic Intracoastal-side bar in Hollywood. Though tele-experts had been bombasting for days about the dangerous storm, and wind was howling by early evening, the pair didn't pay much attention. She was describing a tempestuous relationship with a possessive boyfriend. About 10:00 p.m., they were still blathering when the bartender said something like, "Don't you think you folks should get moving?" and muttered, "Category Three."
"What?" they gasped. They had been thinking more like Cat One. So they bottoms-upped and split. They made their way south on A1A, through the eerie, muggy 30-mile-per-hour gusts safely to Dave's South Beach crib, where they continued to drink alcoholic beverages. Soon they forgot about Wilma and got cozy.
By about 2:00 a.m. man and woman were in bed about to get very cozy when Dave looked out the bedroom window and for the first time beheld the intensity of Wilma's awesome, pure, and strangely anti-aphrodisiacal power. "Then I wasn't that interested in sex anymore," Dave confessed.
Several hours and two massive hangovers later, the wind subsided and the clouds dispersed. Dave's neighbor's Mini Cooper had been flattened by a tree, but his own sedan was okay. He ferried Doris home to her place in North Dade and, sadly, gave her but a kiss goodbye.
The bitch storm did something good for the couple, though. On the way to Doris's place, they spotted a demolished rack of wrecked boats. Her demonic ex's craft was among them, she observed.
As the storm subsided, a diminutive lady in her sixties screamed into the receiver of a public telephone that had been ripped apart and knocked to the ground by a falling tree. She looked furious and happy at the same time.
"Can you do this again oh, please," she belted to the heavens so that the tourists on Lincoln Road not far from Van Dyke Café could hear. Some laughed. Others took photos.
"Are you mad at this phone for some reason?" she was asked.
"How did you guess? I hate it! I divorced my husband because of that damn phone."
The story was short. Before cell phones, she explained, she had discovered that her husband was having an affair. So she followed him and learned that every evening he ran to that phone to call the other woman.
"I never touched that phone afterwards," she explained. "And I'm happy that it's dead."
Monday at about 1:00 p.m., after the storm was over, South Beach denizens trickled from their apartments to survey the damage. Ted Scott, gray hair spilling from under a gray ball cap, collected his thoughts on a bench outside the Miami Beach Convention Center.
Scott had spent the worst hours of Wilma outside, his only protection from the storm the concrete entryway to Hall D, across from the center's box office. "If you're inside, you're not really experiencing the hurricane," he said, rubbing his wiry beard and shifting his sky blue flip-flops on the sidewalk.
Scott, who's 52 years old, is a recovering alcoholic with a distaste for homeless shelters. He found the perch during Katrina, his first hurricane spent outdoors, and declared it the safest place in town. "If I die there, I'm supposed to die," he explained, rolling his head back to the tune of a high-pitched laugh.
He arrived in his spot about 2:00 a.m. as the wind began to kick up, and slept the night on a trash bag full of newspapers. He awoke twice to see bookshelf-size chunks of metal roofing whipping down Convention Center Drive. "They were scraping, and it was like a Schwarzenegger movie with the truck scraping down the road," he said, referring to a scene from Terminator 2.
Sometime during the night, an eighteen-wheeler's trailer skated across the convention center's parking lot, where it came to rest on its side. Concrete planters the size of bathtubs rolled over like squat bowling pins. A black sedan forced itself on a parking meter that twisted like a used lollipop stick.
Scott said he wasn't afraid. Hurricanes don't top his list of woes.
By afternoon, the sun was out, and straggling gusts tickled brackish gutter pools as the hollow ping of building alarms echoed faintly. His trash bag in one hand and a banana-yellow beach bag on his shoulder, Scott ambled off between rows of wind-torn Royal Palms, holding his cap tight against the wind.
About 3:00 p.m. Monday, Hallie Hendler, who manages building three of North Miami's legendary Jockey Club, surveyed the scene outside the building off Biscayne Boulevard. The howling gales toppled trees in the parking lot, churned up chunks of concrete, and shredded the tall rows of chainlink fence surrounding the tennis courts. "I don't even know where to start," she said wearily.