Hurricane Voyeurism

Wilma brought frustration, accidents, romance, anger, substance abuse, and reflection

After a half-hour outside, the pickup drove away and Beavers burst into applause.

Beavers didn't like the music?

"Not coming out of the window of that pickup," he growled. "It if was Johnny Cash, it'd be a different story."

Lyssa Oberkreser
Lyssa Oberkreser

He took a swig from his beer. "Guy thinks just 'cause we don't have power and the jukebox is out, we want to listen to him."

Unfortunately the pickup did a lap around the block. Three hours later it was still outside.

About 1:30 p.m. at the Yacht Club at Third Street and Alton Road, residents carrying digital cameras, cell phones, and camcorders scoured the streets. There, what visitors to the building had naively assumed was a parking lot actually turned out to be a violent, air-sucking wind tunnel. Cars were swept on top of one another like leaves in autumn.

Carolyne Grenier, a native of France who has lived on the twentieth floor of the Yacht Club for two years, remembered the morning's events. "At around 8:00 a.m. the power went out, and I could feel the building shaking." Wilma was by far the worst she has seen in four years on Miami Beach. "From the window I could see pieces of roofs peeling off. The tiles were flying off of Nikki Beach."

By 2:30 p.m. Monday, police were alarmed by motorists' behavior at thousands of traffic lights that had no power. "We want people to treat those intersections like a four-way stop," said Miami-Dade Police Detective Joanne Duncan, her voice weary with futility. "Just pretend there are stop signs."

But not everyone heeded the rules. One accident occurred at the intersection of Kendall Drive and SW 127 Avenue, when a 26-year-old man in a blue Mustang convertible sped through the light without stopping. A young woman (who tearfully declined New Times's request for a roadside interview) driving a pearl Lincoln Navigator clipped the Mustang's tail end, sending it careening onto the shoulder.

The woman slowly backed up the SUV and pulled over, where she emerged, already on her cell phone, hysterically telling "Daddy" about the accident.

Mechanic Luis Garcia exited his Mustang, spitting invective in Spanish. "Bro, people don't know how to drive," he energetically said. "This is bullshit!" Asked if he was aware of the traffic rules at lightless intersections, Garcia said, "Yeah, you fucking go when it's your turn."

Things didn't get much better. Between Monday noon and Tuesday noon, MDPD logged 57 accidents, twenty of them with injuries. "There are 2600 traffic lights in Miami-Dade, and by Tuesday afternoon, 150 of them were working, which is a lot better than yesterday, when we were in double-digits," said Miami Police Department spokesman Lt. Bill Schwartz.

Dressed in a nondescript black wife-beater tank top and tattered blue jeans, Reiki healer Ted Nickell invited a crew of seven hard drinkers into his apartment inside a turquoise Art Deco building on Second Street and Collins Avenue.

A handsome devil with long black hair and a full beard, the earthy Nickell rolled up a joint of some serious chronic and passed it around. He and a visitor lamented the hurricane tax that pot dealers had implemented shortly before Wilma's arrival. "Yeah, dude, prices went up," Nickell said. "I normally get half an ounce for $150, $175. My guy was charging me an extra $40 on Saturday because the storm was coming."

Nevertheless, Nickell and his crew said South Beach is the place to weather a storm. "For us it's a celebration of life," Nickell commented. "We're always partying on South Beach. A hurricane only enhances the experience. We don't fear it. We embrace it."

By Tuesday, the City of Miami Fire Department resumed response operations. Calls were being prioritized in critical order. Miami Police had made five arrests in looting-related incidents. Until damage assessments are complete, the Rickenbacker Causeway will remain closed to local traffic, police said. The road was open to emergency vehicles only.

Though the Brickell Avenue tower of law firm and lobbying powerhouse Greenberg Traurig appeared trashed from the outside, a man who answered the phone at GT offices Tuesday said that most people there had battened down the hatches. Doors facing windows of which more than 25 were blown in on upper stories were closed, sparing the interior from the worst wind and water damage.

Others obviously suffered more. The Home Depot at 3030 SW Eighth St. in Miami opened Tuesday morning with a full staff of floor assistance and cashiers. Ken Gaspar of Coconut Grove stood peacefully in line waiting to buy batteries and supplies not only for himself but also for his electricity-wanting neighbors on West Trade Avenue. "The line's not too bad, about half an hour," Gaspar said. "I'm resigned to some time without power. At least it's a lot cooler this time than it was when the power was out for Katrina."

Back at Ted's Hideaway, some time after darkness fell, the black pickup truck was replaced by a smaller car, this one blaring rock music from its open doors. It was after curfew, but the crowd was steady. Inside, Ted's was packed nearly airless, a warm, candlelit bastion of camaraderie in contrast to the eerie quiet outside.

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