OpEd: The Aftermath - Words After the Storm

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Photo: Instagram / @kelseynowa

In the aftermath of Hurricane Irma, I thought I would share some personal thoughts.

It was 25 years ago that Hurricane Andrew struck South Florida. While the devastation and ruin was epoch in South Dade, people forget that up until the last predictive minute, meteorologists projected the storm was going to make landfall in Broward County.

At the time, I felt useful, trying to be a calm radio voice during a terrible and frightening storm. The Internet did not exist, and satellite was still in its infancy. In the dark of night with winds blowing ever so strong, most people survived side by side with a transistor radio.

I felt relevant at the time. I was broadcasting morning drive on WFTL 1400 AM. Our team battened down the hatches in our fortress in the hood. Stationed across from Omar's Food shop at NW 19th Street and Power line, I think, Al Rantel, Joyce Kaufman, Steve Kane, Craig Worthing and I offered 24 hour non stop coverage, offering up illuminative and informational voices to thousands needing shelter and diapers, food or water, anything to survive.

Because our radio team was actually an ensemble, embattled in our own Peyton Place, we would scream at each other, offering listeners an entertaining distraction from the storm, as we played our games. Still, we transmitted information critical to a community's survival, remaining true to our mission.

We did not have sportscasters in raincoats standing in 3 feet of water telling us it was raining. We heard the pounding of horizontal bullets of water smashing against our doors at breakneck speed. That was enough. So it was last week, from St. Thomas in the Virgin Islands to Charleston, South Carolina. Chaos and calamity in every country, at every corner; places we have visited, vacationed in, or lived at.

Our corner of the universe toppled, but the NFL played opening day as usual. I had a generator and could have watched, but like so many of you, I have been so consumed with the storm, my fantasy football squad just did not matter.

There were epic winds and catastrophic destruction to the southern peninsula of the United States, from Cudjoe Key to Punta Gorda. Our focus on everything will be changed. Cities won't be worrying about transgender bathrooms. There are transformative issues that will impact their essence, from the restoration of electric power to rebuilding their economy.

A wall along the Mexican border? Let's bring in as many Mexicans as necessary to rebuild Florida and Texas, from Miami Beach to Houston.

Today, I feel so much less useful than I did in 1992. Then, I was performing a public service. Today, I am online at CVS to get heart and respiratory medications. I am writing this column in the midst of a home that has no power, a roof with no shingles, and repairs needed at every turn. The skylight is supposed to be attached to the house I have been told, and when you have 3 large dogs, your front fence is not supposed to be sideways in your driveway.

Yet, my damage is minimal, laughable for a hurricane which has torn apart so may people in so many places. So wind damage smashed a new TV. So what? Won't there be a newer model out by next month anyway, with 50 trillion crystals instead of 42 billion?

Besides, I have a newspaper to run and an office still without power or Internet service. I am told by my staff we need that nowadays.

But who has a staff? Because they dutifully evacuated from the storm, I have staff members stuck in South Carolina, crippled in Bradenton, flooded in Orlando and stranded in Los Angeles. They are all going to need money when they get back, but our newspaper has not received a check in a week. And until we get power, we can't run credit card charges, just like some of your favorite watering holes can't pour draft beer.

As businesses slowly reopen in Wilton Manors, they are going to have to make adjustments. A week with no customers is not something small businesses can sustain. Appointments are cancelled, food is spoiled, new business lost, and transactions postponed. Somehow I think running our planned cover of this year's Smart Ride won't cut it, although lots of us may be riding bicycles until we can find gasoline for our cars.

Yet, no matter how hard it is here, it was still worse in Houston, where a downtown highway became a raging river. In places we like to travel, like the Florida Keys, 25 percent of their homes destroyed and the rest damaged. It's even more devastating in vacation spots like St. Thomas and St. Maarten. There are so many people hurting in so many places.

Twenty-five years ago, I felt relevant. Now it's up to me to make our newspaper so.

I am guessing advertising in a gay newspaper won't be a priority if you have not opened your doors yet or you need a new front door. SFGN will have to thus make adjustments, with smaller and more topical news items. Food reviews and pieces on taking your kids to the zoo may have to just go online. But it's a great place to be, because digitally our paper is topical, spot-on, and releasing headlines daily.

The Pride Center opened up yesterday to serve the community as best they can. But they will need volunteers. The Poverello food bank needs fresh food. Some of our elderly will need rides to the doctor and help trimming the foliage knocked down in front of their homes. Neighbors have to help neighbors. Damage and destruction is everywhere, from the Keys to Orlando. It's a good time to rescue a dog or care for your community.

Meanwhile, here's what I can do to help you and your business; you and our community.

First, share your stories of revival and recovery with our editorial department. We will let that inspiration and your innovation guide our vision of our content and what we publish.

No matter where you live, this is a good time to channel the courageous inspiration of President John F. Kennedy during his inaugural address, on a cold afternoon in 1961, in Washington, D.C.: “Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country.”

Don't count on FEMA. Count on each other.


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