BOCA RATON, Fla., Sept. 7, 2004 -- (Editor's Note: AR Correspondent Mark Scheinbaum weathered Hurricane Frances at his home in Lake Worth, Fla., near some of the hardest-hit coastal communities. Here is his piquant report).
Some notes from Storm Central:
With no traffic signals working, drivers were told to treat any intersection with a dead traffic light as a four-way stop. I noticed while driving down Atlantic Avenue in Delray Beach very early this morning, that this advisory has caused great confusion among the local crack dealers, who had to leave their usual corner and scurry to all four corners to accost potential customers.
FEMA obviously has a self-directed pension plan heavily weighted with BP-Amoco and ExxonMobil shares. Why else would they make people wait in line three hours burning up a $30 tank of gasoline to get a $1.28 bag of government ice for free?
Outside the Super Wal-Mart at 7 A.M. an assistant manager came out and gathered the 300 folks waiting for the door to open around her.
She shouted: "Listen up everybody. I've got between six and eight registers up and running and ready to go. We can handle any Visa or MasterCard as a credit card, but we cannot process debit cards and the ATM machine does not work. Of course we'll take cash and checks with proper I.D.
"Now, before we let you in: remember, we have no dairy products or frozen items. The ice machine is working but I don't know how many bags we've been able to fill, and a truck load of ice has not arrived. There's plenty of water, and all of the cases are piled up right in the front of the store - no limit. Thank you for your cooperation."
Two hours later the lines had gotten longer and she had still not opened the store to customers.
Macabre humor, or just plain cruel? A silver-haired retired gentleman and his Gucci wife drove up to the Wal-Mart line in a pristine black Mercedes sedan, a few minutes after the above speech. He leaned out the window and asked, "Is this where we get the free bags if ice?" (FEMA's distribution center was a few blocks away).
I bit my lip, but a few guys in front of me rolled their eyes, looked at each other with the slightest grin, and one turned towards the driver and said - with a straight face - "Yup! Right here. Free ice - all you want. Just park your car and get on the back of the line." They did.
My office is in the BankAmerica Building in east Boca Raton. Along with electricity and cool AC, one of the guys surprised us with lunch for the five folks who showed up to work.
He opened a bag of cold, cold, cold cuts, fresh whole wheat bread, spicy mustard, and cold cheese. We all "oohed" and "aahed" at the simple pleasure of a cold meal. All of
us had been eating warm or propane/charcoal warmed canned goods and thawed frozen items. Crisp, cold, fresh food was a treat.
Most employees called in to see whether or not the office would be open today. But one member of management chuckled that the exception was a particular employee who "called in to see if we would be closed." No, he didn't come to work even when he heard we were open.
A Martian landing in Florida, in the dark, at midnight, on a street with no electricity, could ascertain that most of 18 counties had no power. Yet, three days after Hurricane Frances
made landfall, Florida Power & Light announced it would send investigative teams to Miami and Fort Lauderdale - the least damaged areas - "to make a full assessment of" the power needs.
Special orders do upset us: the Burger King store at the Lake Worth Florida Turnpike Service Plaza was plastered with signs: "Limit Five Meals per Person, Please, No Special Orders."
What they meant, of course, was that it would not be fair to drive up and order 30 meals for the neighborhood while other folks were in line and food was in limited supply. I asked the clerk if, besides "hold the pickle, hold the lettuce" they were also sold out of anything on the overhead menu.
"Oh, no," he assured me, "We have everything on the menu available ... except Meal Number One, Meal Number Two, and Meal Number Three." There were only four meals listed.
A neighbor tossed some of her fallen coconuts onto my lawn. Picking one up it sounded full of cool, sweet coconut milk. I grabbed a chisel and hammer from the garage, cracked it open, and poured about eight ounces of fresh coconut juice into a
A few hours later I whipped up fresh piņa coladas for everyone, substituting real coconut milk for the canned variety. My daughter and her boyfriend screwed up their noses and said it tasted funny, "too sweet and too fresh or something." Back to the canned mix!
Hardly to the chagrin of most residents, Palm Beach County Sheriff Ed Beiluch (not running for re-election) warned potential looters from other counties, "If you are even thinking about looting here, you better bring your teddy bear!"
Since curfews had not yet been announced, nor martial law, his reference to putting suspects in jail overnight was challenged by a reporter, who asked on what grounds the suspects would be held.
"Who cares?" the Sheriff answered. "The courts are closed and there will be no arraignments for three or four days."
Mark Scheinbaum, who has reported from Panama and Bosnia for The American Reporter, appears daily on the Doug Stephen syndicated radio show and is chief economist for Kaplan & Co., a registered investment brokerage based in Boca Raton.
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