Hurricane Wilson vs. Hurricane Wilma
Wednesday, October 19, 2005: Played an enjoyable solo gig at the Firehouse in Woodstock, Georgia, and then headed straight down I 75 for Florida. The weather all week has showed nothing but Wilma churning in the Caribbean toward the Yucatan Peninsula and making a strong right turn toward Florida. I knew this was going to be an interesting adventure. I’m constantly projecting to the storm to take a different turn, and also challenging the fact that this hurricane might just decide to fade away, which would be good for all involved. After pulling the rig into the truck stop at the Florida line, I turned in for the night.
Thursday, October 20, 2005: After a good night’s sleep, I received a phone call from California confirming a date for the upcoming February tour. After some breakfast and internet work, I headed toward the Buckingham Blues Bar Fort Myers. Having some time to kill, I was able to stop when I wanted to. When I called the club, it was going to be business as usual, since the storm wasn’t due until Monday. It did get scary when I found myself in the gas crunch around Sarasota. Even thought I had three quarters of a tank, I knew I should have kept it near full earlier around Tampa. It amazes me how people freak out in these situations. If everybody would remain calm when things like this happen, it would sure make it easier. I believe that when just a few people freak out, this causes a chain reaction that resembles the 1939 stock market crash. Whereas I was trying to be calm, I could see myself briefly heading into freak-out mode. So, that seemed like a good time to stock up on groceries, water, and such. After I made sure I had what I needed, I continued south, arriving at the club around 10pm. The weather was really humid, so luckily I was able to plug the trailer in to use the air conditioner. So far, so good.
Friday, October 21, 2005: Now things are starting to feel funny. It is definitely the calm before the storm. The weather is really humid when I wake up in Fort Myers, as well as very drizzly and cloudy. Wilma is the big story and everyone is preparing for the storm to make landfall on Sunday. I just spent the day working on my equipment, and got it set up, and basically just relaxed for the afternoon. After the gig, we headed toward House of Blues in Orlando via Tampa.
Saturday, October 22: Woke up at my most frequent, but not necessarily favorite Flying J truck stop on I 4 off I 75 near Tampa. This is usually the best stopping point before heading to Orlando and the Disney nightmare. Showtime isn’t until 11pm at HOB so being able to relax at the hotel is a luxury, as well as a necessity. Seems like the load-in is about a quarter mile, but once you get in the gig is fun. I’ve had people all over the country come up to me saying they’ve heard me at HOB in Orlando. Although many tourists are in the audience, I still have people from the area that show up. That’s a nice feeling.
Sunday, October 23: Waited to hear what the word would be for the gig down at Matlacha on Pine Island, just north of Fort Myers. We were ready to roll because Bert’s Bar wasn’t planning on closing if they didn’t have to, but the town did evacuate. We then headed back toward Tampa to Lazy Days RV, where I had purchased the travel trailer. Being a lifetime member allows one to spend the night and hang around shopping, or making RV repairs. Of course, they would like for you to buy a new RV while you’re there. Just so happens that I needed a new trailer tire and was able to take care of that there.
Monday, October 24: Wilma hits Florida. Just having to wait it out for the aftermath. Took the time to wait out the storm. Wasn’t much use to try to venture anywhere.
Tuesday, October 25: Weather was beautiful, but all of the damage reports are coming in. Keys hit hard, but Florida’s East Coast unexpectedly suffered the worst damage. Now it’s a matter to try to see who needs what.
Wednesday, October 26: Headed south down I75 toward Pine Island and Matlacha for Thursday’s solo gig at the Tarpon Lodge in Pineland. Room was set up for Wednesday night in order to leave for Friday and Saturday’s gig at the Lorelei on Islamorada in the Keys right after playing Thursday night. My worse fears were confirmed when I called John at The Lorelei to confirm. The place was underwater. This whole place is set around the sunset daily, with dining and music from 5:30 to 9:30, with the sunset being the principle player. Unfortunately, it will be at least a couple of months before the Lorelei comes back. By this time I’m seeing the writing on the wall, figuring out that this tour is going to be an emotional roller coaster ride for all involved. So I’ve lost 3 gigs so far. But I felt I had a choice now. I still have other dates booked on through November 5. This whole tour was based around performing at the Fort Lauderdale Blues Festival, but now that was in question. I didn’t have the heart to just turn around and go home. I made a few calls to people I knew wondering what I could do to help. Then I decided to involve everybody. I thought if I could help some folks with a little help from my friends, I might be useful somewhere. So that’s when I pulled over to a parking lot and sent out the e-mail to my database mentioning my situation, and soliciting for support. When I got to the Tarpon Lodge, the owner Rob Wells kindly told me I could have my room for a second night due to my cancellation in the Keys.
Thursday, October 27: Upon checking e-mail again, I was finding friends rising to the occasion to help me out financially. Some donations started coming in, and a bank account was set up to take them in. Over the next day, exactly $530.00 was pledged, and I decided to add $80.00 to take it to $610.00, just over $600. I was ecstatic. The solo gig that night was ok, with folks seeming to enjoy the music, albeit amid their conversations. I always enjoy playing to anybody that might be listening. Bernard from Bert’s Bar called me to say he would like for me to play on Saturday, but then changed it to Sunday afternoon. That was fine by me.
Friday, October 28: Basically just took it easy this day in light of developments of the Hurricane Wilma aftermath. My wireless signal was nil today, so no internet work happened. I decided to just enjopy the Friday night off.
Saturday, October 29: Some friends in Sarasota landed me a ticket for the Sarasota Blues Festival, so I made the trip up. The headliners were Delbert McClinton and Shemekia Copeland. It was nice seeing my many friends from the Sun Coast Blues Society, as well as getting to meet Barbara Strauss, the lady behind the festival. The crowd numbered into the thousands for a beautiful day of blues. When Barbara was made aware of my mission, she handed me $100.00 to donate on behalf of the Sarasota Blues Festival. I was once again humbled. On the way back to Pine Island, I stopped at an all night Wal Mart and bought the first round of supplies like bottled water, etc. The van was loaded, with equipment and provisions. It was nice being able to set the clock back for an extra hour, since it would be 3am before I got back to my room.
Sunday, October 30: After checking out of the Tarpon Lodge, I headed to Bert’s and set up for my 3pm acoustic set. It was a beautiful day, but visible reminders of Wilma were making people realize what a hefty price it is to pay for nice weather. I enjoyed the set. Be able to communicate somewhat with the audience. Now it was dark early, but I packed up and headed toward the Keys. As I headed down US 27 from Alligator Alley toward Miami, the reality was setting in. Speed limit signs were bent and mangle, as were any standing object. Street lights were lit here and there, with some intersections being nothing but black holes. Knowing that the tolls on the Florida Turnpike had been lifted, that saved me at least an hour going south. The expense due to the 4 axels on my vehicle makes the turnpike an entity to avoid normally. I finally arrived at the Florida City Wal Mart around midnight. There were many motorhomes in the lot for the night, which to me, is always a welcome site. There was still a curfew in effect for Miami until 11pm. This normally 24 hour Wal Mart Super Center was closed, currently only operating between 6am and 7pm. I didn’t notice until later that I had parked next to a large shopping cart return rack that was lying on its side. That was explainable, but when I saw that this rack had a rather tall tree in the middle of it, that was not. This rack obviously went up in the air during the storm, and made a ringer around this tree as if being played with in a game of horseshoes. Reality was becoming all the more real each minute.
Monday, October 31 – HALLOWEEN: As a few more donations were starting to come in to help with my desire to help, I went into Wal Mart and started buying all of the supplies I could handle. Bottled water, flashlights, batteries, and other items I figured people would be needing filled my shopping cart in no time. As it happened, I ended up making 2 trips into the store. The travel trailer was starting to resemble a loaded 18 wheeler. The weather this day was also rather strange, as it was very cloudy and drizzly, and cast a rather melancholy feeling. I finally decided it was time to head into the Keys. I had to get to Big Pine Key for my gig at Coconuts, which was to be a big Halloween party, then I would start working on distributing the items I had purchased tomorrow. The devastation was almost too much to bear, the further south I drove. Collapsed signs, destroyed roofs, refrigerators, washers, dryers, beds, couches, dressers, and no telling what else that had been ruined from flooding were all out on the road. Both the bass player and drummer for this gig, who both live in the Keys, had their cars flooded, so I was their transportation to work this night. Everything was looking great for night of music and fun, when the power suddenly went out all through the Florida Keys about 50 minutes before we were to play. We kept hoping it would come back on, but it never did. We finlly called it quits around 12:30am. Not getting to play was almost more painful than witnessing the disaster aftermath I had been seeing, mainly because it was what everyone was looking to for a spirit lift. It more or less felt like the feeling you get when the your final flight is cancelled and you are in the airport wondering, what next? Then, to make matters worse, the bottom fell out with an additional driving steady rain, which made driving back down to Key West with no traffic lights even more brutal. It was good that I did, because the next day, the streets in Key West were once again flooded.
Tuesday, November 1: I headed into Key West to go to the bank and the post office, then came back to Big Pine Key to pick up the trailer. I stopped for lunch at one of my solo gig stops, the Galley Grill on Summerlin Key. While there, I met some FEMA folks and told them what I was doing to try to help hurricane victims. They referred me to Habitat For Humanity on Big Pine, but when I arrived there, they put me in touch with the Red Cross shelter in Marathon, Florida, who was really needing help. I talked to Charlie van Heck from the Red Cross and headed directly there. They needed everything I had, so I gave them everything. They also insisted that I stay for dinner, have a shower, and park the trailer for the night, which I did. I was absolutely humbled by the experience of meeting these people who were absolutely absorbed in their desire to help those who needed it. I went to sleep this day very fulfilled.