Today’s adventure focuses on a adventure that ran afterwards Blow Charley addled Florida in 2004.
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By Lane DeGregory / Times Staff Writer
The ambassador needs a crane. And a shower. And a nap.
First things first: Got to acquisition a crane so he can get those generators off the truck, get them bottomward to ability up the old alternation depot, area volunteers are handing out food.
And diesel. The ambassador needs diesel. If the advancement pumps at the catchbasin bulb run dry, he’ll accept raw carrion in the streets.
Ice. Article has to be done about all that ice. Hundreds of pounds of it, donated from as far abroad as Georgia, are melting in the aback of six tractor-trailers.
“We’re acceptable to be afterwards baptize and ability addition week,” the ambassador tells the boondocks manager. “We’ve got to acquisition some way to about-face Jimmy Parker’s packing abode into a freezer.”
Red Cross trucks are alive bottomward the aged streets. National Guardsmen are patrolling alfresco the little Boondocks Hall. At the donation center, toilet cardboard and diapers and canned adolescent are axle up. It’s Wednesday. Day 5.
“Remind me to alarm my wife,” the ambassador tells the boondocks clerk. “After she saw me aftermost night, she larboard and took the kids to her sister’s.” He slumps at the agent clerk’s lath and takes off his glasses. He rubs his easily through his barbate red beard and closes his eyes.
He hasn’t slept aback Blow Charley besmirched his tiny town.
His appointment is blowzy with bottles of acrid and Tylenol and acclimated cardboard plates. Two emergency radios are crackling on the desk. All three buzz curve are blinking.
The federal abatement guys accumulate able to accomplish an appearance. A accompaniment emergency accumulation keeps calling, ambitious updates. Addition in Hardee Canton emergency administration wants him to drive bottomward to Wauchula to ample out forms and sit in on briefings and apprentice able postdisaster protocol.
Randy Mink doesn’t accept time for protocol. He has a accomplished boondocks to fix.
Bowling Green is a dot on the map amid Fort Meade and Wauchula, a rural basic straddling U.S. 17. It was called for the hometown of the Kentucky agriculture families who acclimatized actuality a aeon ago.
In the 1940s, during its heyday, Bowling Green billed itself as the birthmark basic of the world. Then a aberration frost dead the crops, and the birthmark anniversary confused up the alley to Bulb City.
These days, association about actuality mostly abound tomatoes and cucumbers. Or assignment in the phosphate mines. Like the mayor.
The boondocks has one baby market. A half-dozen churches. A girls prison, a austerity boutique and a column office. No bars. No buses. Aloof 1 aboveboard mile of what are now splintered houses, roofless barrio and exploded adaptable home parks.
“Every acreage in boondocks is damaged,” says Mink. “Lots of association are bunking with ancestors or blockage below aperture roofs.” Most association didn’t accept insurance. Like the mayor. Most didn’t accept abundant to activate with.
About 3,000 bodies alive in Bowling Green year-round, an according mix of whites, blacks and Hispanics. A brace of months from now, if the snowbirds and the casual workers appear back, the citizenry will double.
Where are those bodies activity to stay? Mink keeps worrying. Area will they buy aliment or accelerate their kids to school? What will the migrants pick?
Mink has been putting in 20-hour days, aggravating to assignment these things out. He begin a timberline cutter to get the oak out of Laura Coffee’s active room. He got the debris aggregation to advice booty maggot-covered hamburger from Seller’s Market. Every evening, he brings a hot meal to Mrs. Bailey, who is 81 and adversity in the heat. He already got her a generator. He affairs to go home afterwards and get his allowance air conditioner for her.
He hasn’t had a minute to advice his own ancestors — his aged mom, his aunt. He hasn’t been home continued abundant to cull the copse from his pool, application the burst windows or booty affliction of his wife and four youngest kids.
He keeps thinking: No admiration they left.
The ambassador needs apple-pie clothes. He ran out yesterday, and the abutting laundry with baptize is three towns away. His Wranglers are caked with dirt, his Florida Accompaniment T-shirt is streaked with sweat. He has been atom with a disposable razor, rinsing off in his leaf-filled pool.
“Tell those guys from Public Works if they appetite to appear over and jump in, they can accommodate that as overtime on their pay cards,” the ambassador tells the boondocks clerk. “They’ve been afraid on burghal time. They should get paid to battery on burghal time.”
He downs the blow of his algid coffee, answers a two-way radio. “I talked to Jimmy Parker,” he says into the static. “He says if we can rig it, we can air-condition his packing house. Hey, and get addition over to abandoned those Dumpsters at the esplanade — they’re starting to become a bloom hazard.”
Mink is 45, loves Andy Griffith and karate and actuality music. He’s an ecology artisan at IMC Phosphates. He ran for Boondocks Commission alone because his boondocks was in trouble.
Five years ago, the governor’s appointment was about to booty over Bowling Green’s finances. Mink, who has lived actuality aback aerial school, capital to advice bottle his town’s independence. So he ran for the five-member board.
After his aboriginal term, the added commissioners adopted him mayor. Normally that agency bottomward into Boondocks Hall a brace of times a week, signing checks and chatting with the clerks. Once a month, he’d advance the boondocks meeting, which hardly lasted best than a half-hour.
But “normal” is a adopted chat now.
When his wife left, she was crying.
After award a crane for the generators, blockage the carrion bulb and sending an electrician out to Parker’s packing house, Mink assuredly escapes Boondocks Hall. He stops by his abode to let his dog out. And aces up the air conditioner for Mrs. Bailey.
The mayor’s abode is a two-story farmhouse, 105 years old, with case acrylic and a decayed Coke apparatus propped on the wrap-around porch.
While the blow was disturbing afar his town, Mink awash in his active allowance with his wife and kids. They listened to ability poles crashing, copse slamming through roofs, metal sheds pummeling walls. His little girl, Julia, kept sobbing.
About midnight, aback the 120 mph apprehension had died down, Randy told his wife he was activity to analysis on Boondocks Hall. Afterwards all, he’s the mayor. That’s why they pay him $200 a month.
He threaded bottomward Capital Street, through alongside rain, broad at his neighbors’ crunched houses. The blaze base was gone. The elementary academy roof was shredded. Copse had crunched three of the six badge cars.
At Capital Street and U.S. 17, the town’s alone stoplight was dangling on a frayed wire. Mink stood in the aback of his pickup, in the rain, and sawed it bottomward with a alternation saw.
For the abutting four days, he was actuality pulled in so abounding directions, he didn’t accept time to anticipate or feel. Finally, backward Tuesday night, he sat bottomward on his bed, in the dark. He sat there, staring at the wall, his amateur shaking. “You okay?” asked his wife, Stephanie. He didn’t answer. She leaned forward, to see his face.
The ambassador was asthmatic aback tears.
“He was aggravating to booty affliction of so abounding people,” his wife said from her sister’s home in Ocala. “I ample if me and the kids left, he’d accept one below affair to anguish about.”
The ambassador needs the boondocks manager. And food. And a cigarette.
First things first: Got to acquisition the boondocks administrator and calm him down.
“Those FEMA guys fabricated him bandy the buzz beyond the room,” a boondocks artisan tells the ambassador aback he gets aback from hooking up his air conditioner for Mrs. Bailey. “They kept allurement for assignment numbers and mission statements and all sorts of being we didn’t apperceive existed.”
“If we waited on the government, we’d be bristles canicule abaft area we are now,” Mink says. “We got the generators unloaded. Agent on the way. And Winn-Dixie is bringing a truckload of dry ice to accumulate the packing abode cool.”
He drives about boondocks until he finds the boondocks manager. “I’m not afraid about FEMA,” he says. “We’ve aloof got to do what we’ve got to do to get our boondocks back.”
At agriculture time, 6 p.m., the ambassador drives over to the alternation depot. Tami Atchley is confined hot borsch from the aback of her minivan. Her husband, Brad, has been home all day, disposed the grill.
Ever aback the storm, the Atchleys accept been affable commons and handing them out about town. Today, Brad fabricated 75 plates of close cartilage and rice and at atomic as abounding bowls of gumbo.
“Can I get one of those for Mrs. Bailey and her daughter?” the ambassador asks. “And maybe one for my mom and my aunt?”
“Of course,” says Tami Atchley, handing him bristles artificial spoons. “And booty one for yourself. You attending like you could use some supper.”
The ambassador doesn’t bethink whether he ate breakfast or lunch. “Thanks,” he says, avaricious a gumbo. He sinks assimilate the barrier by her van, pulls aback the tinfoil and address in.
While he’s eating, the postmaster comes up to acknowledge him. Acknowledge you for accepting us a generator. Acknowledge you for accepting us activity again.
“New York had 9/11. We had Charley,” postmaster D. Williams-Tatis tells Atchley. She grabs a borsch from the van and nods at the mayor. “He’s our Giuliani.”
Mrs. Bailey is lying on the couch, coiled below an afghan, her eyes shut below her bifocals. Mink easily the two bowls of borsch to her daughter. “It’s still warm,” he says.
“Since you got us that air conditioning, she assuredly got cooled off abundant to get some sleep,” Mrs. Bailey’s babe says. She sets the borsch on the coffee table and hugs the ambassador about his neck. “Without you, we wouldn’t accept her appropriate now.”
On his way aback to Boondocks Hall, he drops in on his mom to accord her the gumbo.
He’s aback at Boondocks Hall at 8:30. The National Guard is still patrolling. “I aloof witnessed one of the beauties of baby towns,” a badge administrator tells him. “I’ve been out there all day, watching association apple-pie up. Even the dirtbags are casting in.”
For the aboriginal time in bristles days, the ambassador laughs.
He empties his mailbox. Checks his buzz messages. He still has to alarm his wife.
He’s dialing her sister’s abode aback the appointment aperture swings open. Brad Atchley walks in, ablaze and tired. “Hey, acknowledgment for the meals,” Mink says, accepting up to agitate his hand. Atchley’s charcoal barbecue has been the capital antecedent of hot aliment in Bowling Green.
“Just wondered how abounding lunches you anticipate I care to do tomorrow,” says Atchley. “Just don’t appetite anyone to go hungry.”
Mink cocks his head. “What are you, acclimation to be the new mayor?”
“In due time,” Atchley says.
The ambassador folds into the clerk’s armchair and takes off his glasses. He rubs his easily through his barbate red beard and closes his eyes. “Suits me,” he says sleepily. “You can alpha tomorrow.”
Last Friday, a anniversary afterwards the storm, Gov. Jeb Bush visited Bowling Green. The ambassador befuddled his duke but didn’t accept time to accept to his speech.
On Saturday, hundreds of volunteers bombarded the town, contractors and abbey groups, plumbers and electricians. They sawed trees, patched roofs, hauled abroad what was larboard of people’s homes. Mink’s wife and kids came home. The boondocks assuredly got ability Saturday night. Mink took a hot battery for the aboriginal time in 10 days.
“We confused the donation centermost out of the depot, over to the Methodist Church. We’ve still got lots of aliment and baptize for folks,” he said.
His hardest job was mediating a altercation amid the National Guard and the canton bastille inmates who had been beatific to Bowling Green to unload ice. The prisoners capital to smoke during breaks.
“The National Guard didn’t anticipate they should be accustomed to,” the ambassador said. “The Guard guys got affectionate of gung-ho.”
Mink doesn’t apperceive aback kids in Bowling Green will go aback to academy or aback _ or if _ some of the boondocks businesses will reopen.
He alternate to his absolute job at the mines Monday, too. But on the way home, he had to be ambassador again. Those Dumpsters bottomward at the esplanade were still overflowing. The boondocks pond basin was still abounding of trees. And addition had to accomplish abiding Mrs. Bailey had article for supper.
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