Although I live in New Jersey, I have ties to Texas and Florida so Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Irma affected me on a personal level.  I’ve never been to Texas myself but my brother lives in Houston.  He lived there for a few years for his medical research job before returning to New Jersey for medical school. Then he took a year off from medical school to do more research in Houston.  When he finished medical school he found Houston calling him for a third time. He was assigned a medical residency at Baylor University Hospital.

When Hurricane Harvey hit my family and I were naturally concerned for my brother. When we called or texted him to make sure he was okay he brushed aside our concerns and assured us everything was fine where he was.  He was off of work for the week because of the hurricane and the hospital he worked at was being evacuated the next day but where he was it was just drizzling and the streets weren’t flooded at all.  To prove his point he texted me a picture of his non-flooded street. Then he told me he was bored so he was going for a jog.

The picture my brother was painting of Houston was in stark contrast to the picture the media was painting of it.  CNN was giving accounts and showing images of neighborhoods underwater, people and animals who had been displaced, devastated or were dead as a result of Harvey. There were people who had been trapped by the storm and were desperately awaiting rescue. If they were lucky rescue came-usually in the form of rescue professionals or good samaritans  who were using boats to navigate routes that a few days earlier had been navigated by cars. While these people were grateful to have been rescued, many of them had lost everything.  Their homes had been destroyed and so had their lives as they knew them. Words like ‘catastrophic’, “unprecedented and ‘apocalyptic’ were used to describe the situation.

The fact that the situation was so dire in some areas of Houston but things were perfectly fine where my brother was impressed on me just how big a city Houston is. My brother told us not to listen to CNN because they sensationalized and were overly dramatic about everything. So he was basically calling Hurricane Harvey fake news, which is consistent with his affinity for a certain president who (dis) graced Houston with his presence in the aftermath of Harvey. I’ve noticed a change in my brother’s political and world views since he started living in Texas. Let’s just say I don’t consider it to be a change for the better.

Since he was off of work due to the flood he had time to engage in an hour long text message political debate with me.  It left me feeling rather exasperated. When he was working as a researcher in Houston he would attend Joel Osteen’s church. I brought up the issue of Osteen refusing to open his church as a shelter for flood victims. He said people were getting outraged over something that wasn’t a big deal. He’s become quite the contrarian. He’ll even argue with you about the weather.

We’d barely had time to process Hurricane Harvey before Hurricane Irma came along. I have stronger ties to Florida than I do Texas. I basically consider Florida to be my second home. I resided there for school for about three years, my parents have a vacation house there that I’ve visited several times, I’ve been on several expeditions to Disney World as well as expeditions to various other areas of Florida such as Key West and Miami.

Getting away from my stepfather was a very positive move for both my mother and me but the one downside was that it meant losing the house in Florida to him. It was truly not just a house but a home. It was a beautiful paradise where we relaxed and had fun. It was a place full of charm, character and spirit.  We even called it by an elegant name (the street it was on.)

That house was in one of the areas of Florida that was supposed to be hit the hardest. On the one hand we were attached to the house and didn’t want to see it destroyed. On the other hand it was unlikely that we would ever see the house again so if it was destroyed maybe we wouldn’t feel so sad about not having it anymore. Also the house now belonged exclusively to my stepfather who had released a destructive metaphorical hurricane on our lives that lasted for years so if his house was now destroyed…well….schadenfruede.

The house ended up sustaining only minimal damage but for a while there we were worried. We were only ambivalently worried about my stepfather’s house but we were truly worried for our friend Lucy’s house and for our friend George’s life. George had decided to remain in the area despite the evacuation order. Maybe he needed a more blunt evacuation order like the one issued for an area of Texas during Harvey that asked those who were not evacuating to write their social security numbers on their arm so their bodies could be identified.

George managed to survive the hurricane in one piece but he was so emotionally traumatized by it that now he’s considering leaving Florida for good. To me there’s something ironic about leaving Florida for good because of the trauma you experienced as a result of your refusal to leave it for a few days. Lucy’s house emerged from the hurricane relatively unscathed but her pool cage was damaged. When Lucy asked George if he knew how she could get her damaged pool cage repaired he told her that was an insensitive thing to say when there were people who were really suffering as a result of Irma.

As long as we’re talking about being insensitive, my guilty secret that’s not really a secret is that while I understand that natural disasters are a tragedy and I feel for the people who experience loss as a result of them, when I know I’m safe from them I also find them exciting and fascinating. I was glued to the TV during the hurricanes, enjoying my voyeuristic view in to the disasters that were unfolding.

Of course safety is ultimately more important than thrills or adventure. I was glad to learn that not only was George safe but so was everyone else I know in Florida. That “mark your safe’ feature on Facebook is a wonderful thing. I even found out that the animals I was concerned for were safe. The chickens of Key West had been evacuated with their wings wrapped in newspaper and the six toed cats of the Hemingway house had weathered the storm with the volunteers who had stayed behind. I am sorry for all the people and animals I don’t know personally who did not survive the hurricanes.

Shortly after Irma hit, there was a third powerful storm, Maria. I don’t have any significant ties to Puerto Rico but I did vacation there once as a teenager. It’s a beautiful country that has truly been devastated by Maria. My heart goes out to all its residents.

These natural disasters bring out the best and worst of human nature. There are people who go out of their way to help those who have been impacted by the hurricanes, who open up their hearts, homes and wallets. Then there are jackasses who would rather use tragedy as an opportunity to brag about crowd sizes and insult a society’s infrastructure, who would rather focus on arguing over the national anthem at football games than helping those in need.

All of this while denying that the likely cause of all these hurricanes-global warming- actually exists.  Pretty soon there won’t be enough letters in the alphabet to contain all the hurricanes that occur in a year, to say nothing of all the metaphorical man made hurricanes.

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A Florida Vacation: Key West

Let me reveal that in the process of writing this blog I’ve discovered that my memory is not as good as I thought it was. I had it in my head that the events of my Florida vacation happened in a certain order but when I looked back on the dates of my vacation pictures I discovered that the events happened in a different order than I remembered. Now I think I’ve got the correct order of events sorted out but be aware that some of the names in this blog have been altered intentionally and the order of some of the events may have been altered unintentionally.

Let me also reveal something about my father’s relationship with food and money. I’m not going to say my father is a cheapskate because he’s really not. He spends money on luxurious vacations and he’s taken us out to eat at some really fine restaurants. Yet my father knows the value of frugality and sometimes he’s frugal to an extent that some might consider to be excessive.

For context let me share a story from a previous family vacation. When my father was still married to my mother we went on a vacation to Arizona. For the first half of the vacation we went out to eat at restaurants. From these restaurants my father insisted on saving all the packets of butter, jam and crackers as well as the napkins, styrofoam cups and plastic utensils.  By the time we checked in at a fancy hotel on the way to The Grand Canyon, my father decided it was no longer necessary for us to spend money on restaurants since we could eat the leftovers he’d accumulated from restaurants in our hotel room. When my mother told him that butter, jam and crackers did not constitute an acceptable meal, my father replied “What are you talking about? Of course it’s an acceptable meal, there are people in this world who would love to have a meal like this!”

“Maybe if they were living in an impoverished village in rural Africa but we are not living there!” my mother snapped. She then informed my father that she was taking my brother and me out to eat at a restaurant. At that point my father busted out his crackers, butter and jam and exclaimed “Bon Appetit, Mircea!”

So it was that as we left Fort Lauderdale I could not persuade my father to throw out a days old box of donuts and thus I had to deal with the frosting that melted near my seat in the humid car. So it was that I could not persuade my father to let go of the leftover fish from his meal at the seafood restaurant and thus Gabrielle did not appreciate the fishy scent one of her outfits took on when it ended up getting tossed in next to my father’s uneaten meal a few days later.

The longer the vacation went on, the harder it became to convince my father to eat meals at restaurants. I often had to settle for ice cream or key lime pie. I can’t complain much though because the key lime pie in Key West is delicious. On one occasion when Id’d convinced my father to stop for ice cream he and Gabrielle had no interest in joining me so they waited for me in the car as I went in to the ice cream shop. I have no sense of direction so when I exited the shop, I walked down the wrong road. I was confused when I couldn’t find the car anywhere and I realized I was lost. Thank goodness for cell phones.

When I returned from my Florida vacation someone asked me what my favorite part of it was. I told them that Key West was my favorite part. “Not Disney World?” they asked in surprise. Nope. If you’ve read my blogs about the Disney World portion of our trip you’ll know that Disney World isn’t that much fun when you’re there with three people who hate Disney World. My father and Gabrielle both seemed to really like Key West and I liked it as well so it was a much more pleasant experience.

Key West has a lot to offer. There are points of historical interest, sites of natural beauty and a vibrant nightlife scene. The first day we were in Key West we booked a boating expedition that included dolphin watching, snorkeling and sunset viewing. The woman who booked the reservations asked me how old I was. On the last vacation I went on with my father a woman asked how old I was. When I told her her mouth dropped open in shock and she suggested I was mistaken about my own age. Wanting to avoid a similar situation, I just said to the woman in Key West “A lot older than I look. She then asked if I was over 21. I assured her that I was but I wasn’t going to say how much older.

When we’d been on the dolphin watch boat for about half an hour and hadn’t seen any dolphins I was beginning to fear that we weren’t going to see any but eventually we came upon the dolphin hot spot where we saw a bunch of dolphins that put on a good show for us. After we said goodbye to the dolphins there was snorkeling. Snorkeling was physically uncomfortable for me but I did get some nice views of the aquatic life underneath the water’s surface. Then we saw the sun setting over the water, which was a beautiful sight. The tour guide told us that the dumbest question she gets asked is “How many sunset tours do you do each day?”

As soon as I found out about The Key West Butterfly Garden I wanted to go there. When we first tried to go there we ended up on the opposite side of town from it and then we had trouble finding parking but eventually we got there. It wasn’t as big as I was expecting it to be but it was beautiful and enchanting. In addition to the beautiful butterflies, there were beautiful flowers, birds, reptiles and amphibians.

Several times during the vacation my father told me not to post pictures of him on Facebook and threatened to never take me on vacation again if I did. Hopefully he won’t follow through on those threats because when he tried taking a picture of me in front of the butterfly garden he accidentally took a picture of himself and I couldn’t resist posting his accidental selfie on Facebook. When he fell asleep in the hotel room with a butterfly sticker on his hat, I couldn’t help but take a picture. When Gabrielle saw the picture on Facebook she laughed hysterically. My father was not as amused.

I love nature and animals so I appreciate all nature sites. Historical sites, on the other hand, tend to be hit or miss with me. I enjoyed the Tennessee Williams museum and the Ernest Hemingway house because they combined history with literature, which I also love. The Ernest Hemingway house also catered to my love of animals, as it’s home to a family of six -toed cats. I also liked Fort Zachary Taylor Historic Park because it had nice beaches and cool old structures. I would have liked to have spent more time exploring the fort but we got kicked out when the park closed.

My dad enjoyed the Harry Truman house but I was not so fond of it. That’s fine because I liked the lighthouse, which my father and Gabrielle weren’t interested in. They did some shopping while I ascended the stairs of the lighthouse until I reached the top and was rewarded with a nice view.

I’m not much of a party animal and I had no interest in participating in the nightlife that’s one of the selling points of Key West but it was interesting to observe from afar. I did see some things in Key West that were kind of tacky but nothing so far out of the bounds of good taste as to be horrifying. I got a kick out of the dessert restaurant called Better Than Sex. Honestly the most offensive thing I saw in Key West was the guy who was wearing a Trump/Pence hat and unfortunately that’s something that’s not exclusive to Key West by any means.

The last night we were in Key West I persuaded my father to take us out to dinner at a nice restaurant. I was horrified when I saw dolphin on the menu but the waitress assured me it was a term for the fish mahi mahi and they weren’t grilling Flipper, as that would be quite illegal. I don’t remember exactly what I had for dinner but I remember that I drank pink lemonade and that my dish contained peas. I remember this because in the middle of the meal I started to feel really sick. I ignored it and hoped it would pass but by the time I went to the restaurant bathroom I was feeling awful. I retched over the toilet and unleashed a torrent of pink vomit with chunks of green in it. When I told my father I’d gotten sick he told me it was my own fault since I insisted on eating three meals a day and he extolled the benefits of fasting.

The next morning before we left Key West we stopped at the drug store to stock up on the supplies we’d need for the next leg of our journey. My supplies included anti-nausea medication and temporary filling to replace the filling I’d lost in Fort Lauderdale (which I forgot to mention in the Fort Lauderdale blog.)  When we exited the drug store we were greeted by chickens in the parking lot. That was another thing I loved about Key West.  How could you not love a city that has chickens in front of its drug store? My love of chickens stems from my childhood memories of keeping chickens under the trampoline at my father’s house. Don’t ask. That’s a whole other blog in itself.

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