Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Took a much needed vacation out to the house of a friend of a friend this past weekend. The house happened to be in a little subdivision on Santa Rosa Island, off the Florida panhandle. The weather was beautiful, the water was a clear aqua, the pelicans were flying over in formation, and we didn't want to come out of the sea until we got hungry and/or had our fill of seeing an occasional jellyfish along with the schools of yellow-tailed fish Dan tried to catch. No TV, thank goodness. Just sand and surf, and no rain until we left on Monday afternoon.

I am a born beach bum. I know it would bore Dan to tears to have a beach house like the one we stayed in this past weekend...not to mention how I'd never hear the end of what a money pit it was to have beachfront property. Many of my childhood summer weekends were spent camped by San Luis Pass in Galveston with my parents and, occasionally, some good family friends who didn't mind heading out in my dad's boat to catch copious amounts of trout. I fished with Dad on occasion, but found it to be boring as all hell, and I was not into the whole getting up early thing. Period. I preferred to hang on the beach.

Anyone who's been to Galveston knows that it ain't no Riviera. The water is brown and there are what seems like a gazillion sandbars heading out into the gulf. I didn't care. I loved it anyway. I'd dig in the sand, and head out into the water to see how far I could get. I must have ensured that my mom's heart would be in her throat on a regular basis, but she would get out there with me, too, most of the time. My kiddie love for a fairly cruddy beach has ensured that I will love darn near any seaside spot, so long as it ain't seriously polluted.

The problem these days, however, is that most beaches near me are kind of tainted. The specter of hurricanes hovers over them like bad, bad dreams.

It's tough to leave that specter behind when it is all around. Driving over Escambia Bay, Dan casually remarked that the section of I-10 we were on had been ripped apart some by Ivan nearly three years ago. That storm also made it a certainty that every house on Navarre Beach was going to sport storm shutters on every window, and that one house in particular was going to look exactly like a modified flying saucer on stilts, ready to launch at even the slightest whiff of a gust in the triple digits. The fact that most of the houses on the beach were there before and after Ivan is a testament to the changes in housing codes enacted and enforced by the aftermath of that granddaddy of bad hurricanes - Andrew in 1992.

Somebody did comment over at Ashley's about Andrew's anniversary. Coozan Pat made a note of it as well. It's because of the latter that I dug up my copy of Carl Hiaasen's Kick Ass, a compilation of his columns for the Miami Herald, and found yet another case of plus ca change, plus ce le meme chose:

The other day, the Latin Builders Association took out a full-page ad to whine about all the bad press that the construction industry is getting. The LBA implied that shoddy workmanship wasn't widespread, that Andrew's supernatural gusts were humanly unstoppable.

Especially if your contractor didn't bother to fasten your roof to your house.

...other developers also are pitching the myth of the Big One: Hey, we sell sturdy homes. Nothing could have survived Andrew. (Except the low-cost houses built by Habitat for Humanity.)

While the companies try to cover their butts, homeowners are filing richly deserved lawsuits. A grand jury is convening (yes, again). Even the State Attorney's office is on the prowl for indictments. More shocking revelations are sure to come.

Andrew exposed, at a terrible human cost, what happens when a system meant to protect citizens is poisoned by greed, politics, corruption and ineptitude.

Failure occurred at every step. The vaunted South Florida Building Code deliberately was weakened to allow faster, cheaper work. Staples instead of nails? Great idea! Waferboard instead of plywood? Hey, give it a try. What next - Lego blocks?*

We drove back from the beach in rain, but the clouds parted when we decided to exit I-10 and head to Highway 90. Casinos are back, and they are fully land-based. There are three brand new Waffle Houses between Biloxi and Gulfport. Chiquita bananas are coming through Gulfport once again in shipping container loads. What is not there, however, screamed bloody murder at us as we drove past. Weeds choke crumbling foundations all along the highway. There's not much along that scenic byway that is being rebuilt unless it is commercially viable for Mississippi, it seems. I really wish what we've got here in NOLA with the blogpocheh were as easily discernible and accessible in the Mississippi Gulf Coast, because I think it would help a heckuva lot more to draw attention to the region than having our illustrious oaf of a president visiting Bay St Louis. On-the-ground accounts of doings in that area mean a great deal more for everyone involved - as well as for those who want to be involved. Such accounts can be grounds for change.

Without the voices of all our survivors of the Big Ones (or the Big Crimes) raised in the same song, we are truly lost. It is at that point in time that the decision to say good-bye to the places where the land meets the Gulf has been made for us.

I'm happy to say that, though I now know full well what can befall these beautiful places, whether it be nature's fury or human folly, I'm not ready to say good-bye.

My son has only just begun to say hello. There's so much more to show him yet.


*from Carl Hiaasen's Kick Ass : "Blustery Talk About Andrew Is All Hot Air" 10-18-1992

And, yes, that pic is of a 1" x 4" plank imbedded in a palm tree. To learn more, head here.


Schroeder said...

What the hell -- Lego blocks probably float.

Santa Rosa island. I still carry powerful memories of the fantastic light reflecting off of everything, creating a spontaneous sort of halo effect in the sky as the light shifted.

Varg said...

If you are referring to the "Spaceship" house, I have friends who used to live there and I can claim many nefarious deeds inside.

Good move on the HWY 90 thing, I took the "Hurricane Highway" trip a month or so back myself. If you start on 98 east of Pensacola and work your way down to 90 and beyond, you can find yourself of 250 miles of storm devastated country from Ivan, Dennis, Katrina and Rita.

mominem said...

I was in Dennis country myself Pancea FL. Its a sleepy little beach too far east.

Marco said...

Some of stormeyes.org's photos are incredible.

Sophmom said...

Santa Rosa is beautiful. Glad you got to go.