THIEF! The Gutsy, True Story of an Ex-Con Artist

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THIEF! character, Vince Eli

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Hey Slick, Remember Hurricane Charley?

Top l. to r. Faint outline of
Florida seen under Charley;
House devastated by Charlie
Bottom: Hurricane Charley,
Cuba & U.S. Gulf Coast

...Yeah, It was 5 years ago when all hell broke loose. You and I have experienced a number of adventures during the 9 years it took to write Thief, your true story. But nothing could compare to the magnitude of that awsome event.

JJ, our mutual friend, called 2 days ago to remind me about the 5th anniversary of Hurricane Charley which hit on Aug. 13, 2004. I'd nearly forgotten. So after we hung up, I donned my "I survived Hurricane Charley" T-shirt, the one you helped to create, to commemorate that fateful day. JJ said I called her from your place on my cell phone just before you, Herman and I were all set to barricade ourselves in your bathroom with your mattress. We had holed up in your 10th floor apartment during the storm. If you recall, we had TV and power till quite late. At the last minute, after predicting the storm would hit the Tampa area well away from Fort Myers, newscasters said it looked a lot like Charley could come up the Caloosahatchie River, right by your apartment. We would have taken a direct hit.

In 1960, Hurricane Donna did just that. You see, hurricanes feed off of warm water and the river was really warm that year. I saw actual photos from old newspaper clippings at the Sanibel Library showing how Hurricane Donna had sucked up all the water in the Caloosahatchie and carried it out into the Gulf. You could see the bare river bed for miles. When the wind died down, the water slowly trickled into the river again.

Back to Charley...At the last minute the category 4 hurricane veered northward up to Port Charlotte cutting a swath of water across Upper Captiva Island. I marvel at that new channel whenever I go out on boat patrols. It's called Charley's Pass for obvious reasons. JJ said I called her in case something happened and I wasn't able to get through on my phone the next several days, which is exactly what occurred. You and I watched in amazed silence as palm trees and other large debris blew by your north-facing front window, luckily sparing it. The north side took less of a hit than the south side. The yachts below in the harbor looked like toys someone had dropped from the sky, they were in such a jumble.

I was actually one of the first people to venture out in my car after Charley. It was still raining quite hard and the wind was still blowing quite hard. But I was determined to get home to see if my apartment, that faced southwest, had sustained any damage. Earlier I'd stowed my computer and a few other important things in my bathtub, the only room with no windows. It was like trying to maneuver through a mine field snaking my way along Fowler Street. Downed powerlines and telephone poles made going difficult. Think I saw one other vehicle, a fire truck. Together, the firemen and I moved a huge limb out of the street so we could get by. An hour later (usually a 10-minute drive) I made it home. I remember I had no running water for 4 days and no electricity for 7 days at my apartment, but at least no major damage. The wind had been so fierce that it forced water up through my cement floor on the south side of my apt. That was nothing compared to what folks in other areas experienced. Some are still recuperating!

Boy, what an experience! But it was only a minor inconvenience and I was soon back to writing Thief.


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