Archive for August, 2007

Who Is Yanking Our Castro Chain?
August 29, 2007

It seems like Fidel Castro dies every Friday. For the last few weeks the last day of the work week has seen our news room scrambling to check out the multiple rumors swirling from Sweetwater, over to Hialeah, on to the heat of Calle Ocho that Fidel had gone toes up.

I took plenty of calls:
“My sister has a brother who is a policeman who has been told to report for work tonight because Fidel died.”
“The Police Chief from Sweetwater was called back from vacation because Fidel Died.”
“My cousin works at the U.S. Attorney’s office and they all went home early.”
“There has been a series of High level police meetings today.”
“There is a big road block at the top of the Keys because Fidel Died.”
“What have you heard, I hear there are tanks in the streets of Havana.”
“There is a full alert at MIA.”
“NBC National News is working on Fidel.”
“Fidel’s death will be announced at 3:00pm.”
“The Cuban Government will have an announcement at 4:00pm.”
“The Cuban TV is running a documentary about Fidel.” “German Intelligence will report that Fidel is dead.”

As far as we can tell Fidel is still alive. Will he die again this Friday? Probably. I have to admit that I fear that there is some type of manipulation going on. Is it the Cuban Government and its extensive spy network stirring up trouble in the exile community? Is it the U.S. Government slowly sapping the excitement out of the Exiles so they won’t party Miami to a stand still when the real announcement comes?

Someone is behind the “Friday Fidel Follies.”

My guess it is the Cubans. The have done an excellent job of transition of power. Fidel to Raul has been seamless, perfect to keep Cuba’s governmental scam alive and in total control. So why not slow down the Exiles? Get ’em fired up so much that when the real deal comes down there is almost a “so what” attitude. Perfect of the Cubans, they get to have a major funeral, all eyes focused on the Island, Raul and his fragile coalition of generals and bureaucrats get to roll on without too much fuss from across the Straits of Florida.

I remember all too well when the Cuban Spies were on trial the extensive discussion of the group’s use of “Active Measures.” Part of the spy task was to stir up the exiles, get the in conflict with each other, get them into the streets for any reason, make them look bad in the eyes of the rest of the U.S. Are the Cubans initiating active measures?

Yep someone out there is manipulating the South Florida Exiles and the local news media. The “Friday Fidel Follies,” are some one’s project that if nothing else seems to be very effective in generating a lot of buzz.”

Please call me when he is really dead.


Hurricane Andrew: the small stuff
August 22, 2007

It is the small things that seem to stick with you over the years. The big important stuff sometimes goes away but it is those little incidents that seem “just like yesterday” when you relive major events in your life, especially a catastrophe like Hurricane Andrew.

Here are a few memories that have lingered over the years, most of them not really pretty, nor fun at the time, or now for that matter:

Watching looters push aside TV cameras, cops and the armed soldiers from the U.S. Army and continue to pillage retail outlets and malls in South Dade.

The drunken security guard pointing a large pistol in my face because he “didn’t like no media.”

Realizing that while writing and reporting about the 160-thousand homeless South Florida residents that I was reporting about myself.

I still remember my first warm shower.

After seeing my trashed apartment and starting to sort out the mess realizing for the first time in my life I really had no control over what was next.

Being offered ham and eggs by a family who was cooking breakfast under a tarp hung off a tree.

Not ever getting enough sleep, or being able to go to sleep.

I remember the taste of the peanut butter and jelly sandwich, on white bread, that a Salvation Army worker handed me.

We were the first news crew on to Homestead Air Force base. Fighter pilots road out the storm in a hanger. During an interview one of the pilots told me, “I thought I was going to die.” I thought, “God, there is not a fighter pilot in the world that thinks he is gunna die!”

Watching the U.S. Army arrive and grab control of the rescue, recovery, and relief effort that had been botched by so many others.

The red tape of the Red Cross in contrast to the simple “what do you need philosophy” of the Salvation Army and the many religious groups that brought aid to South Florida.

Living in the television station for two weeks, living in a cramped mobile home at Harris Field in Homestead.

Being practically in tears when our News Director personally delivered Cuban Sandwiches to those of us in the field.

Being totally frustrated in not being able to solve people’s problems. Andrew was like a giant wave that you could never get out of.

Being hungry, thirsty, and probably a little nutty for way too long.

Watching public officials who failed, other who stepped up an made a sincere effort and made a difference.

Learning much about myself and how material things began to matter less and friendships and relationships became far more important.

Remembering the first night in the Overtown apartment I was able to rent, laying on the floor and sleeping for 12 hours. There was no water, no electricity but it was mine.

The mosquito’s ate us alive and being so glad the mosquito spray DC-3’s doused us daily with insecticide which killed the skeeters but maybe wasn’t so good for us.

Standing in line for a hot dinner at an Army field kitchen.

Standing in line to use the only working pay phone east of US-1 and Southwest 312th street.

It was so hot and then it rained forever right after Andrew.

The smell of wet drywall.

The smell of decaying foliage.

The smell of things dead.

I have to say, Andrew was absolutely frightening. Not only the storm, but the aftermath, the feeling of helplessness, was overwhelming… and that was just some of the “small stuff.”

One Plug Hurricane Peace of Mind
August 18, 2007

The door bell rang just after 8:00am on a weekday morning. What’s up I wondered as I headed for the door, looked out the window and saw a tall man with a hard hat and clip board. “I’m here to install your ‘One Plug,'” the guy told me. “Damn you guys are fast,” I said as we both laughed. I had placed the order just days earlier. Within in 15 minutes the technician had placed the “One Plug” on my Florida Power & Light electrical meter. He then put red, green and yellow stickers next to the switches in my breaker box. He showed me the basics and asked if I had any questions and within minutes was on to the next job.
My pal Bruce turned me on to “One Plug.” So far the “One Plug” project is a little known service that FP&L offers to provide a direct electrical connection from your portable home generator to your house. In case of a hurricane and power loss you do not have to go through the hassle of multiple, unsafe extension cords, open windows and plugging and unplugging what ever you want powered. Using a 7,200 watt generator you can power most of your critical home appliances except for your central air conditioning.
A number of my friends have had electricians or handymen put in similar devices but I was always a little leery about the safety. When, as Bruce suggested, I checked the FP&L website and realized the power company was backing the project, I was convinced to give it a shot.
The “One Plug” is expensive, a little over $900 for the device, installation and special power cord that hooks up a portable generator to your electrical box. But, we reasoned, it was the power company putting in the device. They were sanctioning the “One Plug.” It case anything went wrong then there was a number to call. I like that and to us worth the extra bucks.
A week later I hooked up our generator, followed the easy instructions, snapped off the breakers that had a red sticker, and sure enough power reached the essential appliances. The generator barely broke stride as the house powered up.
Florida Power and Light has been pretty low key about “One Plug.” It is a pilot project offered only in Miami-Dade and Broward Counties. Check out the FP&L website at to get the details.
Got to tell you that it was reassuring to hear the refrigerator humming away and our little room a/c tossing out cool air. After Hurricane Wilma we were without power for 13 days. I do not want to go through that again without back up power. If nothing else, like all hurricane preparations and plans “One Plug’ does give you peace of mind that you have the means to cope with whatever a hurricane may bring.

Hank’s Vacation: Dollars and Cents!
August 12, 2007

Hank’s Florida Vacation: the dollars and cents.

I report on tourism and I am a Florida tourist. Yep, I too vacation in Florida. We drive. It beats flying somewhere; flying back fatigued wondering where the relaxation went. My wife and I have often vacationed in state. It works, at the end of the week we feel like we have been “on vacation.”
Over the years I have often reported on the “drive market.” It is the bread and butter business that folks like Andy Newman of the Florida Keys Tourism Development Council like to talk about. These are instate tourist, the Florida folks we interview during holidays at the Citgo Station on the Turnpike just south of Miami who are Florida people heading for a vacation in the state.
We like Marco Island. It is 86 miles from our front door to the condo we often rent. We have over the years been part of the 25% or so of Collier County visitors who come from Florida.
Tourism is our principal industry here in the Sunshine State and the tourism officials like to bombard us with statistics about the number of visitors, what they spend, where they come from. Lots of the numbers are estimates based on general statistics generated by the industry. Rarely do you get to get a real numbers look at what a tourist actually spends.
So I offer a snap shot, the dollars and cents behind one vacation taken by a couple in Florida who are from Florida. We are members of the drive market!
This vacation plan was simple: rent a condo, chill on the beach, read a book, hang out in the water, breakfast and lunch in the condo and have blow out dinners in the area restaurants. That coupled with some shopping and a visit to one attraction in Fort Meyers that we have always wanted to see and you have the format of what we were up to.
Dollars and Cents:
Condo Rental $600.00
Gas 43.63
Food &Drink for Condo 167.81
Shopping 435.23
Edison& Ford Estate 60.00
Blow out Dinners 644.23
Misc Cash 100.00

That all adds up to about $2,050.00 bucks. Figured out on a daily basis it is about $300 a day to enjoy great meals, a wonderful beach, placid water, spectacular sunsets and dolphins performing in front of your balcony.
Since this was a low key, hang out vacation, we did not take advantage of the local charter fishing fleet or any of the fun stuff like para sailing or the water bike tours.
We do enjoy dining out and each time we head to the West Coast of Florida we go armed with a list of restaurants that friends have suggested. Our investment paid off this year. We had two of the best ever dinners, one in Naples and another in Marco.
We do enjoy talking to waiters and service personal and they have told us that “business” is a little slower this year than last, they tell us that fear of hurricanes still has an effect on potential visitors, and that water front restaurants are being bought up by condo developers, but the service personal said that they have not a problem with work, but gratuities have been a little slim.
Marco was still torn up on their main street as they are apparently putting in a major sewer upgrade. However this time of year the crowds are slim and the traffic issue is not serious. What’s good about Southwest Florida in the summer? The answer: no waits in the restaurants. Winter tourism season can be a big hassle, that’s why we like Marco in the summer and why we feel the dollars are well spent.
So, that’s the dollar and cents/sense of a Florida Vacation for the two of us. For us a pretty good bargain compared what we could have spent flying out of state our out of country and we got home relaxed, rested and tan, ready to go! By the way, my lovely wife does the driving, how sweet it is

So you think this is hot? Try Yuma, Arizona in 1950!
August 6, 2007

I remember like it was yesterday, my mom pulling into the driveway at the ranch house. She was in the 1949 Ford Two-door that my Dad bought just after we moved to Yuma, Arizona. “It is going to be 127 degrees, get in the car I am taking you to the swimming pool,” she all but shouted at me. There was a bit of a panic in her voice.

Yuma, Arizona in 1950 was a dusty little desert town nestled on the edge of the Sonoran Desert. The Colorado River provided irrigation water for the ranches of the Yuma Valley. Yuma was well known for the infamous Yuma Territorial Prison, great winter vegetable crops and being hot and hell all summer long. The three of us in the Tester family were part of a population of no more than 5,000 hardy souls that called Yuma home.

When we moved to Yuma there was no home air conditioning. We relied on evaporative coolers that only worked as long as the humidity did not set in. The months of July, August and September were absolutely awful when the humidity rolled in from the Gulf of California. The slight drop in temperature reading brought no relief.

My mother claimed till the day she passed on that she cried every day of the first two months we lived on the Ranch, that was August and September of 1949.

I did get to the City pool and hung out there all day. That night my Dad had rented a room at the only motel that had what was called “refrigeration.” Several large slatted wooden towers loomed behind the El Rancho Motel. Inside the tower water was sprayed on copper coils that cooled air ducted into rooms. It was crude but that night effective.

We were not alone at the El Rancho. Other families, friends had checked in. I remember staying for several days. The pool was great! All my buddies where there.

I have researched the 127-degree story. I appears that the 127 degrees number that has stuck with me for all these years was somewhat off the mark but the day or at least the month for what is still a record setting Yuma temperature is right on the money. According to the Current Results Nexus, the record high temperature in Yuma, Arizona is 123 degrees set in September of 1950. That would be just about right because I had started school and I think the record setter was on a Saturday.

Right now outside my home here in Miami our digital thermometer is reading 93 degrees, I am told the “feels like temperature” is about 98 degrees, the outside temperature indicator on my wife car says 107! The humidity is around 60% which gives you that dry crackling feel that really makes this South Florida heat wave the real deal. Feels like home!

Of course locals here always say that the high temperatures out west are easier to take because the humidity is so low really do not get it. Folks, as a person who lived out that way for 50 years I can tell you that any time it gets over 107 degrees it is nothing but stupid. It is just awful hot, no breeze, and the blast of heat when you walk out of a house or office will actually send chills up and down your body.

What’s the temperature in Yuma as I write? It is predicted to be 102 with clouds and a 20% chance of rain that will never happen, that means humidity and that’s nasty. Be glad you here and by the way there is no beach in Yuma.