Boggle game going on to my left. 90 seconds of quiet followed by the solemn recitation of words, then the quiet is shattered by the shake of the letters.
Frost on the field this morning. Woken early, fed four poached eggs, bacon, English muffins and weak coffee.
The Chop had an unblemished record with six-year-olds last season, but this year it was different. The once-dominant Thunderdogs had been split up, some say deliberately, to avoid any talk of dynasty.
"It's easy to be a good coach when you're up by five goals," The Chop told me that afternoon, riding in a golf cart, a Cohiba burning slowly in his left hand.
No such luxuries this season. A double loss this morning, in both age six and age seven brackets, had shaken The Chop on the last week of what had been a grueling season. There were more white flecks in his once-auburn beard. His game day manner, too, had altered considerably. Once a patient shoe-tier and often the first one on the scene to comfort a crying Thunderdog, The Chop of 2005 shouted instructions from the sideline. During defensive positioning before a corner kick this morning, one girl was told to stop dancing.
Thirty-five years ago I was on The Chop's team, playing with or against him in no-uniform games, in what we dubbed the Wiffle Ball World Series. It was played in Freddie Keane's backyard, with Freddie often in the dual role of pitcher and color commentator. Over the hedges into Zotsman's yard was a home run, and there were no parents around.
Oct. 27, 2005 1 a.m.
I needed cash from the money machine. There was electric power in the Loews Hotel. A woman in front of me let her kid hit the buttons. He kept hitting $4,000 instead of $400, and then would have to start again.
"Boca was a nightmare," the woman said.
The planes were on time. On the Atlanta-Knoxville leg an overweight guy sat next to me, his left leg crossing the invisible boundary. There were empty seats so I moved. I went with animal crackers for the snack, swallowing several frightened gorillas.
The living room light was on, but the front door was locked. When I grew up I never had a house key because the door was never locked. The cars were never locked either, two station wagons out in front. I knew the garage door code to get in. Instead of two parents in bed there was just one, hard asleep, not woken up by the garage door or the light or me standing in the room. She was exhausted after a full-day wait in a hospital to check in. There was a startled wake up and an exhausted stammer that surprised me and made me sad enough to want to stop… then the soothing words of a parent, that the cleaners were coming early tomorrow and would wake me up, apologetic.
"That's ok," I said.
"I'm glad you're home."
Oct. 26, 2005 11:39 a.m.
At midnight before the storm in Everglade City there was still power. I was going back and forth between local news channels and they kept saying "Everglade City." At one point a meteorologist in a coat and tie looked into the camera and said, "Listen, if you are in Everglade City and you can hear me, get out now. It's not too late."
It's always harder in these things when it is dark out. We lost power at 1 a.m. but bought a big generator at Home Depot that afternoon. I tried to find gas cans, but they had been out of them for days. Cameraman Jachman put together a videophone kit and drove down from Fort Myers. In between Katrina and Wilma he had had a kid. As it looked like we would get the eye, I asked for a third person, but there was no one available at that late moment.
The owner of The Captain's Table hotel was a Brit who was going to ride it out. The hotel was the highest spot in a town three feet below sea level. He figured the first floor would be underwater, so we got rooms on the second floor. The hotel was empty until a young guy with a handycam showed up. He introduced himself as an independent storm tracker. He didn't have a flashlight. Jachman gave him one.
We set up the camera on the balcony to keep the gear dry, and I went out in the backyard. Around 4 a.m. Jachman said the roof was shaking, so he got off the balcony — a good move since it soon collapsed along with a good chunk of the hotel. We had anchored our sat phone antennae with concrete bricks, but it snapped in half and blew away. It was dark, the eye wall was hitting, the gear was breaking, and you could hear the sheet-metal roof being peeled off by the wind.
For a while it looked like there would be nowhere stable or dry enough to put the gear. We moved down to the first floor and Jachman ran cable up the stairs to the videophone and a reserve sat phone. The generator shook. It was a no-name brand. Someone had pinched the suitcase Honda I had in Katrina. The water was pouring in and the lower porch was shaking. I thought we might lose that too.
The eye of the storm is a real misnomer. This one was 45 minutes of calm. You could look straight up and see the moon. I thought it was over, but the backside of the storm came with strong winds. By now it was daylight so it was psychologically a lot easier. The predicted 17-foot storm surge did not happen, but small trees and signs were flying. At about noon, Jachman asked if we were gonna get a break. I had never even thought ... he had gone about 36 hours.
The water got right to the edge of The Captain's Table. I pulled up a lawn chair near the edge of the grass and looked out on the lake. The skies got blue in the afternoon and people drove by in their pickups, throwing up wakes. A woman leaned out of one and screamed, "Hey, you're the guy who flies."
We packed up that night. Someone had cooked chicken on a grill and brought us back a plate. I looked it over with my flashlight. It was good.
Oct. 23, 2005 4:18 p.m.
Everglade City, Florida
Sitting here now on the porch of a hotel called The Captain's Table, there is a mandatory evacuation order for Everglade City, a mobile home fishing village 40 miles South of Naples on the west coast of Florida. The rain is just starting to fall and church bells peal in the distance. I've been told this entire town will soon be underwater.
The Captain's Table is the highest ground in town, a very flat ground for miles around. It is near impossible for me to imagine all of this around me underwater. A small statue of a peg-legged captain lies on his back near the taped-up front window. Perhaps he has already given up.
Jachman is on the way with the videophone, gasoline and a generator. I explained the situation to him as best I could and there was no hesitation. Jachman went through Katrina with me. The storm chaser guy with the fancy truck went back to Naples. Understandable. He didn't want to lose his truck. There is something sweet about the moment someone bails — you shake hands with respect and wishes of safety, but it is over.
"I'll take your life vest," I said.
He demonstrated putting it on. It was modern, fancy, black, and slender, with a ripcord. We would also get boats.
"V-bottom ones," he said. "Flat-bottom ones will tip over."
I took the vest.
"I'll make sure I get this back to you," I said.
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Loved the blog-after fourteen years of soccer Saturdays and all the participation trophies and orange slices at half time-I wonder why we bother. Kids can't get dirty, have fun rolling in the mud or settling squabbles without a parent riding to the rescue. A generation of afraid to go beyond the poles and constantly seeking aid for their problems. Think about it...
Love your stories from home too. Your Wiffle Ball World Series reminded me of our neighborhood games. We used trees as bases and had to stop whenever someone yelled "Car!" Then of course, we had to have a do-over.
I just read you last blog and the last paragraph on your whiffle ball games. My brother Doug and I thirty years ago would play that game in our back yard until 10 pm. Yes, in Michigan it would not get dark until 10 during the summer. Gary, Kevin, and the great times. Had over 350 home runs in my whiffle ball career. We played it with a standard thin whiffle ball bat, and a tennis ball with the air removed. As Bob Hope would say, "thanks for the memories," and parents who would just let us play.
San Diego, CA
Steve - As I am writing this I am hoping you are enjoying a well-deserved respite from the dangers both here and abroad. Keep keepin' it real.
Beverlee from Lehigh Acres - SW Florida
Delighted to read your October 26 blog. The way things were flying and you were dodging I was concerned for your life and safety. How did you get out with all the rising water? The reporting was outstanding.
I'm so glad you were in Everglades City, Florida and broadcasting. It helped me more then you will ever know, because my parents, brothers and cousins still live there. I currently live in Atlanta, GA, so you were my only way to see or hear what was going on Monday. Thank You
and God Bless.
Each new blog is great and wonderfully written. I look forward to reading more. Please take great care of yourself and stay safe.
What a delightful surprise to turn on the TV and see you down the coast a bit! Katrina – Iraq – Wilma...hope you have a nice vacation planned soon.
Watching FOX from New Zealand; "Wow" is pretty much what sums it up. I saw the bits of roof flying by you, when you were getting tussled around in the street; Take care and be safe.
Do you ever rest? Did you fly straight from Iraq to Fl? I'm glad to have you here covering our newest disaster. Good job ducking the flying roofs! Stay safe and see you for the next one.
Glad to see you on TV this morning. Your reporting on the hurricanes is wonderful.
We love your hurricane broadcasts. After Hurricane Katrina, you are still referred to as 'Goggle Man' in our household. Are you nuts broadcasting from Everglades City? Hope you brought fins to compliment the goggles. While Jim Cantore from the weather channel vacations on Key Largo during Hurricane Wilma, you're out there dodging flying alligators. Keep up the great work!
Jupiter, FL Fans
Welcome back to Florida. It seems like you are always around when the stuff hits the fan. I'm just up the road in Cape Coral. Better pull the straps tight on that lifejacket. Good luck.
Hurricanes and coverage all over the world. You are unbelieveable and on top of that, you have a sense of humor that is priceless! Do me a favor though...next time, please remember your safety glasses. Stay safe Steve.
Dear Mr. Harrigan,
You are a great reporter. I won't forget the job you did in Iraq. However, what purpose does it serve to stand in a hurricane? Without safety glasses?
Please come inside and don't put yourself in such unnecessary danger again.
Around here we call you "Little Steve," didn't realize you were tall until I saw you on "FOX & Friends." You are the reporter we always watch. Love your insight, but you do scare me at times. Pray for you and your family. Keep up the good work, wherever you are.
Bob & Dot
Keep up the good work. Please be careful. Your reporting represents what is excellent, but uncommon, in journalism. I have the utmost respect for your work. I no longer subscribe to cable, but I gather my news from the internet via FOXNews.com as well as other sites. Reading your blogs is a regular part of my day. Have you been to the great state of Tennessee lately?
Take care and try to stay dry!
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