I am a lineman for the county and I drive the main road Searchin’ in the sun for another overload I hear you singin’ in the wire, I can hear you through the whine And the Wichita Lineman is still on the line
“Wichita Lineman” written by Jimmy Webb 1968, first performed by Glen Campbell
The common Man… the blue collar Hero. Billy Joel said ‘Wichita Lineman’ is “a simple song about an ordinary man thinking extraordinary thoughts.” You just can't assume that you know what's going on in somebody's mind. So how great was it when I got to talk to the linemen who were repairing Ocean Reef’s main power line; as they removed, replaced and reattached electric lines on the concrete poles lining Marina Drive, that had been broken, in some cases on both the top and bottom, by suspected tornado activity.
Meet Justin Farmer of Harlan County, KY, home to coal mine workers and country musicians. He operates the boom that lifts the massive poles into position. Seated at the controls, his beautiful and battered American flag ripples in the breeze. I listen carefully as he speaks in a heavy southern accent.
Me: Who do you work for?
Me: Lyman? That’s the company?
Justin: No, I’m a Lineman. It’s the Brotherhood of the Linemen. It’s a line of work. Our motto is “ I am my bother’s keeper.” It’s because we spend so much more time with each other than we do with our families.
Keeper, meaning protector or defender, and someone you respect enough to poke fun at.
For a lineman, It is hard to know what day it is. This particular crew works for Davis H. Elliot Co., Lexington, KY, and just came off Harvey damage in Tennessee, two nights on the road not knowing where they would be after Irma, traveling and sleeping in a Walmart, Jacksonville, FL parking lot. Laughing, Justin tells the story about how we pulled in and two guys went into the Walmart, bought themselves hammocks and strung them between utility trucks. In the morning Justin woke to find one guy had tied his hammock to his truck. At this point in telling the story (he could hardly contain his laughter), Justin said he took out his pocket knife and videoed a “pretend” cutting of the hammock rope as the guy slept.
I explained, I’m taking these photos, and I’d like you to see them in my photo journal. Justin pulls out his phone to write the web address, and it took a while to convey the letters, dots and slashes in the right order. Justin apologizes, “I can’t write real well, that’s why I do this job.”
I say, “I am sure you could do this job in your sleep.” He replies, “That’s when you die. A lot of things we know have been written in blood, by the people who have given their lives to keep us safe.” Rules written in blood. Holy global warming exhaust! I am being blown away by this guy’s sage wisdom.
In order to stand the utility poles upright, called “plumbing the poles”, two guys are positioned at 90 degrees, eyeballing the straightness. And when I say eyeballing, though one guy is holding a string stretched vertically in line with the pole, the other was just looking it it with his two eyes. I say, how can you do that? He replied that he has an astigmatism in both eyes, so he can plumb the poles without tools. So, “You were born for this job!” He replies: “No, ma’am I didn’t know about it until two years ago.”
Being without electricity, it’s a little thing, but it can really change your entire day. Heroes. Justin says they hear from the people they are helping that the linemen, who are out of town, far from loved ones and family, are their heroes. But no, he says. The real heroes are you, the displaced, you are the one’s not in your home.
Justin: “I’ve never been interviewed by a real journalist.”
Me: “I’m not. Or maybe I am.” I was trained as a journalist at the University of Florida, however like the hurricane, my career was blown off track by a family illness. I explained, I became my mother’s keeper until she passed, in the summer of 1979. Because of this storm, I rediscovered a part of myself that had gone dormant for 40 years.
Thanks Justin for coming into our community, patching us up. Making us whole again.
“It’s as if Ocean Reef didn’t put her make-up on” - Katie Uhl, Communications, description of ORC as she entered the front gate for the first time POST IRMA.
It's day eight since the storm, and in a strange sort of way things are starting to return to normal. ORC Associates are filtering back in, setting up temporary shop, complete with power and internet in the Membership Office, They are fielding calls from members, having conference call meetings with the Board of Directors, and most importantly reuniting with their fellow associates, many who are still dealing with IRMA’s effects; consumed with issues related to their homes and the still fresh emotional effects of the prolonged evacuation.
As they greeted each other at their first lunchtime back, I witnessed hugs and tears, smiles and laughter.
Looking back to the time before evacuation, for Katie, the severity of the situation sank in, as she posted a daily update on the ORC member’s webpage.
September 8th, HURRICANE UPDATE 4: “We are all so very concerned about our beloved Ocean Reef Club so we want to provide a detailed update regarding our view of what will likely happen… at this point a number of the hurricane models show landfall directly over Ocean Reef. We want to be straightforward on this, should this occur, we will be facing enormous and perhaps catastrophic damage to the club and community”
Katie was not the only one with tears in her eyes as she exited the front gate, not knowing what would be left upon her eventual return. It was also the members, associates, and the business men and women, whose lives make up the fabric of Ocean Reef. Before everyone left, the Club made sure each associate had enough funds to make it though, by issuing their paycheck a week in advance of the bi-weekly pay schedule. Though things were uncertain, ORC did not want their employees to suffer due to lack of work.
The following photo journal depicts where we are now, taken Sept. 14th through Sept. 17th. As I write this journal, 85% of the power has been restored to Ocean Reef. We are still on a boil water notice. We are still incredibly grateful. And we will be stronger for it.
“My humanity is bound up in yours, for we can only be human together. We are different precisely in order to realize our need of one another.” ~ Desmond Tutu
The Command and Control Center for Ocean Reef during IRMA was located at the Medical Center at Ocean Reef. Excuse the pun, it was the pulse and the heartbeat of Ocean Reef, from the time of the mandatory evacuation, all the way thru till the cleanup and recovery. The Medical Center was chosen as it was built to withstand hurricane windstorm, and is elevated in case of flooding. It is equipped with a high capacity generator, and 3,000 gallons of diesel fuel, enough for two weeks of full power. Saturday night Sept. 9th, gathered around the conference room table, were some very dedicated people monitoring all things IRMA.
A diverse group of folks, prepared for what might arise. (See the end of the story for a full listing of persons there.)
POST IRMA: On Wednesday I passed by the Med center, and happened to see Rene, Keith, and others, all hot and sweaty, wielding power tools, picking up limbs, collecting debris, righting the things that went wrong… I happened to think? How did it go at Command Central?
According to Rene, on Saturday night the generator failed. With flashlights in hand, in complete darkness, they attempted to fix the generator, with no success. It was a fuel transfer problem; George knew there was a DC pump at engineering, except there was a newly formed river which prevented them from getting to it. By now the the Medical Center was surrounded by water on two sides (The Runway and Barracuda Lane), the wind was howling. There were white caps on the “River” Runway. There was just no way, Rene recalls. So for nearly two long days he fetched water from the River Runway to flush the toilets, and tried to keep cool, a near impossible task. Once the water subsided they were able to traverse the runway, retrieve the pump and jerryrigg a way to transfer fuel.
When Rene told me he had considered swimming over to the pump’s location, I thought… excuse me Doctor, but you are no Michael Phelps, swimmer, the most decorated Olympian of all time. Yes, Rene, a trained doctor, was fetching water from the “river”, helping fix generators and doing what he could to help. Meanwhile Amy was cleaning like crazy and complaining of all these men who were tracking leaves and water on the floor. (You gotta know Amy… but that’s enough for another journal).
Before, during and after the storm, one thing is for certain, no one was afraid to roll up their sleeves. Rene explains, “It's my responsibility to be professional. My patients come to see me as a doctor. The Medical Center is not the place for me to be loose. The ones who don’t know me may see me as buttoned-up, very proper; they don’t know that I like to relax and joke around. I'm very comfortable getting my hands dirty.”
On Monday, Rene said the best thing that happened was trekking to the house on Perky Road to be greeted by his cat “Fern”, who had eluded capture pre-IRMA, and to find out his home at Ocean Reef was okay.
On Tuesday the best thing that happened was seeing a picture someone had posted on social media, of Rene and Amy’s uninsured home on Little Torch Key, ground zero for hurricane IRMA. “We assumed it didn’t survive”, only to find miraculously their home was still standing.
It’s Day Six since the storm. Electricity and water services are scarce to non-existent. Another week or two perhaps for just that. So in the meantime we just try to maintain, to help others. Amy is rolling with her idea of offering to clean out the refrigerators and provide photographs of properties.
Rene’s parting thought.: “There’s an opportunity here. To rebuild, to make things better. There has been much suffering, but we will be stronger in the end.”
Tim James, Dir. of Public Safety and VP of ORCA; Inspector Eddie Fernandez; Officer Neil King - Public Safety
John Lyberger, VP of Club Operations; George Richards, Dir. of Engineering; Sonny Vasquez - Dir. of Safety and Security - Ocean Reef Club
Shawn Buck, Owner of Seaway Plumbing and all his tools.
Bill Gilbert, Kem’s partner and property manager for the island of Pumpkin Key
Keith Young, Medical Center CEO; Dr. Rene and Amy Fernandez, Coordinators Linda Carithers and Pam Zimmerman - Ocean Reef Medical Center
This photographic website provides me the opportunity for self-expression, for sharing