By Greg Jackson
This past Sunday evening, as the wind gusts picked up and the storm of the century, Hurricane Irma, made it abundantly clear that she would not go quietly into the night, my family hunkered down, and we prepared to ride out the storm in our own way.
My wife was upstairs on her computer and cell phone while watching one of her favorite movies, Auntie Mame (the one without Lucille Ball). My daughter was in her room watching some teen show and texting her friends to tell them she would see them bright and early Tuesday morning at school. And me, well I was downstairs sprawled out on the couch watching sporadic highlights of the day’s NFL games on ESPN, while also trying to keep myself updated on the path of Hurricane Irma, which at the last minute decided it wanted to spend some time with her friends in Central Florida. Aside from the infrequent blinking of the lights indicating stronger winds were coming, everything was going as expected. That is until the power went out, taking with it the AC, televisions, lights, stove, and significantly limited our use of electronic devices (i.e., smartphones, computers, tablets, etc.). Luckily, earlier in the day we had gathered six or so candles, a flashlight and I happened to have two old cell phones with “flashlight” capabilities.
Armed with our illumination for the duration of the storm, we found ourselves drawing just a little bit closer together. My teenage daughter who usually has little time (or patience) for mom and dad, decided now would be a good opportunity to grab a blanket and hang out with mom. I found my way upstairs and settled in a chair in the corner of the room as my wife and daughter tried to talk over the sounds of wind gusts that had grown from hushed whispers to howling cries of hurricane-force winds. As the night went on and the storm’s winds grew stronger and more frequent, I paced the floors going from room to room making sure there were no breaches to the walls and no water leakage. I kept my cell phone close at hand texting my parents in Jacksonville as I did during Hurricane Mathew and listening to WDBO as they told me minute by minute where the eye of Hurricane Irma was headed. The family dog, a 10-pound Silky Terrier, anxiously patrolled the house with me all the way through to 5 am when the winds seemed to subside a bit and the sounds of generators began their wake up calls much like a rooster would do on a farm.
Having survived yet another hurricane, the most heartwarming things happened afterward. Yes, my neighbors came out, and we assisted each other as best we could with quick clean-up efforts as the early morning came upon us. But what I am talking about here, is what happened in the silence of my home, with no electricity. My family and I just had a chance to reconnect in a way that everyday life and technology had prevented us from doing to some degree. Without a television or computer to distract us, we played UNO, checkers, chess and even tic-tac-toe for hours. Without a stove or microwave, we made some very interesting snacks. With no lights, we had a chance to enjoy the glimpses of the sunshine that peeked through the clouds that rushed by overhead.
I know that we all have our own stories about the day that Hurricane Irma came through Central Florida. Some stories are heartbreaking and tell of deadly encounters. Some stories are of neighbors and communities coming together to help each other. And some are just simple stories like mine, where with a few days of no distractions I was able to connect with the ones who matter most, family and friends.
There was some frustration, however, where I wanted to bash the electric companies for moving too slow. There were also some moments of despair as I saw flooding and destruction in certain areas and thought “what if elected officials had used funds (i.e., CRA funds) to build infrastructure years ago instead of focusing on business interest, would some of the storm’s effects have been dampened?” Living in Florida, I can almost guarantee that there will be other storms and some may even reach the level to being termed the next “storm of the century.” My hope is that time and funds from redevelopment agencies will be used to address battered homes in underserved communities and for much-needed improvements to infrastructure (i.e., drainage, sewage, etc.), rather than parking structures or strictly business development. Even more important, I hope that it does not take another 20 years for someone to realize that the use of government funds, particularly those designated for a specific purpose to address the needs of people in underserved communities, should trump the pursuit of business revenue – in my humble opinion.
Greg Jackson is a former Assistant Attorney General for the State of Florida, a military veteran, current Orange County District 2 Representative on the Board of Zoning Adjustments, and General Counsel for the Community Redevelopment Agency. He has been as an active member of the Central Florida community for nearly 20 years. He was most recently a candidate for the Florida House District 45 seat.