Hurricane Charley and the life it changed.

Let me start by saying I get nostalgic about the old times. I miss them, and my friends. But I would never change a thing that happened. I am grateful for all the times we spent together, and will cherish those memories for as long as I can. We made a lot of memories – some good, some not so good – but those and the great memories will forever be in my heart!

Today marks 15 years since Hurricane Charley formed. In 4 days, it will be 15 years since it "wobbled" up the Peace River in Punta Gorda. It destroyed my home, my life, separated my group of friends. It destroyed my home town, and the quaintness it once had. It took so much from so many.

Out of destruction comes anew. The plot where our home was has long since been cleared, and I think there’s even a new house there now. My friends all started new lives, doing new things, and excelling as wonderful people. My home town has been re-built, losing it’s once beautful quaintness, but gaining a renewed aesthetic beauty and even a better economy. All of those other people have moved on, gotten stronger, doing better, and are for the most part living their lives as normal. It’s been an interesting journey for me, however.

It was about this time, 15 years ago (and maybe a month), that I met Jeff Bushey, and his little company SurityNet, and The PC Hospital. I had just applied for a job at a new restaurant opening soon in the strip mall, and from the sounds of it – I had gotten the job. I walked into the office looking to buy a PCI SCSI (80 pin at that) card for my PC, so I could retrieve some stuff off of my old Macintosh drive. (When did Macs stop using SCSI?) After talking to Jeff for a bit, telling him what I needed, and that I’m shopping around and can’t promise to buy anything. I explained the situation with work. By the time I left the office, I had gone through an interview, and was offered a position. Flabbergasted! I was exstatic! I’d been working for him for a very short time when the hurricane hit.

Enter August 13th, 2004. Charley is aiming for Tampa Bay. Seemingly everyone in Punta Gorda is having a hurricane party. My friends and I included. We’re baking a pizza, so I stay home when everyone else went down the road to our friends house to get them to come down. The usual thing – most of the group goes. They never came back. 20 minutes later, I get a call from my mom, telling me the hurricane changed directions, and is now heading for us. She told me she sent her husband to get me (and my friends if needed) By the time he drove the 10 minutes to where I was living, the winds had picked up, palm trees were bent over, leaves and debris flying through the air. Oh boy was I glad to be getting away from the water! I found out later, my friends had been told to stay at our other friend’s house, which was considerably better built. They all made it out OK!

It wasn’t until about 5 or 6 when Bear was able to take me back home. The roads were blocked with downed trees and power lines. I had to walk the last mile. Only, when I got home, there was no home. The roof was in the road, the windows were blown out, there was debris everywhere. My pizza! It was still in the oven. It had finished cooking! WOO! I have some food. Awesme! I’m now in the middle of a completely destroyed area, with no one else, and almost no supplies. I realized there was pretty much nothing I could do at the house, but there was plenty I could do to clear the roads. I made my way around, moving trees, and (DO NOT TRY THIS AT HOME!) power lines out of the way for emergency vehicles and residents. I made it back to the corner store. People were looting it. Kind of sad. One person wrote a note and put some money with it in a safe drop tube, and put it in the safe for the items he had taken. I needed water, and there was no running water – and if there was, I wouldn’t had trusted it. So, yes, I took a gallon water, a snickers and a can of mountain dew. I can’t justify my actions, they are what they are. I did go back about 3 months later, when the store opened, and offered to pay for what I had taken, and was told not to worry about it. The manager told me how many people had done the same, and honestly, I was put aback by that. Very cool. Insurance covered the losses, and it would had technically been illegal to now sell those items – or something.

I walked the 5 or so miles from there to town, moving branches and lines as I went. (Again, DO NOT MESS WITH DOWNED POWER LINES!!! I was dumb to do so, but did so as safely as I could) In all, I cleared probably 7 or 8 miles of roadway for traffic. When I got down to the old neighborhoods downtown, I spent a couple hours helping some friends of my friends clear some very large trees from the roads. From there, I walked down to the Highschool, where there’s some (at the time) newer apartment buildings. I knew Barb’s daughter lived in one, so I walked around looking for Barb’s car. Come to find out later, I had just missed her. It’s getting dark, and dark in that situation is dangerous. I had no choice but to find shelter or, preferably, to find a way back to Mom and Bear’s house. I went back to the previous neighborhood, and someone had a working cell phone. I tried calling, after the third time, I finally got through. Yay! I don’t have to sleep in a random place!

The next day, Bear and I drove up to SurityNet. I didn’t have my own transportation, and Bear wouldn’t be able to take me back and forth. I had to let Jeff know I couldn’t work any more, and would have to work with Bear, to be in exchange for now having to live there. Not a big deal, just sucks I can’t work at SurityNet any more. We go out and do some errands – checking on customer houses, getting some water and MREs and head home. Jeff calls. He’s got an offer for me. If I would be willing to pay rent, he had a spare room for me. He said he could take rent from my pay, and take me in to work with him, and bring me home too. Jackpot! I get to live in a nice, new home with airconditioning, get transportation to and from work, and get to keep my awesome PC repair job! This turned out to be one of the best things for me. Jeff and SurityNet introduced me to the wide world of IT at large.

Note: I’m going to skip a pretty regretful situation involving me moving to Kansas, being cheated on and having to move back to Florida. It wasn’t a plesant time at all.

It’s later 2005, and I’m ‘renting’ a room from Barb, helping her to take care of her dogs (about 20 or so) which were used for breeding. Every dog she had was loved and cared for greatly by her, myself and many of our friends. They were pets… that just happened to help pay for themselves. I stop by SurityNet one day, just to say hi to all the people, and Jeff offers me my position back. I took it. In hindsight, I probably could have made some better decisions – but I didn’t. Life was good, and I worked for Jeff for a few more years. We’re swamped with work. We need someone new.

Jeff gets some resumes in, and asks me to look over them. We settle on one, from Shawn, and Jeff calls him in for an interview. Shawn has amazing experience – from PC and printer repair to networks and firewalls. Top notch person to be working with us! Needless to say, Shawn gets hired. At this time, I’m back at Jeff’s. After a week or so, Shawn asks if we know of any RV parks near by, as he and his wife live in an RV. Jeff had sold his to help build up SurityNet, but still had his RV shed at the house. Jeff, being a kind and wonderful man, offered Shawn to park there. Wow, it’s like some kind of tech beta house now! Shawn, his wife and I became good friends. Some time later, they left, as he had an amazing opportunity for work. But Jeff nor I could blame him. We all missed them though.

The whole time this is going on, I’m chatting with friends in IRC. Good friends. I love me some IRC – so many interesting people, such good friendships can be built! We’re playing Neverwinter Nights, Guild Wars and some other games. In 2009, one of my friends suggest this new game from this Swedish indie game dev, called Minecraft. I’m broke, living in a travel trailer behind Mom’s, and no longer working for SurityNet. I tell him I can’t afford it, and my computer (a little laptop) probably wouldn’t run it well. It could barely run a 5 year old Neverwinter Nights. Turns out it was free, web based, and played much smoother than any other game (Oh my how I miss those times for Minecraft!) I hop on some servers, and am annoyed by players griefing my stuff. Every server I log into, just chaos and idiocy.

Then I found BuildSomethingFool. An amazing community run by a couple of potheads (at least I think they were) They had an amazing staff, and the players were very well behaved (or banned if they weren’t) I spent like 3 days building an Eiffel Tower build, with an underground area, gardens, etc. All without using hacks. No flying, nothing. The owners were amazed and offered me to be staff. I could now ban the little trouble makers! WOO! I also learned the game and could explain it very well to new players. One in particular was so confused, and so hapless – I couldn’t help but take pitty on her. I spent probably 20 hours with her, teaching her Minecraft, and embuing the knowledge I had gained. She was a quick learner – and soon became staff as well. By this time, Minecraft Beta was being released, and premium accounts were being sold. VueJohnson, her player name, wanted to thank me for everything I taught her, and purchased an account for me. I was so grateful. The only thing we could do at the time though was to change our skins.

I took a break from Minecraft for a while. Everyone was focusing on this new beta of Minecraft, and I wasn’t able to run it nearly as smooth as the old classic version. When I came back, I had a better computer, thanks to a wonderful friend who I haven’t spoken to in years, but always wished to be annonymous. I could play again! But it was kind of boring. I tried starting my own servers, and quickly ran into problems. Low and behold, where is support for these things, on IRC! I was right at home! I came for help, and stayed to provide the assistance I could to new people. I did this on and off for a few years. It was a great hobby for me. I ended up helping someone get their servers up and running, and really for the first time was doing something I truly enjoyed doing with Minecraft since beta came out. This is not where my life would have led me if I had not moved in with Jeff the first time.

Shawn and I get back in communication. I end up going to his place for a weekend to visit. Some time later, he’s going to move again, and I help him move.

I’m sitting doing some work on this other fella’s server, and keeping an eye on the IRC support channel I was in. This person, presumably a girl, asked some questions – I answered the best I could. After a few weeks, we had become pretty good friends. But I couldn’t tell how old she was – not that it mattered, our friendship was open, public and innocent, but I was just a bit confused. Some days it seemed like she was this mature adulting person who had life together, but then she sometimes seemed like a 12 year old – playful, creative and curious – You know, the good parts of 12 year olds. So I told her. She never told me her age, but confirmed she was much older than 12. Then one day, she shared a picture of her brand new swimming pool and spa. Oh! She’s either much older than 12, or REALLY has her life together for being 20 something. It’s a beautiful picture. I told her "One day, you wait and see, I’ll be swimming in that pool!" More to tease her, intentionally coming across as a bit creepy. We were at that level of friendship. Or so I thought. She didn’t reply for what seemed an eterity! I was crushed! I just ruined a good friendship over something silly.

Well, later that day, she did reply. She insinuated that me swimming in her new pool was not out of the question. Woah! I’m thinking we’d meet up for a lunch or something, I don’t know. We both live in the same state, within an hours drive. So, completely possible.

About this time, Shawn is moving out of state, to Pennsylvania. He asks me to help him move, again. So I do. I figure it’ll be a week or so. We get up there, and there’s a lot of work that needs to be done, so I offer to stay and help. I’m doing this for a good few months. Great times. We learn a lot about construction, remodeling, and even gardening! We’ve got one more trip down to Florida, for more stuff, and Shawn has some business to tend to. I let this woman I’ve been friends with know, and that I’d like to meet up with her one day while I’m down, to have lunch. She agrees! Amazing! She drove out to meet us, and had a fantastic time! But time’s up, and Shawn and I have to head back up north. She sends me along with a cell phone, so we can keep in contact. She’s going to London for Minecon. Yeah, things were a bit more serious than friends, I’m quite happy to say. We talked every evening. I had been fighting it for months, but after that weekend, I knew I was in love. She was too, apparently!

It’s August again, 2015. I’m done helping Shawn with what we can do. I’m planning to head home, when she tells me I should come visit her first. She’ll pick me up from the air port, and I can stay at her home for a while, and swim in that beautiful swimming pool she has! I never left. In fact, I married her in 2017. Something I never thought I would do in life is get married. It’s been an amazing 4 years. An amazing 4 years that I never would have had if Hurricane Charley hadn’t so wonderfully destroyed everything I knew those 15 years ago. It was a long road, but one so very worth it. It was a journey I had to take to be ready to be the person I am for myself, and for her. I can’t help but look back today and say "This was God’s plan all along, and I know he waited until I was ready to let her I meet!" To this day, I love my wife some very much, and would give the world for her.

There’s not a day where we’re separated due to work where I do not miss you with every ounce of my being. For so long, I felt a void in my life, in my being, in my soul, one which only you have ever been able to satisfy. I love you Cindy!

One thought on “Hurricane Charley and the life it changed.”

  1. Nearby, damage to the University of Miami Primate Center and the Mannheimer Foundation allowed about 1,800 monkeys and baboons to escape. Rumors began that the monkeys were injected with the AIDS virus for experimental purposes, causing at least 30 monkeys to be shot dead by residents, police officers, and members of the National Guard. By August 30, nearly 700 monkeys were returned to the Mannheimer Foundation and all but 15 others that escaped the University of Miami Primate Center were recaptured.

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