Category Archives: Beaches

Hurricane Week Revisited Part 3: After the Storm

Editor’s Note: Back in 2013, I ran a three-part series on what to do when a hurricane was approaching. Seven years later, with two named storms actively churning it seemed like a good time to look back, while also looking ahead, with the three phases of the storm. The three phases are before a storm arrives, the event horizon of storm arrival, and the aftermath following a storm’s departure. While this information is mostly geared to residents of coastal states in the path of storms, we encourage all of our readers to learn about the three phases of the storm. Today let us turn our attention to what to do before the storm arrives.

Although it may seem to some that the worst is over once a hurricane makes landfall and moves away or rains itself out, that is not always the case.

In a best-case scenario, one is left with some well-watered grass and a few tree limbs down. In a worst-case scenario however, one can be left with no power and in some case no home.

And as is the case with hurricanes and tornadoes alike, sometimes the line between the best-case scenario and the worst-case scenario is visible from each side.

Finding your boat after a hurricane is a good thing. Finding your boat on dry land however can be a bad thing.
Photo R. Anderson

There seems to be no rhyme or reason for why certain homes are flattened and others a few feet away in some cases are spared.

That is just the unpredictability of weather and shows why everyone needs to prepare for the worst and hope for the best.  Solely hoping for the best with no preparation could leave one far from high and dry.

As mentioned before, Hurricane Ike was the closest I ever came to realizing the worst-case scenario of a direct hit from a major hurricane.

Thankfully, once the storm had passed and I returned home, I found no damage and also had power and air conditioning.

A few towns up the road however my parents were not as lucky. While their home was completely structurally sound, it had a forest of fallen tree limbs in the front and no power inside.

The power was out for about a week at my parents’ house.  Despite my invitations for them to come where there was power, they soldiered on in a nomadic tent fashion along with their neighbors until the lights were once again restored.

Tree limbs are a common casualty of hurricanes and can leave quite a mess when they fall.
Photo R. Anderson

In case you are ever faced with a similar situation, let us focus on some tips for what to do in a post hurricane world with no power.

The first step for restoring order after a storm is securing the property. This could include removing tree limbs or simply mending fences or placing tarps over holes in the roof. As storms can arrive one after the other it is crucial that one is as prepared as possible to avoid further damage from additional rain.  Calls to insurance adjusters will of course also need to be made during this phase.

The next phase of storm recovery, is to ensure that one has enough water and food to maintain proper hydration and caloric intake to accomplish and recover from the post storm cleanup.

Following Hurricane Ike, there were several areas set up where residents could pick up cases of water and Military grade Meals Ready-to-Eat (MRE).

When faced with no power after a storm a supply of MRE rations can come in handy.
Photo R. Anderson

Each day I would drive up from my comfortably air-conditioned residence and drive a few towns over to visit my parents in their self-imposed tent city. Upon arrival I would check the progress of the cleanup efforts and then take my mom to the park down the road where the ice, water and food was being handed out by relief workers.

It really was quite the operation to drive thru, pop open your trunk and have supplies loaded and then be sent on your way.  While I do not wish a storm to come and put anyone in that position it was nice to see how calm the recovery can be.

Once back at my parents’ house it was usually time to crack open some MREs in the backyard tent.   Of course, the first few days of meals consisted of neighbors grilling meat from their freezers as each level slowly defrosted. But once the meat was gone it was time for the MREs.

Now for anyone unfamiliar with a MRE, it is set up to allow troops out in the field to have a hot meal despite being far away from their base. This is accomplished through a chemical reaction that heats up the food to near boiling point without the need for open flame or anything not included in the MRE bag.

Of course, as a word of warning for anyone on a sodium restricted diet, MREs contain about 200 percent of the recommended sodium intake. These meals are purposely sodium heavy to replenish the salt lost by troops marching throughout the day.

So as a rule, if one is not doing massive amounts of physical exertion then a diet heavy in MREs would probably not be advised. It should also be noted that the chemical reaction that takes place in an MRE is banned on commercial airliners due to the potential explosive risk.

But during a post hurricane time of moving tree limbs, MREs can be and very much are a lifesaver and one tries to not think of the fact that they are basically cooking with explosives; albeit low grade ones.

Beer companies also pitch in and send relief water after a storm.
Photo R. Anderson

Regarding the post storm cleanup, it should be noted that there are out of state contractors who will enter an area hit by a storm and offer to help areas recover. While most of these outfits are well intended, caution is certainly advised when dealing with out of state workers who do not have a brick and mortar office to bring any complaints to.

A good rule of thumb being if the price seems too good to be true, the bulk of it is required to be paid before any work is done, and the base of operations is the Motel 6, odds are it is not as good of a deal as it sounds like at first look.

Hurricane season is here and while the bulk of people will only have to deal with the before the storm phase, if at all, there will be a select few who experience all three phases of the storm this season.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a hankering for some MRE’s for some odd reason. I wonder how long they stay good for?

Copyright 2020 R. Anderson

Hurricane Week Revisited Part 2: Reporting the Storm

Editor’s Note: Back in 2013, I ran a three-part series on what to do when a hurricane was approaching. Seven years later, with two named storms actively churning it seemed like a good time to look back, while also looking ahead, with the three phases of the storm. The three phases are before a storm arrives, the event horizon of storm arrival, and the aftermath following a storm’s departure. While this information is mostly geared to residents of coastal states in the path of storms, we encourage all of our readers to learn about the three phases of the storm. Today let us turn our attention to what happens once the storm arrives.

During a hurricane there are two types of residents, those who are riding the storm out in their homes, and those that went elsewhere during the brunt of the storm.

As a rule of thumb, I tend to ride out any storm lower than a Category 3. Storms larger than that and I will be one of the first ones pointing my car to dry land. There are of course exceptions to every rule and each storm needs to be considered on its own merits of risk.

For those who stay behind, the roads can be hauntingly quiet with the exception of emergency vehicles and others who have to be out on the roads.  For the most part just prior to the arrival of the storm local authorities will urge residents to clear the roads and seek shelter.

Like moths to the flame news vans like this one on the Seawall in Galveston become a familiar sight before and after the arrival of a hurricane.
Photo R. Anderson

There is of course one group of out of towners that do not heed that warning; since it was the storm that brought them to town in the first place.

I am of course talking about the national reporters from Atlanta.

Okay, so the reporters come from elsewhere as well but with CNN and the Weather Channel based in the Peach State of Georgia it is a fitting statement.

For almost as long as there have been television reporters, residents of areas bracing for the storm have dealt with the arrival of reporters from various news outlets hoping to ride out the storm and win an Emmy in the process. This relationship of course can put revenue in the pockets of local hotels but for the most part it amounts to a lot of wind blowing much like the storm itself.

The reporter battling the elements cliché is one that is played out whenever nature strikes. Perhaps nowhere is this shown in its silliest sense than when a hurricane is involved.

Reporters dressed in their best outer wear try to convey that the storm is bringing pounding winds, waves and of course rain even if it isn’t.

To paraphrase Mark Twain in some instances, “the reports of the storm have been greatly exaggerated.

Since television is a visual media it does not do to simply report from the dry comfort of the hurricane command center about the conditions outside.

Oh no, the reporters from parts local and far and wide go out in the elements to share just how powerful the storm is.

The edge of hurricane Claudette arrives in Pensacola, Fl in 2003.
Photo R. Anderson

Of course, the reporters, while well-meaning, tend to turn it into a comedy bit when they do leave the safety of the hurricane command center. And I will admit to watching some of the continuing continuous coverage just to see the unintended comedy bits from the reporters.

To be clear, I am not wishing damage to anyone’s person or property during a storm it is just that some reporters go way overboard in trying to sell the story and quite frankly it makes for very compelling television for all the wrong reasons.

Common missteps including inability to hear the reporter, or losing that all important visual link, have all been experienced through the years by reporters covering from the heart of the storm.

There are even the reporters who get knocked down by the wind gusts but as one-hit wonder Chumbawamba would say they get back up again.

Then there are the reporters who try just a little too hard to sell the story.  I forget which storm it was, but a few years back there was a reporter covering the terrible flooding conditions here in Houston. The reporter appeared to be up to their waist in floodwater and valiantly doing their live shot.

The only problem was when the camera operator panned back to show the scope of flooding a man could be seen a few feet away from the reporter in ankle deep water. So that can only mean one of two things. Either the reporter was sitting down in the puddle to make it appear worse than it was or the man behind her was a giant in search of his beanstalk.

Fe fi fo fum I smell an over reaching reporter, hmm.

Reporter embellishing aside, the swarm of reporters can serve a good purpose for the residents who were smart enough to leave the area ahead of the storm.

During Hurricane Ike, my parents were able to see their house on national television a day after landfall.

A news van from New Orleans waits for Hurricane Claudette to hit in Pensacola, FL in 2003.
Photo R. Anderson

Normally one would not want to see their house on television since reporters rarely are there just to say hello.

But in this case the sight of their home seemingly in one piece gave them peace in knowing that aside from some downed trees, chances were it was not as bad as they had feared it could have been.

Conversely, my house did not have a news crew drive by it so I had to wait until I got back home to see if it had survived the worst of the floodwater and the wind.

Another group aside from reporters that makes a beeline for the shore as the storm is hitting are of course the surfers. Big storms bring epic waves and when the waves are 10-12 feet above normal it makes for a temptation that is hard for some to resist.

Sadly, there are often deaths related to people underestimating the power of the waves in the storm. It is not uncommon to hear reports of people drowning or getting swept away by the waves while standing on a dock.

So, enjoy the waves from afar and enjoy the pratfalls of the out of town reporters from the dry comfort of one’s home. Hurricanes can be very powerful and they can be very deadly. It is crucial to keep that in mind and never tempt the belly of the storm.

Now if you’ll excuse me, all of this talk about waves has me curious to check tomorrow’s surf reports. Cowabunga dudes.

Copyright 2020 R. Anderson

Hurricane Week Revisited Part 1: Before the Storm

Editor’s Note: Back in 2013, I ran a three-part series on what to do when a hurricane was approaching. Seven years later, with two named storms actively churning it seemed like a good time to look back, while also looking ahead, with the three phases of the storm. The three phases are before a storm arrives, the event horizon of storm arrival, and the aftermath following a storm’s departure. While this information is mostly geared to residents of coastal states in the path of storms, we encourage all of our readers to learn about the three phases of the storm. Today let us turn our attention to what to do before the storm arrives.

As I have mentioned before I would much rather face a hurricane than a tornado any day of the week.

That is not to say that I want to experience either. But given the choice of the two, hurricanes are preferred in that they allow more time to prepare people and property prior to their arrival.

For the most part residents in the path of a storm will know days in advance of the likelihood of their being impacted by the storm through computer modeling and tracking.

It should be noted that the tracking models from various agencies around the world do not always agree on the path of the storm which leads to models showing a variety of impact zones.

The time to prepare for a hurricane is long before the first rain bands hit.
Photo R. Anderson

These impact zones are than tabulated to create a cone of uncertainty where the center of the storm is most likely to arrive. Of course, depending on the size of the storm, impacts can be felt for hundreds of miles away from that landfall area where the eye touches dry land first.

Once a storm is predicted to hit a certain region, the residents spring to action and buy up all of the water and other supplies that they can get their hands on.

Of course, one does not need to wait until a storm is barreling towards them to get their supplies. In fact, it is best to get the Hurricane kits made early in the season so that in the event that a storm if approaching time can be used for securing property and planning an evacuation from the path of the storm as needed.

So, what should a good hurricane kit include?

While each kit can be tailored to the person making it, a general list of items to include in a hurricane kit includes a first aid kit, water, supplies, documents, clothing, and of course food. The general rule is that the kit should allow enough supplies to last three days.

Let’s look a little more into each of the areas, shall we?

The American Red Cross recommends a first aid kit for both home and car ahead of the arrival of a hurricane.
Photo R. Anderson

First Aid Kit: A first aid kit for both car and home is a good rule of thumb. The kits should include prescriptions, band-aids, antibiotic ointment, alcohol wipes, bandages, gauze, tape, pain relievers, antihistamines, latex gloves, safety pins, tweezers, aspirin, antacids, a towel, Calamine lotion for insect bites, insect repellent, tissues, and sunscreen. As water is a major component of Hurricanes the kits should be placed in water proof containers to protect them.

Water: The American Red Cross and other agencies recommended having one gallon of water per person per day. Half of the water is used for drinking with the rest being available for hygiene.

Supplies and Tools: A fully charged cell phone and flashlight will be useful in the event of electricity going out. Having a car charger for the cell phone is also worth packing. A battery powered radio with plenty of spare batteries is also a good thing to have in order to hear updates and instructions that may come across the airwaves.

Plenty of flashlights and batteries can shed light on dark days after a storm knocks out power.
Photo R. Anderson

Do not assume that there will be power and cable service. It is best to hope for the best but prepare for the worst.

Plastic utensils, paper plates, plastic bags and napkins and antibacterial wipes are also important.

Documents: Passports, birth and marriage certificates, social security cards, deeds, insurance papers, wills, and other important paper work should be placed in water proof containers as well, in order to be ready to grab quickly in the event of an evacuation.

Clothing: Assuming one might not be able to bathe for a few days, a change of clothes can be very important to help feel less overwhelmed.  In addition to the normal items one might wear, since rain will likely be a factor, it is good to also pack waterproof outer clothing and boots to avoid that soaked to the bone feeling.

Non perishable food like the items pictured are crucial to have after a hurricane hits.
Photo R. Anderson

Food: Be sure to stock up on non-perishable foods. Some of the best items to consider are energy/protein bars, crackers, peanut butter, nuts, canned fruit and vegetables, canned tuna/chicken, cereal, dried fruit, and even baby food.

And of course, even though many cans offer a convenient pop top opening don’t forget a manual can opener.

This is of course in no means a complete list of items to grab before the storm but it is certainly a good starting point for anyone in the path of a storm to keep in mind.

I have ridden out storms where the electricity didn’t flicker once and I have had storms where I lost power so no storm is exactly alike and all regions are not affected the same way. I do know that when the power is out it is definitely not the time to go try to find batteries at the store.

Proper preparation prior to the storm definitely makes riding out the storm more comfortable.  At least as comfortable as it can be.

Now if you’ll excuse me all of this talk about canned goods has me tasting some canned ravioli. I just hope I remember to save some cans for the supply kit.

Copyright 2020 R. Anderson

Remembering our Heroes (Past and Present) on Memorial Day

Today is Memorial Day. I say that with confidence after checking a calendar to confirm my suspicions. Normally, I would have no trouble at all remembering that the last Monday of May is set aside as a day of remembrance, and a time to honor the men and women who died while serving in the United States Armed Forces.

However, in this newfound time when one day can just roll into the next and be called MonTueWedday, it never hurts to check a calendar for guidance as society charts new territory. This potential side effect of not knowing what day it is comes as much of the world is sheltering in place and honoring the calls to social distance as we unite as one in the battle against the COVID-19 virus which has killed nearly 100,000 Americans.

Large flags and camouflage hats mark Memorial Day across Major League Baseball each year.
Photo R. Anderson

In the past, Memorial Day weekend acted as the unofficial start to summer and involved packed beaches and an overabundance of sports to watch. The weekend also lent itself to copious amounts of meat to cook over an open flame.

While I enjoy baseball, beaches and barbecue, for me, the highlight of the extended Memorial Day weekend has always been as the announcer used to say “Sunday, Sunday Sunday.” I would awake before the sun to catch the Monaco Grand Prix, and then switch over to the Indianapolis 500 before ending my day of nonstop auto racing with the Coca Cola 600.

The times that I was not watching racing, I could catch numerous baseball games from coast to coast.

As a sign of unity during troubling times, the U.S. Navy’s Flight Demonstration Squadron, the Blue Angels, and the Air Force’s Air Demonstration Squadron, the Thunderbirds, flew over several U.S. cities to honor front line workers.
Photo R. Anderson

That all changed this year. Thanks to COIVD-19, the Monaco Grand Prix and the Indianapolis 500 were not run Memorial Day weekend.

The Coca Cola 600 did take place yesterday, but the stands were empty of the thousands of fans who usually soak in the action. Additionally, there is no joy in Mudville since baseball is still sidelined by the virus.

The NHL and the NBA suspended their seasons in March with no set timetable on when they will return to action. There will be increased drum beats in the coming weeks for sports to return. Leagues are hemorrhaging money and will want to try to recoup as much revenue as they can.

Owners will say that they are doing it for the fans, but many surveys have noted that a lot of sports fans will not feel comfortable heading to an event for a while. Athletes are also becoming more vocal in their opposition to returning to play until they can be assured that it is safe to do so.

So, it is on this Memorial Day that instead of rooting for one’s favorite team, the world has a common enemy to unite behind. The world is at its best when it works together, and there has perhaps been no greater battle than the one it currently finds itself in. Millions of Americans are working from home, alongside children who are learning from home.

Millions more Americans have lost their jobs and are questioning when things will return to the good old days known as before March 2020. It is entirely possible that the good old days as we knew them are years away from returning.

Veterans with underlying health conditions, and the Navajo Nation whose language was used as an unbreakable code in World War II are being hit especially hard by COVID-19, so it is fitting on this day of remembrance that we not only remember their sacrifice in time of war but that we pray for their safety in this battle against the virus.

The Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum was commissioned in 1921 as a memorial to veterans of World War I.
Photo R. Anderson

States are starting to ease restrictions on what people can do in an effort to spark the economy. There will no doubt be temptation to push the limits and go out and have as normal of a Memorial Day as possible, and just hope for the best in terms of avoiding infection from COVID-19.

Some politicians will call this the need for people to exercise pent up demand to get out and do normal things. Other politicians will call such actions reckless and an endangerment to others around them. Countries that have reopened early have seen their number of cases go up in some instances. There is no magic formula for deciding when to roll out a “Mission Accomplished” banner.

Throughout all of this, it is crucial to remember that the power resides with individuals to decide when they want to rejoin the economy. Just because something is open, it does not mean that people are forced to go there. COIVD-19 is a relentless scourge that takes no notice of a person’s sports affiliation, political leanings, or any other factors in its path of destruction.

Uncle Sam knew back in World War II that the world needed more moxie. While it may have been a soda slogan back then, today the need for moxie is stronger than ever as the world tries to fight a common public health enemy.
Photo R. Anderson

In past challenges that are remembered on Memorial Day, like World War II, citizens rallied to do all they could to defeat the common enemy.

My grandmother built battleships in Georgia, and my grandfather fought at Pearl Harbor, among other battle sites. My grandparents, and millions of other people’s grandparents, parents, brothers and sisters have done similar things when called to duty.

Memorial Day reminds us that Americans owe their freedom to the sacrifice made by countless individuals who came before us, and to the people who are currently serving in the armed forces. The sacrifice of those who came before us who we remember on Memorial Day made us who we are. Sacrifices people make now to contain the virus, is a gift we can leave for the generations that come after us.

The COVID-19 virus has shown us that a pair of scrubs, a retail vest, or an apron can be just as heroic as camo. Sports on Memorial Day will return, but this year on this day of remembrance instead of complaining about a lack of live sports, stop to think about the health care workers, the police officers, the fire fighters, the grocery store workers, the meat packers, the restaurant cooks, the warehouse fulfillment workers, the delivery drivers, and every other person across the globe who is doing their best to keep the world going.

Many of us are taught as kids that super heroes wear capes and masks. That is true, but the capes are invisible lest they get in the way of the work being done by the people on the front lines, and the masks are there to both protect the identify of the super hero, as well as to protect those around them. Lucky for us our modern day heroes are working on Memorial Day, and every other day keeping us safe from enemies seen and unseen.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go pick up some groceries curbside and thank some front line workers.

Copyright 2020 R. Anderson

 

Atlantic Hurricane Season Starts Today

Today, June 1 marks the official start of the Atlantic hurricane season.

The edge of hurricane Claudette arrives in Pensacola. Photo R. Anderson
The edge of hurricane Claudette arrives in Pensacola.
Photo R. Anderson

I realize for many people not living near the coast this fact does not hold much water.

But, for those people near the shore today marks the start of a six-month period of keeping their eyes on the skies and hoping for another year free from the devastation that a direct hit by a hurricane can cause.

When I lived in Florida I rode out many hurricanes from about 30 miles inland. That central location meant that by the time the storm reached me it was normally just a wind and rain maker.

The Gulf of Mexico churns ahead of the arrival of a hurricane. Photo R. Anderson
The Gulf of Mexico churns ahead of the arrival of a hurricane.
Photo R. Anderson

The highlight of those storms being a water spout that picked up a school of catfish and deposited them in my parents’ yard.

I can still picture my mom running around trying to save all of the fish that were very much out of water.

Since leaving Florida I have had a few vacations cut short due to the pending arrival of storms that I have had to outrun in my car to reach the safety of home and avoid getting stuck. To that end I try to avoid travel during the peak of hurricane season now to minimize the chances of having a trip washed out.

Upon moving to Texas I came a little closer to the shore through my proximity to Galveston Bay. While still around 30 miles from the Gulf of Mexico the Bay acts as a direct line for storm surge as demonstrated during Hurricane Ike.

Like moths to the flame news vans like this one on the Seawall in Galveston become a familiar sight before and after the arrival of a hurricane. Photo R. Anderson
Like moths to the flame news vans like this one on the Seawall in Galveston become a familiar sight before and after the arrival of a hurricane.
Photo R. Anderson

In the little over a decade that I have lived in Texas I have evacuated ahead of the storm twice.

The first time included a 17 hour drive to Irving (a drive that normally would take five hours when not ensnared in bumper to bumper traffic) and a more reasonable seven hour drive to Gulfport, Mississippi during the aforementioned Hurricane Ike.

Hurricane Ike marked the closet I ever came to losing everything to a hurricane. Ike made landfall right at the mouth of the Bay which allowed the floodwater and storm surge to push well inland. When I returned back home I realized that the damaging floodwater stopped a mere two miles from my house.

While waiting out the storm in Gulfport I was glued to the television set watching the coverage of the pending storm. Ironically by evacuating east for the storm I actually experienced some of the outer bands of Ike in Gulfport before it made landfall in Texas.

Returning back home was like driving through a foreign land. There were still familiar sites but the parts of buildings strewn everywhere made it clear just how powerful the storm was.

A news van from New Orleans waits for the storm to hit in Pensacola. Photo R. Anderson
A news van from New Orleans waits for the storm to hit in Pensacola.
Photo R. Anderson

One particular comment from the reporters on the seen was the proclamation that the Galveston Hooter’s restaurant was gone.

Truth be told, the Hooter’s was one of many buildings perched on stilts above the water that were picked up and tossed onto the seawall like Tinker Toys.

But for whatever reason the reporter on the scene felt that the most prudent way to help the viewers at home understand the scope of the damage was to focus on the loss of the Hooter’s. The singling out of the Hooter’s made me laugh for some reason which may have just been a coping mechanism since I did not know what I would be coming home to.

To this day when I am driving along the seawall I will stop at the spot where the Hooter’s once stood and in my best Anderson Cooper voice will proclaim that the Hooter’s is gone.

Much like the Hooter's restaurant the 61st Street pier fell victim to the pounding storm surge of Hurricane Ike. While the Hooter's has yet to be rebuilt a new version of the pier has returned to the shore. Photo R. Anderson
Much like the Hooter’s restaurant the 61st Street pier fell victim to the pounding storm surge of Hurricane Ike. While the Hooter’s has yet to be rebuilt a new version of the pier has returned to the shore.
Photo R. Anderson

After Ike the area around me rebuilt and for the most part there are few signs of the furry of the storm.

There are still pockets that have not come back and individuals still dealing with the loss but by and large a first time visitor to Galveston would not really be able to tell that a storm had flooded so much of the island.

The same is true in other places that have had storms hit. After the water recedes the cleanup begins and lives are slowly put back together.

The Flagship Hotel in Galveston was another victim to the power of Ike. The area has since been converted to the Galveston Historic Pleasure Pier. Photo R. Anderson
The Flagship Hotel in Galveston was another victim to the power of Ike. The area has since been converted to the Galveston Historic Pleasure Pier.
Photo R. Anderson

With the exception of Super Storm Sandy it has been a few years since a storm of the major category has made landfall in the United States.

Here’s to hoping for another year where the big storms stay away.

But if a storm does head this way this year I think I will most likely ride it out. It is not that I am being brave or foolish for that matter it is just that after seeing the worst that a storm can do from afar I would rather be up close and relatively safe than battling the thousands of people on the road heading north.

Now if you’ll excuse me I am off to check my hurricane supplies.

Copyright 2015 R. Anderson

The United States to Normalize Cuban Relations after Nearly 60 Years

The other day it was announced that after the United States would seek to normalize relations with Cuba after nearly 60 years of trade embargoes and other restrictions that have made it difficult for the average American to travel to the nation 90 miles south of Florida.

The closest I ever came to visiting Cuba was on a cruise ship in the late 80’s when the ship was heading back towards Miami from the U.S. Virgin Islands. As we approached the island the captain made an announcement along the lines of if you look out to our starboard side you will see Cuba.

I recall that the island was covered in a sort of rainy haze which made it both intriguing and beckoning at the same time. I also remember briefly thinking that I hoped the captain did not drift into Cuban waters by mistake and lead to an international incident.

Stories of the pre Cuban Missile Crisis and Bay of Pigs Cuba have always fascinated me. I was not alive during the tense days when the U.S. Naval blockade was in place to keep Russian ships from supplying missiles to the island so it is likely that my opinion towards Cuba may be different if I had lived through those tense days that almost led to World War III.

Earnest Hemingway’s home in Cuba is where he wrote For Whom the Bell Tolls and The Old Man and the Sea. Photo R. Anderson
Earnest Hemingway’s home in Cuba is where he wrote For Whom the Bell Tolls and The Old Man and the Sea.
Photo R. Anderson

Instead, for me Cuba represents a land where Earnest Hemingway and other figures spent their days fishing and their nights in smoke filled rooms, or crowded ballparks enjoying the freshest of Cuban cuisine and culture while getting from point A to point B in various cars from Detroit.

I guess one could say I want to experience the vision of Cuba that I have in my head. I want to sit and watch a baseball game played in a ballpark where the air and the accents are both thick and rich with history.

I want to sit in a road side cafe and eat my weight in Cuban pork and plantains while watching the hustle and bustle along the street.

I want to visit Finca Vigia, Earnest Hemingway’s home in Cuba where he wrote For Whom the Bell Tolls and The Old Man and the Sea.

I want to see those old cars that were on the road when Hemingway walked the streets and are still being driven today due to the ingenuity of the Cuban people to keep those cars roadworthy for all these years.

I had always held out hope that the embargo would be lifted during my lifetime so that I could visit all of the sights and sounds of the island mentioned above and now it appears to be the case.

Of course normalizing relations with Cuba, and opening up a United States Embassy on the island, takes time and certain travel restrictions will still be in place for the foreseeable future so a trip to ring in the new year on Cuban soil is out of the question at this time. But it does seem closer to becoming a reality today than it did before the President’s announcement.

Cuban cigars that were once traded on the black market due to sanctions against Cuba will soon be available without fear of prosecution.  Photo R. Anderson. Photo R. Anderson
Cuban cigars that were once traded on the black market due to sanctions against Cuba will soon be available without fear of prosecution.
Photo R. Anderson.

Make no mistake there are serious issues that still need to be resolved in Cuba and lifting an embargo that was either effective, or ineffective, depending on what side of the fence you are on, is merely the first of many steps.

The news of normalized relations was met with both elation and protests within the Cuban American communities of Florida.

Throughout the embargo many people have risked their lives to escape Cuba and build a better life for themselves and their families in America. Countless more lost their lives making the journey or were intercepted and sent back to Cuba.

The issues that led to those harrowing water crossings will not change overnight and should not be forgotten. But, normalizing relations between Cuba and the United States could lead to grass roots changes that take shape in the decades to come.

Another huge issue with the announcement that has yet to be fully fleshed out as a result of the open relations with Cuba is the impact on Major League Baseball.

Shortly after the President announced the change in posture with Cuba, Major League Baseball issued a statement of its own stating in part that they were actively monitoring the situation and would respond when appropriate.

Just as I am sure there are regular citizens on both sides of the issue of opening relations with Cuba I am sure there are people in the ranks of baseball that are on both sides of the issue as well Cuban.

The Baltimore Orioles became the first Major League Baseball team in 40 years to play a game in Cuba in 1999. With normalized relations with Cuba coming it is likely one will not need to wait another 40 years for another game in Cuba involving MLB teams. Photo R. Anderson
The Baltimore Orioles became the first Major League Baseball team in 40 years to play a game in Cuba in 1999. With normalized relations with Cuba coming it is likely one will not need to wait another 40 years for another game in Cuba involving MLB teams.
Photo R. Anderson

For years baseball players from Cuba have risked their lives and left their families behind defecting in hope of finding greener pastures elsewhere. And while it has become easier for MLB teams to sign Cuban player over the past couple of years there are still hurdles that only impact Cuban players.

It is entirely possible with the normalized relations that Major League Baseball teams will set up academies in Cuba similar to the ones that are in the Dominican Republic, Venezuela and other countries to evaluate international talent.

Major League Baseball has a history in Cuba with the Giants, Dodgers and Pirates all having held their Spring Training camps in Havana at one time or another. Additionally, the Havana Sugar Kings were the Triple-A affiliate of the Cincinnati Reds from 1954 to 1960.

After a 40-year absence Major League Baseball made a brief return to Cuba in 1999 when the Baltimore Orioles and the Cuban national team played an exhibition game in the Estadio Latinoamericano in Havana. The Orioles won 3-2 in 11 innings.

With many issues left to resolve it will likely be years before the floodgates open wide to Cuban players leading to additional competition to be one of only 1200 players to be on one of the 30 Major League Baseball teams’ roster.

Realistically in the near term, it will be far more likely that one will still need to travel to Cuba to see a roster filled with Cuban baseball players. A day will likely come though when almost every team in the Major Leagues has some sort of Cuban influence.

Of course the Cuban influence I would most like to see return to American Ballparks is some good quality Cuban pork. Are you listening Minute Maid Park?

Now if you’ll excuse me, I am off to try and find an authentic Cuban sandwich.

Copyright 2014 R. Anderson

Even During a Sharknado there is Time for Baseball and Other Lessons Learned

Last week the world was treated to the cinematic classic in the making Sharknado 2: The Second One; which oddly enough is a sequel to last summer’s Twitter crashing craze Sharknado.

The sharkcentric movies from the Syfy network center around mankind’s response to a weather event that allows powerful offshore storms to pick up sharks from the ocean and carry them hundreds of miles away to wreak havoc on densely populated areas.

For Sharknado the sharks were Pacific Ocean based and attacked Los Angeles much to the dismay of Tara Reid and Ian Ziering. For the sequel the sharks were in a New York state of mind after being plucked from the Atlantic Ocean allowing Tara Reid and Ian Ziering to be dismayed from sea to shining sea.

While few can argue that a story about sharks falling from the sky and wreaking havoc on New York City has the cinematic bite of say Citizen Kane, there are times when a movie, where everyone is in on the joke, can just provide pure guilty cinematic pleasure without the need to over analyze the meaning of Rosebud.

I have long been a collector of shark teeth but despite my frequent proximity to the coast I do not fear a Sharknado. Photo R. Anderson
I have long been a collector of shark teeth but despite my frequent proximity to the coast I do not fear a Sharknado.
Photo R. Anderson

Years ago I had a movie critic who worked for me describe this type of guilty cinematic pleasure as popcorn cinema for the Johnny lunch pail crowd. While this particular critic  was raised on art house cinema and preferred an independent film to a summer blockbuster he agreed that sometimes a movie just needs to be downright fun with a crazy plot and over the top acting.

I lost touch with him years ago but I want to believe that even my old film critic got caught up in the Sharknado feeding frenzy.

There were certainly many popcorn cinema moments, and unexpected cameos, in the sharks take a bite out of the Big Apple movie but what struck me most during the film was how the poor New York Mets just can’t seem to get a break as their Ballpark fell victim to the falling sharks.

Someone really should have checked to see if the New York Yankees were behind the taunting of their cross town rival.

Aside from learning that the House that Ruth Built, Yankee Stadium, appears to be immune from shark attacks, another lesson that I learned from the film is that a chain saw is a good item to have when one needs to cut open a shark. That knowledge definitely could have helped me a few years back when I tried to extract a jaw from a deceased shark I found on the beach.

Chompers, as the shark was known, was about a foot or two long when I found him. While most people might see a dead shark on the beach and think, “eww, dead shark,” I saw things a little differently. To me the dead shark on the beach meant the chance to have a really cool shark jaw to display on my desk at work.

I can blame my aunt for this thought process. Many years earlier she and I stumbled upon a large shark that had washed up on the shore outside of Jacksonville Beach in Florida. We had been searching for shark teeth all morning and lo and behold here in front of us was a mouth full of pristine shark teeth ready for the picking.

Upon seeing the shark my aunt mentioned how much she wished she had brought a pair of pliers to pull the teeth out. Without any pliers we left the shark alone and continued our search for easier to grab shark teeth along the shore.

So decades later as I stared at Chompers the words of my aunt came to me once more and I thought I can do better than a pair of pliers, I can take the whole shark home and extract the jaw teeth and all.

Of course living in an apartment at the time I did not really think that my neighbors would appreciate me sitting on the patio with a shark carcass so I took Chompers to my parents’ house.

After failing at my own attempt at shark jaw removal I was given a professionally extracted draw by my parents following a trip they took to Hawaii. In hindsight it is always best to leave shark rendering to the professional unless one happens to have a chainsaw handy. Photo R. Anderson
After failing at my own attempt at shark jaw removal I was given a professionally extracted draw by my parents following a trip they took to Hawaii. In hindsight it is always best to leave shark rendering to the professional unless one happens to have a chainsaw handy.
Photo R. Anderson

Over the next week or so I tried various methods to extract the jaw but had little luck and only managed to attract flies as the tiny teeth fell out of the very much still inside the shark jaw.

In the end Chompers was given a proper burial in the front yard and I was given a shark jaw my parents found at a store the next time they went to Hawaii.

A third life lesson I learned from Sharknado is that the scientific community, or at least the one that posts on the internet, seem very divided over the actual chances of a real Sharknado occurring. I was amazed at the number of articles that stated that a Sharknado event could really occur.

To be perfectly clear a Sharknado, such as the one depicted in the movie, cannot really happen. For starters even if there was somehow enough force in a tornado to pick up a bunch of unsuspecting sharks who happened to be swimming by at that exact moment they would die shortly after being thrust in the air since, spoiler alert, sharks are fish and can’t breathe out of the water.

While a Sharknado is basically ruled out by the laws of physics, I did actually witness a Catfishnado once in Florida when a school of catfish was picked up in a storm and deposited on my parents’ lawn.

So the science of storms being able to pluck things out of the water is valid. But, to repeat again there is no scenario where hundreds of six to eight foot sharks can be thrust up into the clouds and dropped upon unsuspecting citizens along the coast.

By all means enjoy the escapism that movies such as Sharknado and Sharknado 2 can provide but certainly do not live with the fear of sharks falling from the sky. Getting hit on the head by a falling catfish though is an entirely plausible thing and just might encourage someone to wear a hat when walking outside in the rain.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I am going to try to figure out which Ballpark is going to get hit by Sharknado the third which will be coming to the small screen next summer. Fenway Park anyone?

Copyright 2014 R. Anderson

D-Day Remembered 70 Years Later

Today marks the 70th Anniversary of D-Day, which is the name given to the World War II battle involving over 156,000 American, British and Canadian forces landing on five beaches along a 50-mile stretch of the heavily fortified coast of France’s Normandy region in one of the largest amphibious military assaults in history.

Led by Supreme Allied Commander General Dwight D. Eisenhower, the Allied forces stormed beaches at Normandy code named Sword, Juno, Gold, Utah and Omaha.

The storming of the beaches was met by German machine gunners and artillery who tried to hold back the invasion force, almost succeeding at Omaha costing the Allies more than two thousand casualties in the opening hours.

For an idea of just how gruesome this type of frontal beach assault is one need only watch the opening of Saving Private Ryan. It is easy to forget in this era of drone attacks and smart bombs that war was once much more hand to hand leading to much higher casualty rates among its participants.

The guns on the USS Texas provided cover for the troops storming the beaches during D-Day. The flag that flew on the ship during the battle will be on public display starting today. Photo R. Anderson
The guns on the USS Texas provided cover for the troops storming the beaches during D-Day. The flag that flew on the ship during the battle will be on public display starting today.
Photo R. Anderson

In total, the Battle of Normandy lasted from June 1944 to August 1944 resulting in the Allied liberation of Western Europe from Nazi Germany’s control and has been called the beginning of the end of war in Europe.

During the D-Day invasion all scheduled baseball games were canceled on June 6, 1944 which marked only the second time in history that games were cancelled league wide.

The first cancellation of baseball games happened on the day U.S. president Warren Harding died in 1923, and the third time was when Commissioner Bud Selig stopped play for six days from Sept. 11-16, 2001, following the terrorist attacks.

While baseball games were cancelled stateside on D-Day, two future Hall of Famers, Yogi Berra and Leon Day, were participating in the battle.

Shortly after being drafted by the New York Yankees Hall of Fame catcher Yogi Berra was drafted by Uncle Sam. Berra witnessed D-Day 70 years ago today as a member of the U.S. Navy. Photo R. Anderson
Shortly after being drafted by the New York Yankees Hall of Fame catcher Yogi Berra was drafted by Uncle Sam. Berra witnessed D-Day 70 years ago today as a member of the U.S. Navy.
Photo R. Anderson

According to the National Baseball Hall of Fame, 35 Hall of Fame members and more than 500 Major League players served in World War II.

Many celebrations are planned today to mark the anniversary. In France various heads of state are visiting Normandy and closer to home the people of Houston, and the surrounding areas, will have their own chance to see a piece of D-Day history starting today.

The Houston Museum of Natural Science will give the public an opportunity to see the 17-by-9 foot battle flag that was waving on the USS Texas during D-Day.

Although the USS Texas itself has been on static display for many years, the exhibit at the Houston Museum of Natural Science marks the first time since World War II that the flag has been on public display.

Whether one travels to see the beaches of Normandy, or the Stars and Stripes, it is important to remember the sacrifice of all of those veterans who stormed those beaches to help ensure the freedom that is enjoyed to this day.

After serving in World War I the USS Texas was called into action on D-Day. Seventy years after that battle the ship remains as a monument to the people who fought and died to help bring the freedoms we know and love. Photo R. Anderson
After serving in World War I the USS Texas was called into action on D-Day. Seventy years after that battle the ship remains as a monument to the people who fought and died to help bring the freedoms we know and love.
Photo R. Anderson

Unfortunately the time to thank a World War II veteran in person is vanishing rapidly.

The United States Veteran’s Administration estimates that a World War II veteran dies around every two minutes. That translates to a rate of approximately 555 veterans dying each day.

By the year 2036, the VA estimates, there will no longer be any living World War II veterans.

For comparison purposes the last World War I veteran, Frank Buckles, died in February 2011.

A reminder of the rapid passing of World War II veterans occurred Wednesday when, Chester Nez, died at age 93.

Nez was the last living member of the original 29 citizens of the Navajo Nation who were recruited by the Marine Corps to develop the legendary “unbreakable” code based on the Navajo language that was used for vital communications during battle.

Just as the sacrifice made on the beaches of Normandy saved countless lives by hastening the end of the war in Europe, the Code Talkers helped end the war on the Pacific front with their sacrifice.

There are countless other stories of bravery and sacrifice from the men and women of the “Greatest Generation” who served during World War II and each story goes towards the patchwork on which the nation is built.

It is likely, and hopeful, that the world will not see another war of the scale of World War II. While there will always be a need for a certain amount of boots on the ground advancements in technology have greatly reduced the number of boots required to conduct modern warfare.

But while the number of soldiers needed to protect freedom will continue to decline in the coming years that does not minimize the level of sacrifice made by each of the soldiers who wear the uniform.

So take some time before the start of the hustle and bustle of the weekend to remember the sacrifice and reflect on the high cost of freedom paid by each generation that has gone before.

And by all means if you happen to see a World War II veteran, or any other veteran for that matter, be sure to thank them for their service and their sacrifice.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a flag to visit.

Copyright 2014 R. Anderson

Something Smells Fishy in Seabrook

Over the past couple of weeks the city of Seabrook, TX , as well as other neighboring cities, have dealt with the lingering effects of a fish kill along the shores of Galveston Bay.

While there is always a certain sea faring odor associated with living along the water, it is usually a salty aroma that makes one want to read Ernest Hemingway novels in a smoking jacket wearing a captain’s hat while eating black licorice rope and sipping iced tea while Nat the lighthouse keeper helps guide the ships safely to port.

A recent fish kill along Galveston Bay has been a little less "Hemingway" and a lot more "Silence of the cod" lately. Photo R. Anderson
A recent fish kill along Galveston Bay has been a little less “Hemingway” and a lot more “Silence of the cod” lately.
Photo R. Anderson

Of course even Nat and Papa Joe himself would have turned their noses at the smell of thousands of dead bait fish washed upon the shore.

According to Texas Parks and Wildlife officials the fish kill is likely being caused by low oxygen levels in the water which can be caused by many naturally occurring things such as algae blooms and other factors that make it hard for the fish to “breathe” under water.

In an official statement released by the city of Seabrook residents were notified that the region’s Kills and Spills Team (KAST) was on top of the situation and that fishing was discouraged in areas where fish carcasses have accumulated due to health concerns.

I can only speak for myself but usually the sight of thousands of dead fish “carcasses” in a given area is pretty much going to discourage me from fishing there without needing to have the city tell me.

Of course while there is never a good time for a fish kill, having one during Memorial Day weekend makes the fine folks at the local tourism office a little squeamish as they try to kick off the summer tourism season.

The waters of Galveston Bay are churning with more than just shrimp boats lately with the arrival of several thousand dead fish washing up on the shore. Photo R. Anderson
The waters of Galveston Bay are churning with more than just shrimp boats lately with the arrival of several thousand dead fish washing up on the shore.
Photo R. Anderson

With seaweed of biblical proportion washing up a bit further to the south there really are no odor free beaches and waterways for one to visit for the time being.

Of course in time nature will takes its course and the salty Hemingway smells will once again return to the shores as the numbers of dead fish and seaweed subside.

While the fish kill is currently limited to mostly smaller fish time will tell if larger fish in the food chain will start to die off with so many of their food sources killed off. As the animated lion and his friends taught me through song, it is all part of the circle of life.

Speaking of fish kills and singing lions, there is a similar circle of life within the ranks of professional baseball where each big fish club is only as strong has its minnows, err Minor League clubs.

Major League Baseball teams like the Tampa Bay Rays depend on a strong Farm system to survive. When the smaller clubs suffer the big club feels the pain which is similar to how the big fish feel during a fish kill ala the circle of life. Photo R. Anderson
Major League Baseball teams like the Tampa Bay Rays depend on a strong Farm system to survive. When the smaller clubs suffer the big club feels the pain which is similar to how the big fish feel during a fish kill ala the circle of life.
Photo R. Anderson

Teams with a healthy level of oxygen and prospects throughout the system tend to thrive while the clubs with a weaker farm system tend to flounder.

Much like seasonal fish kills the ebbs and flows of the haves and have nots in baseball also seem to be cyclical with each team rising and falling with the tides depending on how strong their farm systems are.

The good news for fans of teams such as the Astros, and others who are in rebuilding mode, is that while the product on the field at times may stink during the rebuilding years it never affects the noses of fans in the same way that thousands of dead bait fish will do.

Of course is one ever happens to see a Kills and Spills Team visit their Ballpark odds are the situation is a bit more serious than first thought and it might be time for a fan to “fish” elsewhere for awhile.

Residents along Galveston Bay anxiously await a return to a more fragrant experience full of licorice and lighthouses. Photo R. Anderson
Residents along Galveston Bay anxiously await a return to a more fragrant experience full of licorice and lighthouses.
Photo R. Anderson

So while the residents along Galveston Bay will have to wait a little longer to don those smoking jackets and break into the licorice at least they know that the fish are sure to disappear one way or the other eventually.

Until then the birds will continue to swarm all over the free Golden Gill buffet while residents can stay indoors with the windows closed and watch some baseball.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to check the seals on the windows since the direction of the wind just shifted.

Copyright 2014 R. Anderson

Oil Spill Shows how Fragile Ecosystems Can be

This past weekend around 160,000 gallons of crude oil spilled into Galveston Bay following a collision between two ships.

High waves driven by wind made containing the spill impossible and oil reached some areas on shore and also lead to the closure of the Houston Ship Channel during the early phases of the cleanup effort.

Besides the container ships and tankers that were left waiting for the Ship Channel to reopen passengers aboard two cruise ships were delayed and the ferry linking Galveston Island and the Bolivar Peninsula was closed as a result of the spill.

While 160,000 gallons of oil sounds like a lot of oil it is a mere drop in the bucket compared to some of the worst oil spills in history.

Pelicans like this one are especially susceptible to oil spills. Photo R. Anderson
Pelicans like this one are especially susceptible to oil spills.
Photo R. Anderson

Still, even a drop in the bucket can have long reaching implications. And when that drop of oil in the bucket occurs during prime bird migration season the sticky situation can be even worse.

Oil covered birds have already been discovered and there will likely be more found before the clean up is complete but there is more to the impacts of the spill then some oil covered birds and fish.

Impacts of crude oil will likely be felt all the way to the bottom of the food chain with the total impacts not known for years.

Few would argue that oil is an important part of life and is needed for everything from transportation to power generation and it is not realistic to say that society needs to be completely oil free.

Effects of oil spills are often felt all the way to the bottom of marine ecosystems which means finding the total impact can often take decades. Photo R. Anderson
Effects of oil spills are often felt all the way to the bottom of marine ecosystems which means finding the total impact can often take decades.
Photo R. Anderson

While there are alternative energy sources such as wind and solar power that can help reduce the amount of petroleum products society needs the simple fact is the industrialized world cannot function without fossil fuels.

As such every possible precaution is taken to ensure the safe manufacturing and transporting of oil from the time it leaves the ground until the final product is placed in the consumer’s hand.

Despite all of these precautions there are occasionally spills and other accidents such as the one that occurred over the weekend.

When things do go wrong in the oil manufacturing process and entire ecosystems are put at risk it becomes time to look at all sides of the argument and ensure that impacts are minimized and the oil is removed in the safest way possible.

Birds that land in oil require quick attention to prevent lasting effects and death. Photo R. Anderson
Birds that land in oil require quick attention to prevent lasting effects and death.
Photo R. Anderson

We are approaching the fourth anniversary of the Deepwater Horizon incident where the Gulf of Mexico was inundated over 87 days with an estimated total discharge at 4.9 million barrels  of oil, which is roughly 210 million gallons.

The 2010 spill, which is also referred to as the BP Oil Spill, was the largest oil spill to occur in the waters off of the United States.

Even now many groups are monitoring the Gulf of Mexico for signs of damage to the ecosystem. While trends such as a rise in dolphin fatality rates have been observed the total impacts related to the spill will not be known for decades.

It should be noted that there are ships and other modes or transport that travel safely through the waters and roads on a daily basis so oil spills are certainly the exception more than the rule but it is an exception with dire consequences.

Oil runs the boats in the marina and under most circumstances can coexist with marine life unless it it spilled directly into the environment such as was the case recently in Galveston Bay. Photo R. Anderson
Oil runs the boats in the marina and under most circumstances can coexist with marine life unless it it spilled directly into the environment such as was the case recently in Galveston Bay.
Photo R. Anderson

Generations of people have counted on the Gulf of Mexico for food and relaxation. And with the right steps now it should be available for generations to come.

The same is true of Galveston Bay which has large recreational and professional fishing communities that count on the wildlife within its waters to be free of contaminants and safe to eat.

There is certainly more to life than a stroll on the beach or a quiet day out on the fishing pier. But everybody deserves the option to stroll on that beach and fish from that pier oil free when the time to does come.

Now if you’ll excuse me, all of this talk about marine ecosystems has me craving some scallops with Old Bay Seasoning.

Copyright 2014 R Anderson