For journalists, hurricane coverage means hard work.
Many are running on adrenaline, caffeine and empty stomachs, wading through flooded back yards and swatting at blood-thirsty mosquitoes – all to get the best story possible.
One thing I learned as a reporter: Always have a pair of rubber boots in your trunk in case of emergencies. I just hated working in soggy shoes.
It's a message I passed along more than once as an editor while sending reporters into the wilds of Florida to cover natural or man-made disasters.
I stopped managing reporters last year when I left the newspaper business after 20 years for an editing position at an Orlando marketing company.
But my newsroom training remains.
Hurricane Irma is the biggest storm to brew up in the Atlantic since I left the Orlando Sentinel.
The run on gasoline. The bottled-water frenzy. The portable generator sellouts.
They didn't worry me. I've done this before.
I know that a storm can make a lot of changes while it's still a week away. I also know that you can get multiple hurricanes aiming at Florida during this time of year. This isn't a sprint. It's a marathon. Halloween is the safe zone.
But I noticed that I still got antsy at certain times of the day.
It had nothing to do with what was going on around me. It wasn't about the tweets and Facebook updates and office chatter about the storm.
It had everything with time of the day.
Just before 11 a.m., I noticed, I looked at the clock and wondered what was up. The same thing happened before 2 p.m. and 5 p.m.
I took me a day to notice. Then I realized. These “antsy” moments were happening just before the routine hurricane updates.
That's how engrained hurricane coverage became in my mind.
Once I realized it was happening, I was able to shake it. I focused on other things. I boarded up a window. I prepped my generator.
This was the same generator I bought after four hurricanes hit Florida in 2004, leaving us without power for nearly two weeks.
It sat in my shed for years until Hurricane Matthew last year, when I pulled it out and filled it with gas.
As soon as the gas went it, it rushed right now, splashing all over me.
Rats, I later learned, chewed holes in the plastic gas tank when it was stored in the shed.
We didn't lose power during Matthew and I stopped thinking about the leaky generator until Irma.
I've tried everything to patch up the holes and nothing has worked so far. Yes, I've tried silver duct tape. Gas-tank repair goop. Spray-can rubberized coating. Black duct tape. Crazy glue. Elmer's glue. Silicon.
Right now, I'm waiting for the latest gunk I poured on the tank to dry.
But I'm not getting ancy for the next update (8 p.m., by the way). I'm just hunkering down (yes, I said it) while waiting for Irma to get here.
And, I checked. My trunk is empty. No rubber boots.
In Florida, we love our critters. We love to protect them. Or we love to kill them. Depends on the critter.
Take, for instance, black bears.
Florida bear populations in the 1970s hovered in the 300 to 500 range. So we protected them. They rebounded.
New estimates of black bear populations in Florida show the statewide population is now 4,350 adult bears.
They did so well, in fact, we killed them.
OK, not all of them. Just 298 bears during a highly controversial, highly regulated hunt in 2015.
The state opted against hunts in 2016 and ruled them out for this year and 2018.
The debate isn't over by a long shot. Some say bears are so bountiful, we must hunt them for safety reasons. (We live in Bear Country because of the number of human-bear encounters). Others question the state's population numbers and they say killing the bears is cruel and unnecessary.
We also have a love-hate relationship with pythons.
We love them as pets. Until they get too big. Then we release them into the wild. Florida provides an ideal environment. So the predator exploded.
The state has authorized two hunts so far to thin the population.
When animals die in captivity, it becomes big news.
Animal activists are calling on SeaWorld to release the full necropsy for Tilikum. The orca - best know for a fatal attack on a trainer - died in January from a bacterial pneumonia. Activists want more details.
SeaWorld said it's not obligated to do that.
Contrast that to the reaction from the South Florida Museum in Bradenton to the death of Snooty, the world’s oldest-known manatee, on July 23.
The 69-year-old sea cow's death was a preventable accident, the museum said recently when releasing an investigation into his death.
"Snooty died when an access panel blocking an underwater plumbing area in his habitat came off at some point on the night of July 22 or the morning of July 23 and that Snooty swam into the opening, was unable to get out and drowned," the museum said in a news release Aug. 31.
The museum detailed what went wrong and outlined the changes it made to ensure it won't happen again.
The response is a fascinating exercise in transparency and underscored the community's emotional connection to Snooty.
The museum is offering free admission Sept. 10 for those who wish to pay tribute to the manatee.
Oh. Freaking. Great.
The clowns are back.
That's what I thought after hearing about the local Halloween store reopening for the scary season.
Then I wondered. Is this going to be Year Two of Scary Clown Sightings?
My best guess is yes. There's just too much scary buzz about freaky clowns right now. And it's only August.
Bottom line: If you're scared of clowns, make 2017 the year you hide under a big fat rock. Or gravestone. Whatever. You get the idea.
Make it heavy and wait it out.
To double check my scary clown prediction, I checked out the local Spirit Halloween store.
(Online, obviously. I'm too lazy to drive to Seminole Towne Center in Sanford for Halloween stuff right now. Maybe after the clown threat subsides. For now, I'm just checking out the website.)
So, there they were. In all of their ghoulish glory.
Not one. Not two. Not three.
But a whole family of four -- Mom, Dad, brother and sister -- are decked out in matching scary clown duds.
Pointed teeth. Powered faces. Scary balloons. Yada Yada. You get the idea.
You're going to die a horrible death. And they're going to be laughing in your face as blood splatters everywhere. Gross.
It was only a year ago when we heard story after story about random sightings of evil clowns across the country.
"Clown hysteria has taken the country by storm, fueling both fear and fascination while prompting calls for calm from police departments and even from the master of horrors, Stephen King," Time magazine said in October.
King, of all people, joined the chorus of calm-downers. King! Really?
This is the guy whose rebooted, kid-killing clown Pennywise debuts in theaters September 8. (Next week!)
By then, we will have already been introduced to more evil clowns from American Horror Story: Cult, which begins at 10 p.m. September 5 p.m. on FX.
There's already been backlash from legit clowns just trying to make an honest living -- or as honest as you can get being a clown these days.
"It Movie Causing Legit Clowns to Lose Work," the Hollywood Reporter said in a headline Monday.
Thankfully, I don't have coulrophobia (an abnormal fear of clowns). So I checked out the Spirit Halloween website a little more.
Soon I discovered Grimsli the Great, the nearly $200, 6 1/2-foot animatronic who will be creeping in the woods while you sleep.
"He’s on the hunt to capture any unlucky bystander and turn them into his next freak show star," the website said. "He lurks behind the curtain, waiting for a chance to snatch the next performer. Legend has it he even sews their mouths shut with his bony claws so nobody can hear their screams.'
Lovely. Get yours while they last. Then lock everybody up and pray for sunrise Nov. 1 when it will all be over. You hope.
Hold on to your wallet, folks.
Your government is preparing to sue your government -- again. This time it's Florida school boards -- including Volusia -- gearing up against the state of Florida.
At issue is a state-approved provision for "schools of hope” charter schools that would take away money from local school districts and open without local board approval.
That's unconstitutional, according to Volusia, Orange, Polk and other school districts. They and other districts are prepping for a legal battle -- a showdown funded on both sides by taxpayers in Florida.
It's enough to make your head spin. And it should trigger a gag reflex, too.
After all, participating local school districts are being asked to pony up litigation costs. In Volusia, that's as much as $25,000. And schools are already strapped for cash.
True, $25K isn't a lot compared to the entire school district budget. And you can't blame them for taking a stand. That's what we teach our kids to do.
This battle is hard to define by dollar signs. And, quite frankly, I'm sick of it.
As a parent with three school-age kids, I'm furious local school district leaders are being forced into battle against state leaders who are just trying to ram "school reforms" down our throat.
At the local level, no one is asking for it.
The parents I talk to at school functions are pleased with the quality of education in Volusia County. The teachers are pros. The administrators are savvy and support staffers are hard working and dependable. Sure, there's been bumps along the way. But they've been dealt with promptly and in a professional manner.
And, no, I don't think the school district is perfect. Who is?
On balance, I think I'm getting a good deal for what I spend on public education.
What's frustrating is the distractions from Tallahassee. On one hand, they're complaining to the feds about maintaining local control. On the other hand, they're dreaming up these local "reforms" that nobody I know really wants.
I have yet to meet a parent who says they want their child's education to be an experiment cobbled together by politicians and special interest groups. Not a single one.
I'm open to reform. But I want it done in an academic environment - not a political one.
That said, this conflict isn't anything new. Electing new leaders isn't bringing any new solutions - despite all the campaign promises. It's time to look for new ways to change the system.
If you're game, it's time to step up.
Enter the Florida Constitution Revision Commission.
Once every 20 years, this panel convenes to recommend amendments to the state Constitution.
It's a historic opportunity. But, unfortunately, not a very sexy one. So it doesn't get many headlines. But it's a real shot at reform. So let's take it seriously.
Time is running out. The deadline to submit proposals is Sept. 22. So don't waste time if you're interested.
And, yes, I realize there's plenty of politics at play on the commission.
Members include Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi and appointees from the governor, Florida Senate president, speaker of the Florida House and chief justice of the Florida Supreme Court. But it's also a rare opportunity for ordinary folks to get involved in state government.
Take a moment and poke around the website. They've made it really easy to navigate and inviting.
About 1,000 proposals have already been submitted.
There's even a way to submit proposals directly to the commission in "in plain language."
If you've got a gripe or -- even better -- a solution. It's time to speak up. I know I will.
Hey, eclipse gypsies. You are ruining my fun. Before you came along, this was my once-in-a-lifetime, celestial mega-spectacular.
Must. Must. Must achieve full totality.
Whip out ye olde sitar and pluck a spell. Wrap your head around eternity. Weightlessness is imminent. Prepare to fold time and space.
This is the sobering reality. Hot. Sticky. Sweaty. Late August. National mania. Here come the eclipse yahoos. (That's you). I'm out of luck even if I wanted to place an order of six cardboard eclipse glasses for $79.95. All sold out.
Now I have to tell the kids there's not, in fact, any solar eclipse glasses for them on the horizon - at least in time for Monday's first full-on solar eclipse in, like, a billion years. (You might want to check NASA on that before you retweet).
So, get ready for your retina to flame out. A solar pinhole projector? That's my backup? Really? I can barely open a box of Cinnamon Toast Crunch. Now I need NASA's JPL to DYI a cardboard box to open a portal into the universe? No, thanks.
Anyhow, the point is I've been planning this for months. Months. Now you come along at the last minute and whip everyone into a solar-corona panic. Schools are keeping inside, fearing they will stare at the sun. 'Solar Eclipse Frenzy' is trending off the charts. Pets will wander in confusion. Protect you're iPhone!
Traffic wonks are amping up the pressure, warning about highway congestion before, after and during the spacey hookup. Says the U.S. DOT: "Don’t take photographs while driving!" So, tweeting and sharing all good? Doesn't matter. We won't get signals because of the not-yet-realized solar-eclipse bandwidth blackhole on the highways.
For the record, I've been checking for the next big thing in the sky. I'm staking a claim to the not-so-rare conjunction of Venus and Jupiter at 1:05 a.m. Monday, Nov. 13. You're not invited.
Those words tumbled out of my mouth in a dumbfounded mutter after seeing the amazingly shocking images of Saturday's hate attack in Charlottesville, Virginia. But in this age of instant-everywhere video access, it wasn't the moving images of the Nazi-fueled hate that captivated me.
It was the still images. Chills ran up and down my spine.
The photo of the man punching another man in the back of the head. The pepper-spray attack. The man tossing a newspaper box. The guy making a slashing motion across his throat toward counter-protesters.
Then, of course, there were the gut-wrenching images of bodies flying after the car crash. Sickening. Keep in mind, I'm no stranger to disturbingly violent images.
As a former newspaper editor and reporter, I've seen plenty. But these hurt in ways that I haven't felt in years. It's different to see a body of a war victim overseas. It's quite another thing entirely to see bloodshed on Main Street America.
This was domestic terrorism, no doubt. But I didn't get that feeling from the reaction I saw from President Trump about "many sides" being involved.
Look, I understand it was kind of hard to sort out what happened as soon as it happened. But it became clear shortly into the news cycle that none of this wouldn't have happened if the haters just stayed away.
That said, I was comforted by the tweet from Sen. Orrin Hatch: "My brother didn't die fighting Hitler for Nazis to go unchallenged today." As a Central Florida resident, I also appreciated the tweet from Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer: "Terrible to see the events happening in Charlottesville. Violence, racism, and hatred have no place in our nation."
As a former journalist, I've been suspicious in the past of such messages during national or international tragedies.
They seemed self-serving. But in this case, I really appreciated the statements. I wanted to hear more from my elected officials, especially since the one at the top didn't really nail it right out of the box. I need to know where my leaders stand on hate.
Right now. There wasn't any gray area to get bogged down in with this attack.
Denounce it now.
I know I would have been right there, tweeting up a firestorm against hate so there is absolutely no confusion. I'm against it and I want you to stand up against it with me. That brings me to my local leaders, my city council members and county officials.
Maybe you said something and I missed it. But say it again and say it often. When the Commander in Chief can't say or won't say it clearly enough, you need to stand up and say it for them. Hate kills. Say it now. Say it often.
First of all, I want to let you know: I'm a big fan of Orlando Sentinel reporter Stephen Hudak.
In fact, I have a lot respect for journalists, especially former co-workers at the Sentinel. I left the paper a year ago to take a new career path in marketing. It was a great move for me. I'm still friends with folks from the newspaper. That being said, I wasn't a fan of how they played the update about the Sanford Zoo's new bear exhibit.
In fact, I was shocked when I realized how deep into the story I read before I got to hear about the fate of the bear that mauled a Seminole County woman four years ago.
The 271-pound female badass is still alive. She was moved to an Arkansas wildlife refuge last September. And she picked up a pretty name, Popper, in the process. Sounds like a witness-protection plan, almost.
Except it's really more like aggressor-protection plan. The other "witness," the victim, is still probably suffering, either physically or emotionally after the attack in her Seminole County neighborhood off Markham Woods Road. Her attack shouldn't be glossed over or forgotten.
Popper shouldn't fade away, either. I don't think the bear should die. But it should have some role in the new exhibit since the stated theme is to educate us about bears and the consequences of unhealthy human-bear encounters.
We have a lot to learn as a species and as a neighbor in Central Florida Bear Country. Shouldn't we learn from real-world examples, even when they are scary?
Sure, the story of bear siblings Ella and Guignard (named for zoo donors) fits nicely into the theme of the new exhibit at the Central Florida Zoo & Botanical Gardens on U.S. Highway 17-92. But why tease the story with the headline "Central Florida Zoo opens bear exhibit without infamous bear?" It's puzzling.
I'm not blaming Steve or anyone in particular at the Sentinel. I realize a lot people are involved in making decisions and there never seems to be enough time for everything and everybody.
I'm just disappointed, I guess, that I didn't learn more about more about Popper's backstory. What's up with her personality?
I guess I'll never find out from the zoo, unfortunately. It probably not the kind of news zoo donors want to publicize -- even when it's true and important information for Central Florida residents and visitors. Nevertheless, I'm looking forward to visiting the exhibit in the near future.
As a DeBary resident, I'm very appreciative to have the zoo as my neighbor. And I'm proud to say I'm a loyal Sentinel subscriber.
Let me set the stage. I live in DeBary, a suburb of Orlando (or Daytona Beach, depending on your point of view). We have families, seniors and a lot people with really good hearts. But landmarkwise, there's not much going on.
That's pretty typical for a Florida town swollen by Disney's magical growth spell. We live 45 minutes from the parks but everyone from Tampa to Daytona lives in the shadow of the mouse. DeBary has deep roots but it grew up fast. This, not a lot of historical monuments. Sure, we have historic DeBary Hall, tucked away off any main road. But prominently located on our main drag, U.S. Highway 17-92, are two monuments to our recent history: Family Dollar and Dollar General. They sit on opposite sides of U.S. 17-92, each vying with the other for motorists seeking cheap shampoo and holiday decorations. I was here when these were approved. But I don't have the answer to why DeBary had two new Dollar stores other than to say that's what the market said we wanted or needed. Groan. We are DeBary. We are dollar-stretchers.
That brings be to our neighbor in Volusia County, Deltona, a city with five times the population and more than one discount store. I drive by one of them, Family Dollar, fairly often. I pulled into the store on Doyle Road earlier this month, seeking cheap power steering fluid (don't need the good stuff since it would leak out with days). It was closed, overgrown with weeds. Normally that wouldn't be a big deal. But this store had some history. Activists fought against more commercial along this stretch years ago. They lost some battles (thus, this discount store) and won other battles, including the preservation of the historic Thornby property. The conflict started about 17 years ago. Extra work had to go into this store for aesthetics and traffic. They cut the ribbon on the once-controversial store five years ago.
Now it's up for sale, on the verge of becoming an eyesore. I did some digging and found the store was targeted for closure after its corporate parent and other discount chain merged. So will it fall to the bulldozers. Will it become an even-more obscure discount store? Does this anything about consumers in southwest Volusia? I don't have the answers. But I'll keep looking. Now to the mission: Where can I find cheap power-steering fluid? Oh, nevermind. I've got two choices.