Category Archives: Nostalgia

For those moments when I go back in time, mentally, and try to figure out what went right or wrong.

What Blows Around, Comes Around (Part 4)

So, if today is Saturday, then Hurricane Irma is eminent, and by the time this article airs, it may be knocking at my door. Because I’m writing this ahead of time (on Wednesday evening), I don’t actually know what’s coming, or what’s happening as this goes live. But according to forecasts, the odds of tropical storm force winds coming across Florida within the next few hours is somewhere between very high and certain, and that’s assuming that it’s not already here.

Whatever happens, there’s one thing I can probably guarantee: Based on what it’s done to the Lesser Antilles, and based on what it will probably do to the East Coast, “Irma,” which has replaced 2011’s Hurricane Irene on the United Nations’ World Meteorological Organization’s naming list, will be a one-and-done (well, two-and-done if you count “Irma’s” last appearance in 1978). What does that mean? Simple, it means this:

Everyone who’s a big deal who comes to Florida comes here to retire. This includes old people, sports stars, and hurricanes.

When “Irma” gets to Florida, I’m sure she’s coming here to retire.

Unfortunately, that’s not a positive. My 2006 article, “What Blows Around, Comes Around” explains this retirement of hurricanes in detail.

The Politics of Weather

Every year that destructive hurricanes strike land, the United Nations’ World Meteorological Organization receives a petition for name retirement.  Nations will submit the names of hurricanes that caused extensive damage or loss of life in their lands to the WMO Regional Association, with the hope that those names will be taken out of circulation.  Of the eight names that I mentioned in the last segment, all of them were submitted and approved for retirement, along with one more in 2005, a storm named “Stan.”

Retirement is issued to a storm when it becomes a topic of sorrow for the people affected.  I tend to think of it more as a way to make the storm legendary.  For example, who could forget the three-day old storm that struck Mississippi in 1969 named “Camille”?  She started out as nothing, blew up into a monster overnight, and leveled the Mississippi coast two days later.  She was just another blip on the radar until she made her mark, and then, like a phantom mistress, she was gone in the night.  But she left her mark on American history.  One storm, one name—both never to return again.

What of our recent copycat, “Katrina”?  Like “Camille,” she blew up out of nothing and charged for the northern Gulf Coast, causing untold death and destruction.  Sure, her name had been used before in the last round, in 1999, and once before way back in 1981, but she didn’t do anything but rain on Central America as a 40mph tropical storm in ‘99, or do anything but pass over the Haiti/Dominican Republic border in ‘81.  Now that she’s left her mark in history, would it make sense for her name to be used again?  Why should the memory of New Orleans or her significance in history be bastardized with a weak return in 2011?

I tend to get fascinated over the history of particular named storms.  Some people think I’m crazy for thinking this way, but here’s my logic: as a fiction writer, all characters have an identity.  That identity begins with a name.  Just as each of us began life not as a musician or a construction worker, but as a name, so a character must start his journey as a hero or a villain with a name.  Likewise, a hurricane must start its journey of passivity or aggression with a name.  The heroes, those hurricanes that don’t hit anyone, always return six years later (if they’re low enough on the list).  The villains, however, the ones that haunt our thoughts, are the ones that go down in history.  It becomes a fascination, then, to see which names of the new season become heroes, and which ones become villains.

Those of us who grow up with the uncertain dread of what might happen between June and November of each year get this sick little joy from sharing our name with a hurricane.  Though, I have yet to have my name on the list in any basin around the world (there are eight basins, I believe), I still wonder what a hurricane with my name could do.  Will it be a passive storm, sputtering out in the middle of the ocean where the winds of sheer destroy it?  Or will it be a history maker, a force so bad that it convinces a city to implement new ordinances to protect it from future damage of similar nature?  Will it be a wimpy storm like “Alex” (“Andrew’s” replacement), who tries every six years to make its mark, only to fail by circumstances of weak power and poor direction?  Or will it be a devastating storm like “Ivan” the terrible, who knocked a section of I-10 into a chasm; or “Wilma” the Flintstone, who ripped apart entire networks of telephone poles along Federal Highway between Boynton Beach and Lake Worth, singing the words: “yabba dabba doo,” which isn’t far off from the sound the howling wind makes, all the way to the beach on her first run?

Names are a big part of a hurricane’s existence, so it leaves me to wonder why it has to be up to the targeted nations to make the call about its future.  If it’s about death, destruction, insurance, or confusion (the last being a symptom of what might happen if the World Meteorological Organization were to rename a future storm “Camille” or “Andrew”), then why let the history makers return if the affected nations fail to submit a plea to retire it?

There are two names I think about every time I think about hurricane retirement: “Emily” and “Gordon.”

“Emily” had been making appearances every six years since she was first introduced in 1981.  Like “Frances,” she showed up over and over again, trying to make her mark on someone, but just couldn’t muster up the right ingredients.  In 2005, “Emily” finally performed the tasks necessary to be considered for retirement.  Just as “Frances” finally made her mark in 2004 (after nearly ten attempts since the ‘60s), “Emily” made her mark last season.  She was a Category 5 storm that, like “Wilma,” smacked into the Yucatan Peninsula as a Category 4 storm, stirred up trouble all over Mexico, and went out, finally, in a blaze of glory.  In a year full of hurricane insanity, she was a star.  But of the six hurricanes to wreck the Atlantic Basin, she was the only one slighted for retirement consideration.

“Gordon” was the name to replace “Gilbert,” when “Gilbert caused enough damage to come off the list in 1988.  “Gordon” made his first appearance in 1994 as a minimal hurricane, but one that dumped waves of rain on the mountains of Haiti; one that ultimately killed more than eleven hundred people.  This same storm later moved into South Florida as a tropical storm and tried to kill me when I was on my way to work, when I was getting tailgated by a florescent green car carrier on I-95, when I later hydroplaned off the exit ramp into Palm Beach Gardens and landed in a ditch at the bottom of the bend, where no one, not even the police officer who saw me struggling, offered to help me out.

Both of these storms were prime candidates for retirement in those years, but were overlooked for one reason: politics.

“Emily” was passed over in 2005, allegedly because her damage, though extensive, was minimal compared to what “Wilma” did to that same region three months later.  Even though Florida could’ve used the same excuse to slight “Frances” in favor of “Jeanne,” who hit the same exact area three weeks later, the state chose to bury them both into the history books once and for all, for they both sucked.  Mexico didn’t take that road, however.  The nation chose to favor the latter storm, as if only one could take the honor.

“Gordon” was passed over in 1994, simply because Haiti had bigger problems than hurricanes to deal with that year.  There was a political coup happening that took top priority with its government, which “Gordon,” as bad as it was, could not steal away.  So when it came time for the nations’ vote on their retirement nominees, “Gordon” was not to be seen.  Incidentally, no one in 1994 came off the list, as “Gordon” was the only bad boy of the bunch.  Now, in 2006, “Gordon” had since returned, but so far has yet to impress anyone with his fury.

This brings about my question: why wait for a nation to submit a name?  Shouldn’t there be an in-house panel at the World Meteorological Organization who can retire noteworthy hurricanes without national outcry?  Historically, notable storms have been submitted for retirement, but only by those nations that had nothing else going on that year.  In the case of these two storms, which by all rights and purposes should’ve made the list for their respective years, it would have benefited the Atlantic and the hurricanes’ victims had the WMO just taken the reigns away from the political institutions that were responsible for making the call.  Then, “Emily” could receive her justice, and “Gordon,” the storm that nearly killed me, would never again have to haunt me with another appearance.  Chalk up another victory for politics.

For Reference

For a full history of all tropical storms and hurricanes, including the ones mentioned in this essay, as well as information about naming systems, how hurricanes work, etc., visit the Weather Underground at www.wunderground.com or the National Hurricane Center at www.nhc.noaa.gov for all the resources you could ever need.  The first site stays current, with weather blogs written by experts that outline the potential for a storm, while the latter, though more official, tends to lag in information by a year or more.  They’re great places to visit if you’re in a panic over a storm.  You can also look up hurricanes through Google if you’re feeling really ambitious.

(end of “What Blows Around, Comes Around”)

Back to the present (2017), I hope those of you who are reading this are staying out of harm’s way. For me, I’m probably in the middle of it because I’ve got nowhere better to go. But my house is sturdy. Hopefully. But, if the people of Texas who went through Harvey (another storm likely to retire this year) are of any inspiration, then I can say that no matter how soft or hard this storm might be, we can still get through it if we stick together and don’t complain too much.

That said, if this storm does stay on its current track (as of Wednesday’s predictions, which is all I have at the time of this writing), then I’ll be without power for a few days, and I won’t be quick to answer any comments posted here. But, if you are one of the people in the path of this storm, and if you haven’t been through one like it before, and if you somehow found a way to read this (it’s 2017, so you’re probably on your fully powered smartphone, something we didn’t have in 2005), remember that the aftermath of a hurricane is generally very quiet, and you’ll suddenly find yourself able to think again, which isn’t so bad.

And, if you are in the storm’s path tonight, good luck. Hoping for the best for me, too.

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Cover Image: Pixabay

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What Blows Around, Comes Around (Part 3)

With Hurricane Irma moving closer and closer, tensions are undoubtedly rising throughout the southern East Coast. But Florida is no stranger to hurricanes, nor is it a stranger to bad hurricanes, and just as Hurricane Irma is similar to last year’s Hurricane Matthew in path and in hype, it’s no stranger to hurricanes that share basic qualities to other high-profilers that have recently preceded it.

In the third section of my 2006 article “What Blows Around, Comes Around,” I break down the characteristics of Florida’s last major hurricane hit, Hurricane Wilma, and how it relates to other hurricanes of its era. It’s easy to see that we can learn from anything, yet we can’t know everything.

The Familiarity of “Wilma”

On the morning of October 24, 2005, Hurricane Wilma, a major storm that chose to use my town as her exit point into the Atlantic, became the eighth hurricane to hit or pass Florida in two seasons.  Ironically, she had something in common with each of the first seven:

Like “Rita,” she passed through a narrow channel of water, before heading for open waters where she would later pick up steam to smash against her targeted coastline; “Rita” picking Texas, while “Wilma” picked us.  She, like “Rita,” also inundated the Keys.

Like “Katrina,” she surprised the world (or at least our section of it) when she suddenly transformed from a nobody to a reckless Category 5 storm, taunting her targets with unknown destruction.  She also shared the history board with “Katrina” in that “Katrina” set the “costliest storm” record at over $80 million dollars, while “Wilma” set the “most intense hurricane” record when she dropped to 882mb, which would’ve made her a nightmare over the Caribbean.  Also, like “Katrina” and “Rita,” she was a 2005 Category 5 storm that had the letter “A” ending her name.

Like “Dennis,” she set a time record for earliest something.  For “Dennis,” he was the earliest Category 4 formation and strike in the Atlantic Basin’s history.  For “Wilma,” she was the earliest formation of the twenty-first storm (which only happened one other time in recorded history).  Her formation also marked the first time that the seasonal naming chart had been exhausted.  This was a thrill to me, because I’ve always wanted to know what happened if a twenty-second storm formed and there were no more names to label it.  Now I know.  “Alpha” came about while “Wilma” blitzed the Yucatan.

Like “Jeanne,” she became the reckless youngest daughter of her family (family being major storms of a season), and proved once and for all that she would not be forgotten.  Also, like “Jeanne” she dilly-dallied in a faraway place before making the turn to strike South Florida, and blazed a trail for the coast, jumping from a Category 2 to a Category 3 at the last possible minute before landfall.  Also, like “Jeanne,” she confirmed to Floridians that hurricanes were nature’s way of harassing us.

Like “Ivan,” she left Floridians lingering with dread as we wondered where the Category 5 storm would go, and what it would do when it got there.  Also, like “Ivan,” she set a personal record, where “Ivan” became the southernmost tropical storm formation in Atlantic history, while “Wilma” became the fastest drop in pressure (she lost 100mb in 24 hours, which is also nearly a world record).

Like “Frances,” she was a massive storm that lumbered about for so long that she pummeled her first target for three days.  Though “Wilma” shot over South Florida in less than five hours, she hammered the Yucatan Peninsula as a Category 4 storm for an entire weekend.  “Frances,” though only a Category 2 at the time, did the same thing to us the year before—on a weekend.

Finally, like “Charley,” she surprised the National Hurricane Center, and the citizens of South Florida, when she significantly increased in speed at a critical time.  While “Charley” leapt from a Category 2 to a Category 4 about two hours before landfall, “Wilma” leapt from a tropical storm to a Category 5 about two days out from the Yucatan.  This made life ominous for South Florida when the National Hurricane Center said she was coming for us next, and that her navigation around the cliffs of the Yucatan would decide whether she hit us with Category 2 strength or Category 5 strength.  Also, like “Charley,” she swung into South Florida from the west coast between Naples and Ft. Myers, before making a beeline straight for my house, previously in Altamonte Springs, this time in Lake Worth.

(Part 4 tomorrow)

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Cover Image: Pixabay

What Blows Around, Comes Around (Part 2)

Childhood memories are some of the most precious things we store in our human central processing units, called brains. As we get older and more cynical toward the world, we cherish more the fondness of revisiting that time or place that once kept our joy, like amusement parks on a warm, summer day, or a snowy mountain on a warm, summer day (it could happen in high places), or in the middle of a bakery where our favorite pies are made.

We hold photo albums and souvenirs of the past to keep the memories alive, and doing so seems to maintain most of us with pretty rational thought or action. But, when our memories are suddenly threatened by a force outside of our control, we may find that rationale chucked out the window, and our greatest panic may turn to our greatest sorrow. Such is the case when loss is inevitable.

The following story is a continuation of my 2006 article, “What Blows Around, Comes Around,” about the futile reality of holding on to fickle child memories during a catastrophic weather event.

To Shed a Tear

By eleven years old, I had grown accustomed to using my backyard shed as a training module for the things that a young boy pretends to train for.  The green tin storage chamber, with the broken doors and the eagle emblem nailed to the triangular white headpiece, stood tall as my friends and I used it for a number of faculties, including rain sheltering, target practice (squirt guns opened-fire on the eagle), and the home base for our epic neighborhood Hide and Seek games.  Though it claimed to be a run-of-the-mill tool shed—storing such things as my family’s lawnmower, toolboxes, rakes and shovels—my friends and I knew better.  With a grimy ladder pressed against an exterior wall, we’d occasionally climb to the top of the damaged roof to see how tough our guts were.  As far as I could remember, no one fell.

“Eagle Base,” as it was later christened for its role in our Hide and Seek games, stood tough against a number of elemental hazards, from common rainstorms to a couple incidents of hail.  With two large trees protecting each side and a number of object barriers including flowerpots and ladders lining its base, even the worst events, including the big March storm of 1993 (a monster weather maker that hit the entire east coast at once) couldn’t touch it.

The shed, though, didn’t stand without some opposition.  In 1979, during its early years of existence, it stood upright and fully formed.  Just as it had for the decades to follow, the little tin structure housed its tools with complete vigilance.  When the tools weren’t used, it protected them with closed doors, just as it was designed to do.  But not far into the second half of the year, it faced its first formidable opponent of its life: Hurricane David.  Though the storm was only a Category 1 at the time of its arrival, the reckless winds pounded those doors with iron fists, knocking them into submission.  By the time the storm passed, the doors were bent and pushed off their tracks, never again to close properly.

That incident could’ve disheartened the shed, but no, the youthful structure went on.  As the ‘80s approached and I became steadily more aware of the world (I was only three at the start of the decade), I began to discover its many uses as a “training center.”  From there, it became an important part of my life.

As the years passed, and my childhood transformed into adolescence, “Eagle Base” steadily transformed into a household utility center.  Although I hated yard work at the time, I still found myself scouring the hull for rakes and shovels on those weekends when my parents wanted me to pick up leaves or fallen oranges.  I wasn’t a fan of the structure in those times, because the grimy foundation became a reminder that going in meant having to take another shower later, which meant I was going to feel nasty in the meantime.  But even in my teenage grumbling, the shed stood tall.

Toward my adulthood, it transformed from a mere utility center to a shelter for cats during rainstorms.  Every once in awhile, a new stray would find its way to my front porch, coming from some undisclosed place up the street.  After hanging out for a while, deciding it would adopt us, the cat would then move to the backyard, where it would take up arms on the deck or under the clothesline.  During sunny days, the cats would roam fearlessly around the four corners of the backyard.  During rainy days, however, they’d disappear.  For the pregnant ones looking for a new home, the shed became a place to give birth and to keep the new litter dry.

More years passed, and more abuse befell it—including a tall object puncturing the roof from the inside, and a large hole wearing through the right wall—but it continued to stand, old but proud.  As I reached my twenties, the old “Eagle Base” became a centerpiece for an expanding garden, starting with the Schefflera to its left and a small palm tree to its right.  Though the trees made getting behind the shed difficult (with only a few feet of yard between the wall and the surrounding fences), they did so with aesthetic pleasure, making the wounded structure appear at rest.

In 2002, the Florida Holly along the back fence grew tangled, so much that it became a hazard.  During this summer and the one to follow, I found myself out there sawing away at its tree branches—the ones too high to make my reach comfortable.  The simple tasks of paring the tangled little beasts back, preventing the possibility of disaster striking our yard should another storm ever hit (which had been a rare thing since “Andrew” of 1992), turned into month-long projects.  Those projects, in turn, became annual events.  While all the trees in my yard became victims of the pole saw at one point or another, the dreaded Florida Holly became my bane—the thing that bled sawdust in waves, but never fell under control.  By 2003, we had to cut it down.

We thought we had done the yard a favor.  When the jumbled mess of a tree came down that year, we thought we had spared ourselves from future disaster.  As the last remnants of the Florida Holly went to the sidewalk, we thought we had ensured “Eagle Base’s” life to last for good.

In 2004, our sense of security proved false.

Hurricanes came and went throughout the last twenty-five years, none doing to the shed what “David” did in its early years.  Though the doors piled up in the corner, never again to be used in regular service, we’d return them to their tracks for the brief moments when strong winds were promised, and they would hold long enough to keep the contents inside safe.  Because no storm since 1979 packed a zephyr so fierce, we didn’t think any future storm would challenge it.  Placing the doors back on their tracks for the arrival of yet another storm seemed like a good idea.

Hurricane Frances, the second of four Florida storms that year, threatened to come into South Florida during the first weekend in September.  I had just returned home from my year in Altamonte Springs, having gotten through “Charley” just two weeks earlier, and now I had to stare this new monster in the eye.  The news promised a huge storm, but I just shrugged it off.  I came home, relaxed a couple of days, prepared for the hurricane, and then headed to my grandmother’s with my family to help her through the storm.  I didn’t even bother unpacking my stuff.

With family and two cats in tow, we made it to my grandmother’s condo, where we hung out in front of the TV for several hours, then sat in the dark as the power went out.  We stayed in that little unlit condo for three days.  “Frances” was not only huge; she was slow.

That was Friday.  We returned Monday, after an exhaustive ordeal of winds and heat, to explore the damage left to our home.  As usual, the house came through unscathed.  As usual, it boasted the expected fallen leaves and branches, with the occasional trash.  As usual, it didn’t seem like the storm had been that big of a deal.

Except, something was different than before.  This time, a new story befell our backyard:

As usual, the shed endured the onslaught of those 80mph winds.  For three days those winds blasted, but they weren’t enough for the tired old veteran to submit.  “Frances” kept howling, but the old tin structure kept resisting.  She whipped it with wind gusts reaching close to a hundred, but the creaks of sheet metal endured her wrath; the shed vibrating fiercely, but fighting with everything it had.  It was the fight of its life, but the old coot stood.

Finally, on the third day, “Frances” realized “Eagle Base” was winning the battle, just as it had won against “David” in its youth, and so she was scared.  She came here with a mission, refusing to leave it unfilled.  But sensing her time to win growing short, she knew she had to do something, something underhanded if the tide didn’t turn in her favor.  It was a bloody fight she refused to lose.

The tide didn’t turn, so “Frances” stopped fighting fair and hit “Eagle Base” below the belt.  She snapped a large branch off the Schefflera tree—the tree I didn’t cut—and used it as her weapon.  When we came home Monday, we saw the results of the battle.  It seemed, at last, that “Eagle Base” had met its match.

The branch had fallen on the roof, crushing the structure into a mangled mess.  Under the branch, heaps of tin lay in piles on the old rocky foundation, burying shelves and tools like the lost bodies of a fallen tower.  A cross-shaped foot made of brass, belonging to a rack or a chair, poked out from underneath the triangular white headpiece, spelling out the tragedy of the shed’s last stand.  With a layer of leaves covering it over its still grave, the last visible trace of the old glory of my childhood set nailed securely against the headpiece: the black eagle emblem, the signature of “Eagle Base,” unmoved, but clearly lost of its purpose.

Normally, I try not to weep over the loss of an inanimate object, especially not one that served primarily as a place to store a lawnmower.  But it was hard to hold back the sorrow of that day, a day where my childhood refuge lay fallen.  The last vestige of that old life was gone.

An old childhood friend of mine came over that day, to see how we all panned out.  The power was off, the place was a wreck, and there was nothing really to do but to clean up.  He came over anyway to hang out, and I showed him what had happened.  This childhood friend, a grown man in his mid-twenties, a man who never cries, a man who never lets water drench his back, stood there marveling.  All he could say was, “But that was base.  You can’t destroy base.”

And that day, this grown man who only had half the memories of this little green tin structure that I had, felt sorrow, too.

It was base.  It was “Eagle Base.”  And like all veterans of battle, it had to retire.

Now, in 2006, the old foundation serves as a backyard patio, complete with chairs, table, and pirate wine barrel.  The old eagle emblem that used to loom over the shed’s entrance like a sentry, now sets nailed to the wall next to my front door, where it greets all who choose to enter.  And, like a dead relative who had a colorful past, the old shed lives on in pictures and in memory, where now it can never be forgotten.  So now let us hold a moment of silence for this inanimate wonder that breathed life into my youth, which could only fall by slide of hand.

(Part 3 tomorrow)

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Cover Image: Pixabay

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What Blows Around, Comes Around (Part 1)

I had originally scheduled a release for the final bonus chapter of the Marketing Author 001 today, but I decided to push that and all of my other upcoming releases back a week to focus on a more timely event.

About two weeks ago, Hurricane Harvey roared onto the coast of southeast Texas and caused extensive and catastrophic flooding damage to the region. It became a major historical event that will take a long, long time for the people of Houston and surrounding areas to recover from. Today, another storm, Hurricane Irma, is destroying the Lesser Antilles with 185 mph winds, and over the next couple of days will continue west through Puerto Rico, Hispaniola, Cuba, and the Bahamas, and by late this weekend, if the predicted track holds true, will makes its unwelcome appearance here in South Florida.

Now, last year in October, South Florida was threatened by another major storm, Hurricane Matthew, but that storm skirted the coast, as the big ones often do, and continued on north of us. The end result was bad for the Carolinas, but pretty tolerable here. I ended up keeping my lights on the whole time.

It’s easy to assume that Hurricane Irma will do something similar, especially when the projected track is already in close alignment with Matthew’s, and when the patterns of moving north ever so slightly, enough to change the potential landfall in fact, continue to persist.

But, as I’ve learned through years of preparing for absentee storms and bracing for the monsters that actually arrive, hurricanes are unpredictable, and expecting one to do exactly as another has done in the past is a mistake, and one that no one can afford to make.

Now, Hurricane Irma is still out there, and its effects on Florida and the rest of the East Coast have not yet been determined. It could come right up the middle of the state in the same way that Arnold Schwarzenegger went right up the middle of Buzzsaw, a villain he battles in 1987’s The Running Man. But it could also steer clear of the state entirely, spend some more time in the water, perhaps take a direct visit to Canada, and leave everyone else alone. Only time and history will tell, of course.

With the future of the storm unknown, but the lessons it can teach us still at the forefront, I thought it was time to reintroduce one of my older articles from 2006 about this very topic, told through the lens of The Big Four, the hurricanes that struck Florida in 2004, as a way to bring the legacies of the past into the relevance of the presence, and hopefully to remind those who read this to respect the power of a major hurricane, no matter where it goes or whom it affects.

I’ll be releasing this story in four parts, one each night until Saturday, when the storm prepares to hit. Because everything I’ve got coming up the line is on a schedule, my previously planned articles will still make landfall, whether I lose power or not, but a week later than planned. So, The Marketing Author 001, Part 13 will go live next Wednesday, September 13, and additional articles will follow on the 14th, 20th, 21st, and 22nd. Hopefully I’ll have power again by then. (Hopefully I won’t lose it in the first place.)

(Story begins below the photo of Key West getting slammed by a hurricane.)

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A History of Hurricanes

At the height of the 2004 Hurricane Season, a friend of mine asked if I had a hurricane magnet in my pocket.  I told him I did.  I had carried it around since August of that year, only briefly to pass it off at the start of 2005, just to reclaim it back to my possession near the height of that season.  It was an exciting thing—attracting so many anomalies over the course of fourteen months.  Even now as I write this, I have no guarantee that the phenomenon has run its course.  With some heavy hitting names like “Beryl,” “Florence,” and “Joyce” on the list, the 2006 season about to launch in six weeks will no doubt put the shade of red into Florida’s cheeks for the third year in a row.

Ah, the magic word: Florida, a peninsular state that weather experts all over the Western Hemisphere have whispered about for ages.  The target of more than a hundred spinners in as many years, the trap of tourists who eagerly race for the northern highways come August and September—that’s the magic kingdom we know as Florida.  My place of birth.  The land of my upbringing.  Florida.  Both the weatherman’s fantasy and his nightmare rolled up into one ball of emotion.  The state where insurance is an unpredictable commodity.  My home state.

Anyone who has watched CNN or the Weather Channel since August 2004 will know that Florida was stamped with a bull’s eye.  Those dormant weather makers that have teased us for years finally pounded on our front doors and demanded to rip us apart.  For two straight years.  With no guarantee that the torment has finished.  As I type this, the state is holding its breath.

The funny thing is that life didn’t start with such anxiety in the early days of my memory.  Even though some notorious storm systems made their way through my backyard over the years, none of them heightened my tension the way the 2004 season did.  My first recollection started with “David,” a 1979 storm that kicked the crap out of the Caribbean, but somehow lost its punch when it brushed the South Florida coast.  My father took me to the beach when the wind started churning, to show me the tide and to introduce me to the spectacle.  Where normally that would’ve been a bad idea (storm surges are usually inevitable with hurricanes), the punch was so weak that it didn’t seem like anything more than just another windy and rainy day.  And unless “David” was actually “Danny” (1985)—though I’m pretty sure I wasn’t anywhere close to nine years old yet—this thing reduced my fear of hurricanes to an almost nonexistent level.  Any time the “threat” of a hurricane became eminent, I just shrugged it off, as if it were another “David”—that horribly weak storm that couldn’t blow a leaf off a tree—that storm that unbeknownst to me at the time had killed way more than a thousand people on an island south of me and at one time packed Category 5 winds not even a week before passing over me.  Like most Floridians, I was disillusioned.  At three years old, I was disillusioned.

My eyes didn’t awaken to the true ferocity of a hurricane until thirteen years later—the year that Florida had gotten its dues for the first time in a generation.  In the late eighties, I heard about monsters like “Gilbert” (1988) and “Hugo” (1989) terrorizing the Atlantic and the Caribbean, but I figured they were products of a different world—a world that didn’t mess with Florida.  “Hugo” got my attention when the local news showed footage of his aftermath in Charleston, South Carolina, revealing a level of damage that seemed uncharacteristic of the hurricanes that I knew.  Wreckage remained where homes previously stood, and families sobbed over their hardened losses.  It was a strange sight to see.  The hurricanes in my world didn’t do such things.  The hurricanes in my world sent their gusty breezes, but not much else.  “Hugo” was no doubt a bit freaky.  But he was an anomaly.  Storms like him didn’t strike south of the Carolinas.  Storms like him only struck the Carolinas.

If only that were true.

Three years later, his hopped-up cousin came to town.

“Andrew” (1992) changed my mind about hurricanes forever, sort of.  When I was sixteen years old, I was hanging out with my youth group at the same beach where my father had taken me to see “David” so many years earlier.  We were there on the Saturday before the new school year started, undoubtedly trying to squeeze out the last remnants of our sacred vacation, and I had no idea that something big was brewing in the Atlantic.  The youth pastor’s wife mentioned that a storm was coming, but I didn’t think anything of it.  Storms that came after Florida were like de-clawed cats that came after pine trees.  Nothing about them spelled scariness.  But then, I went home to watch the news and felt my heart pound for the first time.  That little wimpy “Andrew” was packing over 150mph sustained winds.  And he was aiming for South Florida.  The storms that landed before him barely packed 80mph winds.  They weren’t anything to panic over.  But “Hugo” of South Carolina packed close to 140mph winds.  And that thing wrecked a community.  This “Andrew” was out there laughing at “Hugo,” and it was coming right for South Florida?  Laughing at us?  The arrival of a hurricane didn’t seem so comfortable all of a sudden.

Sunday was spent preparing the house for his arrival.  As a sixteen-year-old who didn’t want to be bothered with housework, I felt like I was wasting a perfectly nice day.  I hated the prep work involved with bracing a house for a hurricane, but I put up with it because I didn’t have much of a choice.  If “Andrew” was coming, he wasn’t going to be bringing roses.  I did what I was told.  And then, night fell.  The news was dedicated entirely to “Andrew” for the rest of the evening.  In my prior memories I couldn’t recall the news devoting so much of its airtime to a hurricane.  Undoubtedly, this one was serious.  And I kept myself glued to the television all night.

Even as my parents slept, I stayed in the living room monitoring the progress of this storm.  Not once did the wind speeds die during the course of its coming.  Somehow I expected it to lose its punch as it drew closer, but it kept coming, inching ever closer as the harbinger of doom.  I looked out my back window to see our palm tree whipping around as the winds kicked up to 60mph.  It was enough to bend the frond all the way down to the grass.  And the storm drew closer, holding its course.  All it needed was to shift direction toward the north by one degree and it would be upon me full force.  But it held its course—passing over the Bahamas, passing through the Florida straits, reaching the South Florida coast, hitting the city of Miami full force—brushing me with its 60mph shoulder.

It missed me.  The news showed the streets of metro Miami getting smashed with horribly fierce winds: traffic lights flinging around like rag dolls, streams of water rushing through the avenues at ungodly speeds.  But my palm frond continued to dance outside the back window, as if it knew the chance for fury had subsided.  When the sun came up a couple of hours later and the conditions failed to worsen, my trees, my home, and my neighborhood continued to stand.  The great and powerful “Andrew” kept his fury limited to the south.  The most we lost in the skirmish were a few leaves and the first day of school.  All was back to normal by Tuesday.  But the cameras were still rolling and the southern regions of Miami were on the news.  “Hugo” was reborn.  “Andrew” put the fear in me.

For the next couple of years I watched the news during hurricane season religiously.  For every new storm that surfaced, I had to find out what it was doing and where it was going.  Each week I waited to see if my home was destined for danger, but nothing came.  For two straight years, Florida received nothing in the catastrophe department like it did from “Andrew.”  Only “Gordon” (1994) stood a chance at re-igniting my fears, but that was due to something that happened on the highway.  All in all, Florida’s big hurricane crisis was limited to one isolated storm.  After the busy season of 1995, I became exhausted with hurricane news and decided I didn’t care anymore.  Each season before and after were as big of a bust as they were in the ‘80s.  We spent an entire day preparing for storms that eventually turned into “coastal riders.”  In 1999, the last straw hit me as I sat in my darkened house in Orlando waiting for a new monster to come at me.  “Floyd,” the first storm to put the fear in me since “Andrew,” came up to the Central Florida coastline near Daytona, promising to sweep across the state with an unholy swath of destruction in its Category 3 wake, and changed its mind.  At the last minute, the storm swung northward and rode up the coast into the Carolinas, where it rerouted its destructive intentions into some small towns in the northern state.  I was disappointed.

The thing that I learned from “Andrew” and confirmed in “Floyd” (and in many of the storms before and since) was that hurricanes, as destructive as they had the potential to be, were relentless teases.  The big ones had a habit of taunting me, making it clear that they were coming for my house, bringing the pain with them, but only the little ones ever followed through.  The ones that actually had damage potential put the fear in the local news enough to convince residents like me to board up, to bottle up, and to pack away a garage full of canned soup.  But at the last minute they’d change direction, and all of a sudden my entire Sunday was wasted.  No hurricane.  No danger.  Just a boarded up house and an idiot sitting inside.  By the start of the 2000s, I didn’t give any thought to hurricanes anymore.

My jaded heart against the hoopla continued all the way into the middle of August 2004.  On Wednesday, the night of the 11th, I walked around the aisles of a Blockbuster Video in Altamonte Springs, Florida (a suburb of Orlando), searching for DVDs, when I heard one of the clerks nearby talking about two storms that were churning near the state: “Bonnie” and “Charley.”  I didn’t listen very intently, because I no longer respected hurricanes for the dead-focused behemoths they should’ve been.  I walked home that night (I lived up the street from the store), putting the thought out of my mind.

The next day I walked to the pool to catch up on some reading, where I was surprised to see the deck chairs stacked up and roped off.  I thought the condo association was just cleaning the area, so I walked to the other pool across the parking lot to read there, instead.  But I discovered the same ordeal.  Without a place to sit, I decided to stick my feet into the pool and read by the steps.  And that’s when I noticed the fitness room across from the fence sealed off with the big giant “X” of masking tape.  Now I knew the comments from the night before meant something.

As it turned out, “Charley” was the one that got the clerk’s attention, as it was the one that got the condominium’s attention.  The forecast predicted it to come ashore near Gainesville as a Category 2, but the threat to Orlando was subjective.  Seeing as how the preparation efforts were primarily limited to masking tape coverings, I didn’t think much of it.  I went to sleep that night with my usual expectations.

The next day, however, my mood changed.  “Charley” had already become a Category 2 by the morning of Friday the 13th, but somehow, in the time it took for me to escape the Weather Channel in the early afternoon to go to the grocery store and to return an hour later, the entire forecast shifted.  When I headed back to my apartment, one of the neighbors stopped me and asked if I heard about the updates.  Since I was at Publix for the last hour, my answer was “no.”  Apparently, that wimpy little “Charley,” a former list-mate of “Andrew’s,” had blown up into a strong Category 4.  And it wasn’t heading for Gainesville any longer.  Now the forecast aimed it straight for Tampa Bay—a coastal region surrounded by three large cities.  For the first time in twelve years, I sensed that catastrophic destruction was coming.  Seeing a place on the news that I had just visited three months earlier, called The Pier, intensified my dread.  The last fond memory I had with a close friend, and the place that formed it, was endangered of getting wiped off the map.  My dread sunk in.

But then, “Charley” did something no one expected.  He shifted again.  As conditions in my own town drastically deteriorated, “Charley” took his aim off Tampa and moved into the coast with destructive power through a town called Port Charlotte near Fort Myers.  At Category 4 strength, he ripped through that region with the anger and fierceness of “Hugo,” but he wasn’t finished with them.  He had a mission—a significant point to prove.  After all the times I had been teased by weak storms and course-changing powerhouses, “Charley” initiated a war that would forever change my tune.  He came right for me—dead on.  That night, at 9pm, as my power blew out, the eye of this rampaging storm, which was supposed to strike Tampa Bay, reached I-4 in the Kissimmee region and rode the highway all the way up, past Universal Studios, through downtown Orlando, and right over Altamonte Springs—right over my buried head.  For the first time ever, I sat in a darkened room without windows, waiting for a fierce storm to pass by.

Within an hour, the 90mph winds died down and the eye was on top of me.  All was calm.  I waited for the backside to hit, but there wasn’t much to it.  It was in and out and on its way over Daytona by midnight.  I walked to my car to listen to the news.  Palm trees were decapitated all around the neighborhood.  A pile of fallen debris blocked the driver side of my poor Honda Civic (a car unfortunate enough to sit through four of these monsters).  An oak tree had fallen on top of one of the buildings next to the first pool.  Hurricane reality finally woke me up.  And “Charley” was just the warning shot.  The neighborhood was completely trashed, the city as a whole was littered with damaged signs and fallen trees, and “Charley” was only the beginning of a two-year nightmare.

(Part 2 tomorrow)

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Cover Image: Pixabay

The Pros and Cons of the Nintendo Switch

March 7, 2017

I’ve been a fan of Nintendo since I was a kid, but I’ve admittedly fallen off of the Nintendo wagon after the Gamecube started to wane in value. I wanted a Wii, but it was impossible to get for the first three years of its shelf life without camping overnight at the nearest box store, which I would never do, and by the time I could get one by simply walking into the store and saying, “Hey, gimme a Wii,” I was no longer making enough money to actually afford one. So, I never got on the Wii train. When Wii U came around, I had already given up. It didn’t look that appealing to me, to be honest, certainly not worth the money they were asking for, and I had gotten over the console years of my life anyway. I’d already missed out on the Wii, so I may as well miss out on the Wii U, too.

With the handhelds, it’s the same story, but worse. In short, I never wanted a Nintendo handheld. I was all for playing other people’s Gameboys and Gameboy Advances, but I didn’t want to invest in my own, and I basically missed the DS and 3DS years as a result. A Nintendo fan, yes? But a diehard Nintendo fan? I guess the evidence is stacked against me here.

But now we have the Nintendo Switch released (as of last Friday), and suddenly I’m excited for Nintendo all over again. It’s both console, which I’ve missed during the last two generations, and handheld, which I’ve missed since the Game & Watch days (I did have a few of those when I was a kid), and the melding of the two forms is simply genius. Combined with the new split motion control remote, which they’re calling a “joycon,” and its advanced motion technology that can simulate force and resistance as much as record motion, and I daresay Nintendo has put forth the one system that can make a grown man become a kid again.

I still don’t have money to spare, much like it was when I was a kid, but if you have money and you’re looking to blow it on something you don’t need, should you spend it on a Nintendo Switch? Here are the pros and cons of getting yours today.

Pros:

  • The Nintendo Switch launches with a new open world Zelda game. This is all the pro you need.
  • The Nintendo Switch also launches with a new Bomberman game. Wanna party hard? This game’s the bomb (I’m assuming).
  • The system is small and the handheld is even smaller. No penis envy with this machine!
  • The joycons come in dual gray, or blue and red. They don’t know what they want to be. Perfect symbol for our confused modern culture! We call this relevance. The Nintendo Switch is relevant.
  • The joycons are so small, they fit in the palm of your hand. See pro #3.
  • You can weight train with the heavy resistant joycons. Size doesn’t matter.
  • Mario is back in his cool new go-kart, and he’s ready for some road rage.
  • You can play against your friends anywhere, thanks to the portability of the Switch.
  • The Switch has a cool “click” sound that can jumpstart any DJs library.

Cons:

  • As soon as you walk away from the controller, your little brother will beat the Zelda dungeon for you, and then hide the controller when you come back, laughing at your stupidity.
  • Bomberman is best played with four or more people, which might be depressing if you realize you don’t know anyone other than yourself. At least there’s online play! This lets you play with complete strangers you will never meet in real life. So, this isn’t a con; it’s a joy-con!
  • If you still feel small around this machine, well…
  • Getting the blue and red controllers will just make your choices in life even harder to make, as you still gotta pick one to use.
  • The joycons are so small that they can really go flying if you’re getting vigorous with them and lose your grip. Just because they’re small doesn’t mean they’ll bounce off a wall.
  • The joycons are best used in a cow-milking simulator. Really?
  • Mario Kart’s new addition will remind you that Nintendo is only good for Nintendo characters, and you’ll soon lament spending $300 on the machine, plus accessories and your six or seven games throughout the lifetime of the machine. Just like it was with the last few Nintendo systems you owned. Oh, but these games are so much fun. Joy-con!
  • Thanks to the portability of the Switch, you can play it anywhere, with anyone: at work, at school, on the subway. Likewise, you can have it easily stolen from you anywhere, by anyone: at work, at school, on the subway.
  • There’s nothing bad about that “click.” Just watch the videos on YouTube. That thing is catchy.

So, there you have it. If you think the Nintendo Switch is the best $300+ that you’ll spend in 2017, then go get yours today. I think the stores are stocking it. It’s not like Black Friday is coming anytime soon. Does anyone even know it’s out now? Eh, you could probably get it now.

In all seriousness, I’d like to get this one, too. Mario goes to New York in his next game, Super Mario Odyssey. How cool is that? Pro!

Missed my other Pros and Cons lists? I’ve put together a handy table of contents to keep you well-oriented. Check them out.

Lethal Hairdo

October 23, 2015:

Continuing with a Back to the Future theme, in a loose kind of way now, it’s time we turn to one of the greatest action movies to come out of the 1980’s, Lethal Weapon, and more importantly, to its greatest legacy left on pop culture, the mullet.

Ah, yes, the mullet, the greatest hairstyle to hit a generation since the Moe Howard bowl cut, which I guess was just a revision to the old Caesar cut, which was likely the revision to an alpaca’s hair–I’m no hair historian, so I don’t know. From the mullet we have learned a great many thing:

  • Bad guys tremble at the sight of a mullet.
  • Ladies melt at the sight of a mullet.
  • Mel Gibson was at his best in a mullet.
  • The Lethal Weapon series died with the movie that did not give us a mullet.
  • Bonus Fact: George Clooney and John Stamos gained fame under a mullet. (Not really Lethal Weapon related, but still an accurate observation born from the eighties.)

As you can see, the mullet was important to our culture and to the longevity of Lethal Weapon, Mel Gibson, and maybe the eighties?

Let us never forget the power it had on 1980’s cinema and the stars that had graced our screens.

Long live the mullet!

Want more mullet drama? Come back at 9:00 to read about the epic battle between man and his hair, told in poetry.

The Pros and Cons of Riding a Hoverboard

October 22, 2015

“Back to the Future” Day Week continues with an essay about the one thing we were all looking forward to having in 2015, but never got, thanks to ambitious predictions matched with poor sensibilities that led to our shattered hopes and unshattered bones.

Marty McFly was an expert skateboarder in his day. He could “skitch” (skate-hitch) like the best of them. But the one thing that kept him grounded in 1985 was the set of wheels under his board. By the time he got to 2015, he was stuck with these crazy pink magnetic boards that hovered off the ground. They still rode the same, at least for him, but they posed new thrills and dangers for him.

Robert Zemeckis, the director of Back to the Future, says in an old video that hoverboards “have been around for years, but…” and then talks about parent groups, toy companies, and stuff you can hear about in the Honest Trailer for Back to the Future, which was just released yesterday. Apparently, they haven’t “been around for years,” and perhaps haven’t actually been around at all, but it might be interesting to speculate what the world could be like if we did have hoverboards. So, here are the pros and cons of moving around on your own hoverboard.

Pros:

  • You can be cooler than those losers who ride around on “wheels.”
  • Hoverboards are flatter, and thus easier to stuff in a locker or backpack than a traditional skateboard.
  • They still function well as a food tray.
  • If you need to repel a magnet, just aim your hoverboard’s underside at it.
  • Futuristic designs look more relevant on a hoverboard than a traditional skateboard.
  • You can “skitch” easier on the back of flying car.*
  • You can hop curbs a bit easier.

Cons:

  • A lack of friction equals more spectacular wipeouts (technically a pro for “Epic Fail” videos on Youtube).
  • Hoverboards use magnets in place of wheels and probably don’t work on most surfaces.
  • They’re made of thicker plastic, and are less reliable for using as a crowbar than the skinnier skateboards of the 1980s.
  • If you run into a wall, they can break free from your feet and never return (see “friction” con).
  • It’s still impossible to take a date out on a hoverboard.
  • Your dog will probably prove to be a better skater than you if you put him on and send him off.
  • Having a hoverboard means we can no longer say, “It’s 2015! Where’s my hoverboard?” which is just as important to pop culture as the hoverboard itself.

And there you have it. Can you think of any pros and cons to having your own hoverboard? If so, list them in the comments. Would be fun to develop an epic list for something we may never get.

Come back tomorrow. We’ll be discussing mullets.

*We still need flying cars.

Don’t You Forget About Me

October 22, 2015

Even though “Back to the Future” Day was yesterday, the celebration continues with a look back at my favorite movie of all time.

In the year 1985, the same year that Marty McFly first adventured with the DeLorean into another time, a movie was released that would change the landscape for take-charge teenagers forever. Well, two movies, if you count Back to the Future. That first movie, The Breakfast Club, changed my life.

But that’s vague, so let’s paint a backstory here.

In February 1985, the month that The Breakfast Club was released, I was still just a kid, not even in the double-digits yet. High school was still many years away. And, most importantly, it was an R-rated movie, and my parents were too responsible to let me, their young child, see something with such language at the time of its release. So, I didn’t see it in 1985. Or, really, any time particularly close to 1985.

In kid’s terms, “particularly close” might mean a few weeks, or at the most, a few months. In kid’s terms, two years is a lifetime, and I’m pretty sure it had taken me a lifetime to finally get the opportunity to see it. But sure enough, sometime in the mid-late ’80s, a local independent station, which later became a FOX affiliate, started airing the edited-for-television version (Bender’s spirited curse becomes a spirited support for a university when “F**k you!” becomes “Fam U!” for example), and now, finally, I got a chance to see it.

I was blown away. And I don’t know why, exactly. As a nine- or ten-year-old, I had no reason to find power in the story of five teenagers who were way older than me and went through things I was still years off from experiencing myself. But I did. Maybe I was moved with anticipation. Maybe I thought all high schools were like Shermer High, and maybe I thought all teenagers were like the archetypes presented in the movie. Realistically, I was grabbed hard by the throat by the awesome soundtrack–I mean, that opening on black title cards and a montage of static empty high school scenes, so simple yet so thematic. But at my core, I think I was moved more by the dynamics of these people, the friction between styles, ideologies, and backgrounds, even with the one common thing they all share is universal: our parents help shape who we are. For a ten-year-old, that’s quite a lesson to learn.

On the one hand, I think it did probably have some bearing into helping me understand the person I’ve become, based on the instruction my parents had offered me. Both had vastly different levels of style, personality, and responsibility when it came to raising me. Mom was always very economical, responsible, intent to raise me to respect others, follow the rules, and so on. Dad was basically carefree and pretty blasé about most things, and more or less the dead opposite of my mom. In some sense, they were like a two-person Breakfast Club, two completely different archetypes trying to reach the same goal: not to accidentally wreck my life or kill me. I’m still alive and functional, so…I guess they succeeded.

But that’s not all I got out of the movie.

The characters in The Breakfast Club have a three-dimensional arc we can all learn from, even though the substance in their arcs may seem shallow at times–Ally Sheedy’s character, for example, grows from being a weirdo to being a pretty weirdo. But they still exhibit change in the nine hours they’re forced to sit together in a high school library. For most of us, change takes longer, but the fact that we can change is well-documented in this brilliant John Hughes movie.

And speaking of John Hughes, this is the movie that made me a fan of his work.

I’ve probably seen this movie 40 times or more by now. I don’t recall if I had done this on my first viewing, but at some point I had recorded a VHS copy of the edited-for-television version, watched it at least ten times in the three or four years following, bought the soundtrack on cassette, noticed a theme I hadn’t heard in the movie, rented the real movie (on VHS) when I was finally a teenager, was surprised to see that the edited-for-television version had cut a few scenes (including the joint sequence, which featured the theme in the soundtrack I hadn’t heard in the movie previously), eventually bought it on VHS when I was old enough to carry a job, bought it on DVD years after that (as part of a triple pack with Sixteen Candles and Fast Times at Ridgemont High), and I even had the opportunity to see it in theaters last year when Cinemark put The Breakfast Club in its Classics Series lineup for that season. And let me tell you, it’s amazing what we miss on the small screen that’s so much more defined on the big screen. I feel like seeing it in the theater brought me full circle. And even if I never watch it again, I feel as though I’ve definitely gotten my money’s worth, and life’s worth, out of it.

I could keep going, but that’s the point. There’s so much to get out of this 97-minute movie that its impossible to cover it all in a single blog and still keep it short. So, rather than dive into character studies, cinematic tricks, relevant themes, and so on, I’d rather open this topic up for discussion.

Have you seen The Breakfast Club? What was your favorite part? I still get a kick out of Allison throwing the salami slice at the statue and watching it stick to the amorphous head. Just funny stuff.

Thanks for joining me on this nostalgia trip. Come back in an hour for my essay about hoverboards.

Celebrating Back to the Future Day

October 21, 2015

So, we finally caught up to Marty McFly’s fictional future. Hurray! That means we get to complain about all of the cool things we were promised but never given. It also means that, tomorrow, we will be officially hurtling into the unknown true future, a place of possibility but great uncertainty, a place where technology could overrun humanity or humanity could overrun technology, a place where Marty McFly is no longer our compass but a passenger on the DeLorean ride to the…future, but a place that might, just might, have hoverboards and self-lacing Nikes. Just might.

That’s all assuming Marty McFly doesn’t hang around until the following day–it’s been so long since I’ve seen Back to the Future, Part 2.

At any rate, I wanted to join the bandwagon of celebrating our merging of real life with movie fiction by calling up some pop culture history this week. So, over the course of the next few days, I want to present new reviews, essays, and other fun things to loosely tie into Back to the Future Day and all that it implies.

Come back tonight, starting at 8pm EST, for the official launch of Drinking Cafe Latte at 1pm‘s Back to the Future Day celebration. I’m not offering anything revolutionary here, but I am offering some fun blasts from the past. So, check back often this week, as I’m planning to post something new and loosely relevant each night, and in some cases, like tonight, multiple relevant things.

Here’s the tentative calendar:

Tonight at 8pm: A Goodreads review of my favorite book of all time.

Tonight at 9pm: A Goodreads review of my second favorite book of all time.

Tomorrow at 8pm: A review of my favorite movie of all time (from the year of the first Back to the Future).

Tomorrow at 9pm: An essay about hoverboards.

Friday at 8pm: A celebration of the 80’s best and most infamous hairstyle.

Friday at 9pm: A continuation of the infamous hair celebration, in the form of my infamous poetry.

Saturday and/or Sunday (time uncertain): TBA. Check back here for an update.

Hope you come back to see what’s cookin’.

Sunstreaker

March 15, 2014:

When he was alive, my dad had ADD and a nasty habit of flaking out on his family. He was the kind of guy who could get in his van, head to the store to buy a package of steak for dinner, and decide halfway there to hit the highway because suddenly he would rather drive to Georgia than buy his steak or head back home. Five days later, he would come home with no real explanation for his temporary disappearance or regard to the appointments he’d missed with his family or accountability to the promises he’d broken in order to satisfy his bout of distraction. He would just come home (with the package of steak he’d gone out for in the first place), hit the grill or go to bed depending on the time of night he’d walk in, or sit down in front of the television as if no time had passed. Of course, four days earlier I might’ve been eager to tell him about something he’d think was awesome, but whatever it was, it had since lost its relevance, or I’d forget about it, and that was that.

His was a self-control issue. I could go into a discussion about his battles with various substances, including alcohol, to make my point, but I think the story tells itself better when one considers how he broke his promise to me (and two of my friends) to take me (and my friends) to a water park down in Dania, Florida, called Six Flags Atlantis. I was just a kid. I hadn’t previously been to this water park, but I had heard so many awesome things about it that I couldn’t wait to finally go for the first time. Dad had promised to take my friends and I to the park that day, but only after we visited the nearby comic book convention first. My friends and I were cool with that because there were things we could browse, and checking out comics before racing down twisting waterslides was not a bad way to spend the day. But time was ticking away, and we were quickly losing hours, and I was beginning to worry that we wouldn’t have enough time to enjoy the park once we got there. Dad assured me we would have time, not to worry. Then he went looking for more comics to buy. I remained worried. I continued to paw at comics to pass the time, but desperately wanted out so I could get on with having his promise to take us to the water park fulfilled.

Eventually the moment came that we were finally ready to leave, with time to spare. I was relieved. I wish my relief had endured.

“We’re gonna have to cancel Six Flags,” he told us. “I ran out of money. We’re heading home.”

Broken-hearted, I said okay. I hated the turn of events in that moment (and temporarily hated comics and all that they had stood for), but I couldn’t do anything about it. I was a young kid: I had no job, no income, and a dollar-a-week allowance. I was somewhere between the ages of eight and ten. I couldn’t afford the trip to the water park myself. My dad had broken his promise to me (and my two friends), and his folly would be repeated many times in other forms throughout the remaining eleven years of his life, up to and including pawning or selling the stuff I had worked hard for or had been gifted with at Christmases or birthdays to support his addictions.

That was my earthly father at his worst. That was my working model of faith.

“Now suppose one of you fathers is asked by his son for a fish; he will not give him a snake instead of a fish, will he? Or if he is asked for an egg, he will not give him a scorpion, will he?”
-Luke 11:11-12 NAS

Because my dad was so good at putting himself first in pretty much any decision he had faced, I was generally surprised when he did something sacrificial or just plain thoughtful. Often I had asked him to give me something specific (a bite of his dinner, a drink from his soda, a toy from the store); sometimes he would give, sometimes not. During big gift seasons (Christmases and birthdays) I would ask for a toy or a video game. When I was a kid, toys and video games were all I really cared about. Usually I had to save the big-ticket requests for my grandmother (his mom) and my Aunt Jeannine since they were the ones who could afford it. I rarely got what I had asked for out of him, unless it was something simple or inconsequential. Sure, occasionally he would bring home a new television or stereo to celebrate the big landscaping job he had taken, replacing the one he had sold or pawned months earlier to support his addictions. But that was for the family, something I could use, something all of us, including him, could use. It was less common to see him come home with anything just for me.

Less common, but not unheard of.

When I was eight, I was eager to check out Six Flags Atlantis for the first time. He failed that one. But I also had another prime interest: Transformers.

Shawn, my neighbor and friend, was out in his front yard playing with this new advanced Go-Bot thing, a toy Porsche that could transform into a toy robot, and I was a bit jealous. The thing was like a Go-Bot, but bigger, badder, and had more moveable parts. As a car, it rolled around on surfaces smoothly, doing everything that a Hot Wheels toy could do. As a robot, it had less mobility, and was really made for modeling, but it was awesome. It had wings, die-cast metal parts, and guns and rockets. He called it “Jazz.” I called it the greatest toy I had ever seen. I had suddenly wanted my own Transformer.

On Christmas that year, someone had informed my grandmother (dad’s mom) of my interest in this toy. Naturally, I was excited from anticipation. But my excitement became weary as the family gift giving that morning had become exhausted, and the extended family gift giving at Grandma’s house was burning through quickly. I had gone through my entire stash of gifts that day, disappointed at one piece of clothing or toy of marginal interest after another. Sure, I was appreciative of the things I was opening. At some point I think I might have even opened an Atari game, which was my other childhood obsession (Nintendo still had another year to make its debut, and it would be another three years before I’d get one of those, using my own money to buy it), but these things weren’t really what my heart had desired. I just wanted a Transformer, and none of the wrapped packages I had left to open resembled the little rectangular box that Transformers were contained in. The only thing that had given me any hope was the command to hold off on opening the big package in the corner of the living room until the end. I was skeptical. Maybe whatever was in there was cool, but it was far too big to be a Transformer. Whatever it was, it didn’t do its job to maintain my hope.

The night was coming to an end. I had finally reached the big one. The shape of the package inside was curious: bulky, hollow, bulky, hollow, bulky. I couldn’t make sense of it. Why did they insist I save this one for last? It couldn’t have been the thing I had asked for. Did they somehow think I would like this mysterious thing better? I had my doubts. But I wasn’t about to let in on them. I had to put on my happy face, if for no other reason but to please my family, the people who thought I would like whatever this thing was. I opened it. My childish heart fluttered. I was right. It wasn’t a Transformer.

It was three Transformers.

All of their boxes were taped together, hence the size of the package. I couldn’t believe it. I was now the proud owner of “Hound,” “Wheeljack,” and “Trailbreaker.” Greatest gift of my eighth year on this planet, courtesy of my grandmother and, I think, my uncle, and maybe one other person. I’m pretty sure it was my dad’s idea to conceal them all in the same wrapping. Whenever he was involved with a surprise, he was good at getting it right.

Inside each box came an official series catalogue. In the 1984-1985 toy season, there was only one series available. This series came with the legendary robots “Optimus Prime,” “Megatron,” “Bumblebee,” “Starscream,” “Jazz,” “Ironhide,” “Ratchet,” “Soundwave,” and a host of lesser-known but equally important characters that any Transformers fan would remember. There was a total of 18 “Autobots” and 11 “Decepticons” available to collect. (Yeah, I may have a sucky memory today, but I rarely forget my obsessions, and I was so obsessed back then that I had studied every inch of that catalogue, and even now I can see the matted action scene on the back side of the folded glossy featuring all of the characters engaged in a space battle). I was so intrigued by the possibility of seeing all of these Series One robots in person, even though I knew I would never have the opportunity to own them all, that every time I went with my mom to the grocery store, the mall, or the toy store (we had a Toys-R-Us back then, but we usually shopped at Lionel Playworld), I would look for the aisle that had the Transformers on display and dream about maybe taking one home, even though I knew that wasn’t gonna happen. And every time I checked that aisle, I would take a mental note of the robots I’d find. “Jazz” was common. “Hound” was a little rarer. Sometimes I’d dare ask for one, but the answer was always no, even when the toys I’d asked for retailed for about $10. I fished for my requests a lot. And I’d keep looking. Kept seeing the common ones. Kept looking for the lesser-knowns.

The presence of “Optimus Prime” or “Megatron” was hit or miss, but at $25 each, I knew asking for either was fruitless and expecting either was lunacy. I asked for them anyway, and I asked for them a lot. No Transformers collection was complete without having at least one faction leader on hand. But I knew how little my family had to give to my toy box, and my mom was strict with the finances, so my expectations were loose.

I’m sure my dad also knew that. But I’m also sure that he took delight in hitting me with surprises when I least expected them, especially when I stopped expecting them. Whenever he tried to surprise me, he would get creative about it. Whenever he had a surprise to offer, I had learned to stop expecting the expected. One of the biggest surprises I had gotten as a nine-year-old was him telling me to go look in the cabin of his truck for something he had gotten for me at the store. I had no idea what to expect. I went out to the truck (he followed behind to watch my reaction), opened the door, let the dome light fill the cabin (it was nighttime), and saw this larger-than-life box sitting on the passenger seat. “Optimus Prime” had come home.

If I were to take stock of all the times I had been surprised as a kid, and given how much I loved my small, albeit important, Transformers collection, it would make sense that finding the leader of the Autobots sitting on my dad’s passenger seat would be pretty top. After all, we’re talking about my childhood cartoon hero. Shoot, I’m in my thirties, and I still get goose bumps whenever Optimus Prime appears in the live action movies and starts ripping Decepticons apart. Naturally, when Optimus Prime became part of my toy collection, I was beside myself with happiness. It didn’t matter that, as a toy, he was pretty uncomplicated and offered no challenge to my skills of mechanical manipulation. My dad had surprised me with something I had spent months asking for, and it was bliss knowing that my request had been answered. Whatever selfish thing he might have rather spent his money on, he decided that that night, he would ignore it and give his kid a good gift. But, this wasn’t the top gift of my Transformers-obsessed childhood, contrary to popular belief. No, when I was nine, dad did something that went beyond my comprehension. Even now, as an adult, I’m stunned by it.

As I said, one of the ways I had satisfied my obsessions was to travel the toy aisles in search for elusive robots. But, like all things that pique my curiosities, the same old same old got lame fast, and seeing the likes of “Ironhide” or “Prowl” everywhere, all the time, got tiring, even to me. The kids would bring their Ironhides and Prowls to school. One kid had even brought in his Megatron (a toy gun, which, by the way, the schools had no concern over back then, because, you know, they were toys and the adults knew they were harmless), and we fans would beg him for the opportunity to “transform” him. But the opportunities to see Prowl in action, or any others that had commonly surfaced, didn’t do much to quench my desire to see the rare ones in action. I wanted new; I wanted different. Yet, I never really spoke of those names that I could never find.

Enter “Sunstreaker.”

In the animated series, Sunstreaker was a virtual no-show. He had, to my memory, one episode with his brother, “Sideswipe,” a much more common character—one of the most common, if I recall—and at least one appearance in the animated movie from 1986. But he was one of the coolest in the lineup because he was a Lamborghini, and not just any Lamborghini; he was a yellow Lamborghini—classy, slick, and uncatchable. As if it should be no surprise, he was one of the fastest movers in the Autobot clan. Only his brother Sideswipe, a red Lamborghini, could hold a candle to him. But he was also one of the sleekest in robot form. Just an interesting character all around. Even cooler than the bulky twin that had a completely different robot mode.

As a toy, he was the most elusive character from Series One. In the catalogue, I took notice of him quickly because he was the one character I could never, ever find. I didn’t know of anyone who had him in his collection. No store I explored had him on the shelf. And there was no Amazon.com circa 1985. Sunstreaker was, in a word, impossible to own. I had never even spoken of him to my parents because the thought of seeing him in the store was hopeless, and the thought of adding him to the collection was ludicrous. Sunstreaker was the character that would live on in that unattainable part of my heart, the same place where the hope of starting my own family seems to live on today, never to rise into that place of hope or expectation. It just simply wasn’t meant to be.

So, you can imagine my surprise when I woke up on a Sunday morning, sleep still in my eyes, and looked over to the corner of my bedroom to notice something highly unusual about my dresser. There was a sealed box sitting on top. A Transformers box. A Transformers box with a yellow Lamborghini encased in the plastic seal and a cartoon image of Sunstreaker posing beside the window.

I was speechless. Speechless before erupting with thanks. Actionless before giving my dad a big hug. I hadn’t remembered ever saying anything about wanting to find, much less own, this toy, but it didn’t stop him from understanding that this was the one at the top of my request list, and I would remain restless until the day I saw it with my own eyes. I never dreamed I would actually hold Sunstreaker in my hands or claim that he was part of my toy collection. Dad had taken the silent thing that I never spoke of but still wanted so badly (to see Sunstreaker in person) and did one better. And this was the same man who, in spite of his faults, failures, and broken promises throughout the years, had somehow stashed eight Go-bots on his body when I was sick in bed and every couple of minutes would reveal one, telling me, “Perhaps what you need is another Go-bot.”

“If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him?”
-Luke 11:13 NAS

My dad passed away in late December 1995, and any gift he had ever wanted to give prior to that day but didn’t, he would no longer have the opportunity to give. Outstanding debts were stuck in limbo. Empty promises would remain empty. On that late December evening, the job of being a father to me went exclusively to God, my heavenly Father. And given the kind of unpredictable earthly father I had, I had gone into this transition with numerous faith issues. I had spent years praying for my dad to overcome his addictions. It had taken his death for him to finally let go of them. Maybe that was a matter of free will, and maybe he was so stuck on what he wanted that he didn’t want to let go of what was clearly ruining his family dynamic. But I still asked for it. I still wanted a dad that didn’t flake out at any given moment, or rob his son of hard-earned possessions to pay for the vices that kept him enslaved (we can critique my childhood toy vice another time). I just wanted a dad who did his part to be a father. Consistently. Not just when he felt like it. Something pretty much all of us want and few of us ever get. I never did get that. God is, was, and will ever be the only one who can be that kind of father, and, let’s be honest, it’s hard to cry out to a dad that I can’t even see, or ask of things when it’s so easy to misread or mishear His answers. Watching my earthly father fall apart after enduring years of broken promises left me with a shaky faith. Having my own personal problems that I couldn’t control, that had little to do with another person’s free will, and waiting forever for the prayers I’d prayed regarding them to receive an answer, had left me with anxiety and shaky hope. Patience had always been required of me, but enduring it has never been an easy practice. Even today I struggle because, as I’ve mentioned in another recent journal, I’ve prayed tirelessly for the last twenty years for the opportunity to meet a good woman and start a family and to take on an income that would make doing so possible—my prayer obsession today and rival to any amount of heart I had devoted to my Transformers collection of yesteryear—and yet everything that looks like an opportunity is in fact a misread. I feel like my hands have gone bloody from all the asking, seeking, and knocking I’ve been doing. It has become more than an Optimus Prime moment for me. It has been my Sunstreaker. Sometimes the waiting for it leaves me in pieces. It’s not just a deep-seated hope that constantly eludes me; it’s the thing that keeps my faith on edge. It’s the thing that, in spite of those messages of hope I sometimes receive, whether through the words of a stranger or the acts that God performs through His sovereign hand, I still wait for, and trust Him for, and even respond with hope when the opportunity seems to arise, and it leaves me discouraged when that hope is shattered by someone else’s free will taking it all away, giving me no opportunity to fight for it, or punishing me with abandonment when I decide to fight for it anyway. When those messages of hope arise, it feels like thievery and broken promises when circumstances call for their destruction. I need that reminder of the time when my dad surprised me to keep those moments from hollowing me out inside.

“And [Jesus] said to them, ‘Suppose one of you shall have a friend, and shall go to him at midnight, and say to him, “Friend, lend me three loaves; for a friend of mine has come to me from a journey, and I have nothing to set before him”; and from inside he shall answer and say, “Do not bother me; the door has already been shut and my children and I are in bed; I cannot get up and give you anything.” I tell you, even though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, yet because of his persistence he will get up and give him as much as he needs. And I say to you, ask, and it shall be given to you; seek, and you shall find; knock, and it shall be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives; and he who seeks, finds; and to him who knocks, it shall be opened.’”
-Luke 11:5-10 NAS

My dad can’t surprise me anymore, but God sure can. Many friends and family now know about my infamous “dolphin prayer” that I had prayed in late spring/early summer of 2012. As I often did and still do, I was struggling with my trust issues and how they related to prayer, and wanted to reach that state in my spirit that I could finally let go of my fears, insecurities, and senses of hopelessness, and trust God for anything and everything. I wanted to believe that “ask, seek, knock” is a real thing. So, after taking a friend’s advice to start a prayer journal, I had come up with a series of insignificant things to ask God for, things like a free dinner and an invitation to a pool party, just to see if my prayers were heard and if they had even mattered. I called it the “prayer block.” Among the things on that list included a free dinner, a free computer monitor (I couldn’t afford a store-bought one), a free car stereo (my current one had a broken CD player, and I was forgoing much needed trips out of town because I get tired without music, and I couldn’t afford to replace that either), $100 in the mail (just because why not?), all of which had since been answered within a few months (the $100 in the mail was my insurance check to replace the car stereo that was stolen from me later that year when my car itself had been stolen and its steering column damaged, and even though that $100 paid for a new car stereo with working CD player, I had never claimed that the $100 should be mine to spend on whatever I wanted or that someone else had to physically hand me the already-paid-for stereo, so I considered that two prayers answered in one). But the most insignificant member of my prayer list, one that was so easy to check as answered, the desire to see a whale or a dolphin in the wild (really, God could just tap the underside of a dolphin at that one moment I happened to be looking at the ocean, and send it just high enough above the surface of the water that I could see it, and I can call it “fulfilled”), ended up becoming that summer’s obsession, because God would not answer me, no matter how often I asked, no matter how often I sought, not matter how often I knocked, and it was driving me crazy because it was so simple—way simpler than asking Him to provide a path to that one woman that He knows would take me seriously as a love interest, and certainly way simpler than leading my dad to the right store at the right time with the right amount of money in his pocket to bring home the ever-elusive Sunstreaker.

I went to the beach three or four times a week. I’d walk the shoreline two miles north and two miles back, getting exercise and giving God plenty of opportunities to provide the answer to this prayer. For two and a half months I would persist in my prayer. “Just let me see the freakin’ dolphin,” I’d cry out. Of course, God knew what I was really asking: “Answer my freakin’ eighteen-year-old prayer.” He wouldn’t do it. He wouldn’t let me see that dang dolphin, in spite of me looking at the ocean, the place where dolphins live, giving Him many opportunities to show me. I had started this prayer in early June. By late August, I had given up asking. It was pointless. Stupid. It was obvious God would not be manipulated by my prayer block. It was obvious that He would answer only the prayers that He wanted to, and my reasons for wanting to see this dolphin weren’t in accordance to His plan, or something philosophical like that.

Or, maybe, just maybe, it had nothing to do with any of that. Maybe he was just preparing to pull a Sunstreaker on me.

That summer was the summer that I had begun getting my walking exercise at the beach. My routine was and is that I’d park on the other side of the Intercoastal for additional exercise and to save on parking fees. On a Thursday in late September, more than a month after I had stopped asking God to answer my dolphin prayer, I was walking across the bridge to head for the beach when I spotted a dinosaur perched on the seawall. It was actually an iguana, but the thing was at least two feet long and probably weighed about thirty pounds. I was tempted to take a photo of it, but because I was planning to walk the shoreline, and the turbulent ocean loves to get my pockets wet, I decided to leave my phone in the car. So I kept walking, crossed A1A, entered the beach parking lot, headed for the sand, and started my journey northward. Seeing the iguana was cool, but it was nothing I had asked for, and I didn’t give it anymore thought once I’d reached the shore.

I had completed my roundtrip walk without having any prayers answered. I wasn’t surprised. Wasn’t even thinking about it anymore. I left the shore, left the sand, headed across the parking lot and across A1A, and started walking toward the bridge. As I neared the base, a man from Pennsylvania was riding his bike toward me, mentally preoccupied with two things: the 24-pack of beer under his arm and the creature that was swimming around in the dead waters of the Intercoastal. When he pointed at the swirling wake in the water, I had said, “Oh, that iguana must’ve jumped in.” I was disappointed because I was on my way back to my car to get my phone so I could get a picture of the thing. And now it had jumped in. Needless to say, the northerner was fascinated by the prospect of seeing a two-foot lizard swimming around in the Intercoastal. Yet, he was also skeptical. “What iguana?” I told him I had seen an iguana sunning itself on the wall. Then I pointed at the location where I had seen it. Then I was surprised. The iguana was still there, right where I had left it an hour earlier. Then what was that thing swimming in the water?

Everyone, including me, thought it was a shark. It was a dark creature that swam high enough to show its round-tipped dorsal fin but not one that would surface Jaws-style to devour lizards, fisherman, or anything that someone might’ve thrown in. It was just a roving shark, seeking whatever God commanded it to seek. I thought, “Well, it’s not really what I had asked for, but it’s something.” My spirit was giving me another signal: “Everything you’ve been told is true. This is how I’ll answer your big prayer: in the place and time that you least expect it.” I didn’t know how to turn my heart and brain off enough to “least expect it” because when I pray for anything specific, especially for the deepest desires of my heart, I prepare for the possibility every time I walk out my front door, even if my faith for it is shaky. But the message was nonetheless clear to me. I hadn’t seen the dolphin, but I did see something close enough to what I had asked for that the point was made. I went to my car, grabbed my phone, got to the lizard a minute too late to get a decent photo, went back to my car, and left the park. Later, I told my mom about the shark I had seen in the Intercoastal. She looked at me with confusion, clearly knowing something about the waterway that I didn’t. “There are no sharks down by the bridge,” she told me. “What you saw was a dolphin.”

I don’t know if the dolphin became my present-day Sunstreaker, or just a present-day Optimus Prime, but seeing it reminded me of something real, true, and maybe profound. It had certainly refueled my faith. It had reminded me that God hears me. It had reminded me that He’ll even answer me—in His timing and in His way. Yeah, I could’ve just gone to Sea World or the Miami Seaquarium to check this one off my list. Sometimes faith requires action, and sometimes we answer our own prayers, or, as some people have made popular, “make our own luck.” But I’m convinced that action can be anything, and letting God answer prayer His way and through His wisdom is far more satisfying to me, and sometimes less costly, sometimes, than doing it myself. After all, I’m an idiot. I thought seeing dolphins from the beach or a boat was the only way to see them. Nope, God knows better how to reach me and how best to answer my prayers and how, incidentally, to best surprise me.

“I’ll answer your big prayer in the time and place that you least expect it.” Kind of like waking up on a Sunday morning to see Sunstreaker sitting on my dresser, in spite of me never telling my dad I wanted it, but God knowing that my heart desired it more than anything else in childhood. It didn’t matter that Sunstreaker was one of the clunkiestly-designed Transformers from the original series or that he was the hardest one to use given how badly the toy company designed his arms. What mattered was that I had needed my heart fulfilled, and God used an incompetent dad and poorly-designed toy to remind me that faith is not a temporary thing, that all prayers are heard even if we don’t like the answers or solutions, and that we shouldn’t let circumstances convince us that what we hope for is impossible. Because I couldn’t make a dolphin pop up out of the ocean or feel satisfied that God had answered my prayer in His special way if I had to look for it at an aquatic preserve, and because I couldn’t do anything on my own to see, much less own, Sunstreaker, I know that sometimes I’m at God’s mercy. Yet, it’s at His mercy that our prayers seem to have the biggest impacts.

“Ask, and it shall be given to you; seek, and you shall find; knock, and the door shall be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it shall be opened. Or what man is there among you, when his son shall ask him for a loaf, will give him a stone? Or if he shall ask for a fish, he will not give him a snake, will he? If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more shall your Father who is in heaven give what is good to those who ask Him! Therefore, however you want people to treat you, so treat them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.”
-Matthew 7:7-12 NAS

I may still struggle with asking God for the desires of my heart. Those feelings of robbery and broken promises surface every time I respond to an opportunity in faith, especially those that come to me in a time and place I least expect, and the person that could be the instrument to fulfill that hope and that prayer has other plans in mind. Even with God’s sovereignty, free will takes all bets off the table. Dad didn’t have to bring home Optimus Prime or Sunstreaker. Likewise, he didn’t have to blow all of his money at the comic book convention when his kid and his kid’s friends trusted him to take them to Six Flags Atlantis. But sometimes he did his part and listened and responded. Eventually I made it to the water park, as did my friends. It was a year later, and my mom had to take me, but I got there. One day I’ll get my own family started. Eventually, someone will discover the desire stirring in her heart and respond favorably. I know that discovery will happen by divine appointment. God, like my earthly father, has a habit of surprising me when I least expect it.

It has become my core understanding. And it all started with a yellow Lamborghini that could transform into a robot.

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