Vincent Safuto’s Weblog

Notes and observations

Building your future, one step at a time

I recently read two articles that really inspired me, and the odd thing was that one of them was about a group that ordinarily I’d have a hard time feeling any sympathy for.

In The Daily Beast, a young Hasidic man (link: http://thebea.st/2hFsiwT) described how he decided that despite his community’s strictures, he needed to learn English and get an education. It might seem odd that someone born and raised in the U.S. would not speak English, but in his closed society in Rockland County, N.Y., such efforts were not allowed and could even make him unmatchable in marriage.

In a deal that went down late at night, he bought a small transistor radio and learned English, then got himself admitted to public school. Despite being totally unfamiliar with American culture, he managed to learn his way around and pursue his dreams of getting an education and a good job. There’s an amazing twist to the story, and I won’t give it away. Read it for yourself, and be inspired.

The other story, in the New Yorker magazine (link: http://bit.ly/2gKu2aF), is about men trying to build a better future for themselves after serving time in prison for crimes, many of them bad crimes, in California’s state prison system. Carl Sagan once said that it’s amazing how brilliance can sprout in even the most unlikely places. The men in the story discover books, start reading and become determined to better themselves. Sure, there are a lot of idealists out there who want to help them, but these men are so determined to get ahead and live life the right way that they forge ahead through the many disadvantages placed in their path. There’s still a ways to go for many of them, but they’re getting there.

When I worked in the post office, I remember that one time a woman came up to me and said that she wanted to go to college, as I was. This was in the early 1990s. I had long since given up hope for advancement in the post office, and was focusing on my next career. Her main worry, she said, was that having a college degree might hurt her chances of advancement in the post office.

This was not an idle worry. The Postal Service was and is notorious for limiting the advancement options of people with college degrees. Look, a place that would promote an elementary school dropout is not one that’s going to respect a diploma. Many postal managers were high school dropouts with GEDs who were very proud of their lack of education, which they saw as a sign of wasted time. Even other workers were negative toward my goals.

But I had set my sights higher and was determined to make something of myself. In the meantime, I tried to make change real in the post office, but my low position meant that my ideas never were taken seriously.

Oddly, I was aligned with the views of the postmaster general at the time, but local postal management told me his views had no relevance to the Postal Service. These were the same folks who thought the internet was a passing fad.

I quit the post office in 1994 and began making my way in a new field. I still watch as the post office tries to change and adapt, and cannot because of its leadership. Preventing the smart people from advancing was a good way to protect postal management, but the system is paying the price.

Individuals, though, have to forget this whole notion of blind loyalty to collective groups and forge their own path. It’s not easy, as the young Hasidic man finds out, and the cost can be your ability to ever connect with a woman, but it has to be done.

No one ever regrets going to college, no matter their age. If you’re thinking of doing it, do it! You’ll be glad you did.

December 14, 2016 Posted by | Life lessons | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Beware of those who downgrade a college education

A recent letter to the editor of the newspaper that employs me noted that, among the very many failures of our “socialist” education system, there is the idea that every student should go to college.

Whenever there is a shortage of a particular kind of blue-collar worker, one of the first institutions to be blamed is education because of the belief that teachers are inculcating children with the idea that factory labor is bad, and office work is good. When you consider how much American manufacturing has gone overseas, some might think it’s a good idea to direct students to education for career fields that have nothing to do with the factory floor, but there are many who are nostalgic for the old days when America was a manufacturing behemoth and believe that if we just had enough available workers we’d have factories humming again.

What most people who advocate these views fail to realize is that there is something in our nation called personal choice. Many, many students want to attend college for the very reason that they want to be employed in fields that will provide work, pay and benefits. Training youths for jobs that no longer exist may make people feel good about their own past careers, but it won’t put food on the table.

Many people say college doesn’t teach any practical skills. Well, I say that you have to start somewhere, and the skills that college teaches go beyond just the bare minimum. For me, for example, completing my degree opened so many doors that I could see why so many people I knew were opposed to me pursuing college.

Need vs. want
According to many people whose bad advice I fortunately ignored. I didn’t “need” to go to college. I had a job at the post office, and could spend the rest of my work life there, make a good, blue-collar wage doing work that was dull, repetitive and seemingly guaranteed to last forever.

But I was dying of boredom. There had to be more out there than what I was seeing, and the vehemence of the denials I encountered were, oddly, convincing me that I was being lied to by a lot of people. Some people – and I’m not naming names here, but you know who you are – deliberately gave me bad advice.

I’m glad that I learned the most important lesson you can learn when managing your life: Some people want you to not achieve because of their own lack of achievement. And they will advise you into the worst decisions of your life.

I dipped my toe into the water of college in the summer of 1988, against the advice of some who I realized had nothing to say to me.

Many of these people had never tried to do anything or take a risk. I looked like a whacko at the time. Look, at the postal facility I worked at, I was one of only two blue-collar workers actually pursuing a college degree. My thinking was that the organization had told me multiple times that I would never advance within it, so I would have to take the bull by the horns and take charge of my own career and my own development.

I did that, though many people told me that my pursuit of a college degree was more of a “want” than a “need.”

It wasn’t easy. It took me nearly six years to get a four-year degree. And I did some college beyond my degree.

But I want to point out that the college degree I worked so hard to attain began to pay off soon after I walked across that stage.

Take that job and leave it
I had decided that at some point after my graduation from Florida Atlantic University, I’d have to make a serious move. The post office was a sea anchor that was dragging me down and keeping me from achieving. I was job-hunting without much success and I realized that my current employment was preventing me from really chasing hard for a new job.

I had passed up opportunities before based on bad advice but now I needed to put myself into a situation where I had to find a job, so I decided that I needed to make a clean break.

I decided to quit the post office outright, then make a job search my full-time job.

Was it risky? Yes. Was it crazy? A little, maybe. Did it work? Damn right it did.

Soon after quitting the post office in June 1994, I landed a job at an Internet service provider. It wasn’t much, but it was a start. Soon, I also had a part-time job at a newspaper. Then a full-time job at a newspaper. And the rest is history.

There have been bumps along the way, I’ll confess.

But I have never regretted that decision in 1994 to quit my brainless job and basically roll the dice on something new.

College was the difference between me and failure. I have never forgotten that.

September 29, 2015 Posted by | Life lessons, Living in the modern age | , , | 1 Comment

Why I keep doing journalism

They keep laying me off, and I keep on coming back.

Maybe I’m nuts, or maybe I just love being a part of things, but I keep trying to rebuild a career in newspapers/websites. Maybe it’s the best job I can ever imagine having, the one I dreamed of having on those nights in the big postal facility, where I was just another number whose life didn’t matter to the top brass.

I’d dream of working somewhere in which my work actually had an effect. You don’t know what that’s like until you read a letter to the editor, and know a story you laid out and wrote a headline for inspired someone to write to the paper or to take some other action. If you are good enough to have a column, as I was, and could comment on things, you get such a kick when people wrote in about something you wrote, either in approval or in disapproval.

To me, it showed that they were paying attention and had read what I had written, and that’s what really mattered to me.

There have been such good days, when it all came together and the next day we on the news staff did a paper we could be proud of. Like the night Osama bin Laden was killed. Now, the death of nearly any other person is a tragedy, but the man who did so much to ruin the 2000s for so many people got his just deserts. And I was in the newsroom that night and helped make it real for the readers.

On the most terrible day I have ever lived through, I was working at a newspaper. Sept. 11, 2001. It was horrible watching the events unfold on TV, and then have to present them in the newspaper. I wanted to cry, I wanted to walk around and rage against it all. All those people, those planes, those children, those widows, those losses.

But while Americans may have lost those moments of unity, I was amazed at how our society pulled together. We didn’t overthrow the government; we didn’t descend into chaos. We went to work, and restored as best we could the society we lived in. At the newspaper, we kept the editions coming, day after day, amid our worries about friends, family and colleagues. We kept people informed. We were journalists. We are journalists.

And I am proud to be one of them.

Today, I labor as a freelancer. I am still learning about bridges and bayous and road construction and projects that were first started back when I was still working for the post office, but are now finally coming to fruition. During research for a story, I’ll go through county commission minutes from the 1990s and read sometimes about the subdivision I live in, which back then was little more than a land use request on the agenda, and which someone said would destroy the region. Today, lots of people live there, and it’s doing OK. And Florida is still here.

I was writing about a project to remove and replace a bridge recently, and found mention back in the early 1990s of the need to replace the bridge. Twenty years later, the work is finally about to start happening. The story appeared in the newspaper recently.

The thrill of the byline is still a bit fun for me. Seeing my name in print, and not before the words “wanted in bank robbery,” means that I’m someone. Maybe a small someone, but still a person who matters in his own small way.

Some years ago, a reporter was substitute teaching at a middle school, and told the kids that he worked for a newspaper. He was amazed. The kids thought that was so cool, he wrote. They wanted to know how it happened.

A couple of years ago, I was working for a startup news site and following some kids who were working on a project. A boy asked me, “Are you an interview guy?” Another asked, “Am I going to be on TV?” Kids today are so media-savvy, and I remember one little girl who was so eager to get her picture on the site, she was edging into every picture I took.

As for me, sometimes I’m amazed that I can apply for jobs at newspapers and get seriously considered. There was a time when people would tell me no one would even look at my resume. Today, I am usually a finalist; maybe someday I’ll get that wonderful call again: “How’d you like to join our team?”

They say journalists are the least-liked people out there. Every day, I go out and try to get the information. Some folks are friendly and open with me; a very, very few refuse to talk to me. I remember those who say, “Sure, what do you want to know?” They make the job easier.

Back when I was in the post office, people laughed at my ambitions and hopes for the future. My dream of doing something different, something that mattered, making a living at it and feeling fulfilled at the end of the day sounded like more “swing-room bravery,” like the people who’d whine and gripe about their supervisors, but bow and scrape when they were back at work.

When I saw my path, I stopped caring about my bosses. I remember that to build some experience, have some fun and beard the lion in his den I developed and published my own underground employee newsletter at the postal facility I worked at. Called “Samizdat,” It was a way to let off some steam, show off my skills and say the things I always wanted to say to the brass in the facility and in the larger Postal Service.

Samizdat publications were underground news outlets circulated in the old Soviet Union on mimeograph machines or retyped. The idea was to get around the government restrictions to tell the people what was really going on. I felt that I was a poor inheritor of that mantle, but it was a more catchy name than something like “GMF Gazette.”

I probably violated a few copyrights along the way, though I refused to plagiarize; I’d summarize stories I read elsewhere and include a healthy dose of my opinions on the issues in the facility. Then I’d drop off the copies in the break room, sit back and watch.

People would grab my newsletter, which was a darn sight better than the pitiful effort put out by postal management. I even ginned up a “newsletter war” in the GMF, touting my superior contacts and skills. Even members of management approached me and complimented me on a great newsletter. I was doing it. I was doing journalism and having an impact.

I was so proud of my work, I even sent copies of my newsletters to the postmaster general, but he didn’t seem impressed. Still, I bet he knew my name by this time.

In June 1994, I decided it was time to move on in my life and career. The saddest thing was giving up Samizdat. It was my baby, a labor of love, but it was time to move on.

At the time, I told my parents, “It’s time to achieve.” I was 33 years old, and I wanted to embark on a new career while I was still “young and brilliant” (my words) and able to land new positions.

It wasn’t an auspicious time to enter the news business. I had been told repeatedly during my college years that journalism was “dying” and that the few jobs remaining would be parceled out to women and minorities, and that white males had little chance of getting into the newsroom. My career proved the danger of believing what uninformed people say.

I began to land jobs in the news business, moving up the food chain and gaining skills and experience, as well as a love of working for a newspaper. Until the day I was laid off in August 2008, it seemed like I was going to grow old at the newspaper.

Well, today it seems that I may grow old in journalism. Call me crazy, but when the game’s afoot, I want to be there.

April 28, 2012 Posted by | Life lessons, The news business | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Giving your life to fix the Postal Service is not worth it

I’ve been reading the long laments over the possible loss of postal facilities and post offices, and somehow I get the feeling it’s déjà vu all over again.

Maybe it’s because when I quit the Postal Service in June 1994 it was going through the same talk of changes, and remember that the Internet and Web were nowhere near as powerful as they are now.

Back then, there was chatter about cutting the “people who don’t touch the mail,” but that died away after a few postal managers and 204Bs (acting supervisors) either had their jobs changed or were sent back to regular work. Soon, those who were out of management were reinstated, and people who’d been taken out of the administrative offices found themselves back among the desks, copiers and filing cabinets.

And there were even more people in management and administration. A little-known thing outside the Postal Service was that people who had been injured (or claimed that they were injured) on the job sometimes ended up working in the office, pulling down the same pay but posting stuff on bulletin boards, making copies, etc. One of my strongest memories from the early 1990s was of a career awareness conference where almost the entire EEO office of several facilities was people on some sort of injury comp.

I had ambitions to improve myself, which is a ticket to career stagnation in the Postal Service. I guess taking management classes on my own time and at my own expense marked me as someone to keep out of management at all costs. When I managed to talk my way into a position as a 204B, I was assigned to oversee an unmotivated group of people, most of whom could not follow even the simplest instructions. My fondest memory is of someone I had worked with making a lame excuse for not doing something, and me shouting “Bullshit!” at her. I got a talking-to for that from another supervisor.

One thing that is certain: when it came to supervision, I blew chunks. (I didn’t do much better as a manager at a newspaper, though I’ve mellowed since.)

Another “fond” memory is that when one supervisor (who nearly set the record for sex harassments and often wrote people up for discipline on their first night on the job) saw me dressed for supervision and announced: “Now you’ll see what kind of trash these assholes really are.”

Getting busted back to craft was almost a relief, and while I was really upset, it actually was a good thing because it motivated me to register for college and get serious about a new direction.

Oddly, I continued to work and work well. Admittedly, I did decide to burn up a small portion of my mass accumulation of sick leave if there was a big test the next day, but mostly I came in, did the job and went home. My heart was in college, and while most were impressed at my determination to get my degree, a few were convinced I was crazy. One thing you have to do when you’re trying to improve yourself is to remember that others become very worried when you’re starting to change.

People would tell me that I’d never get a job outside the Postal Service, that I’d be an educated idiot, about their cousin Wilbur who had a bachelor’s degree but was still a moron, or their Aunt Hortense, who got a college degree and was working the drive-through at Burger King because she couldn’t find any job in her field.

A couple of the management types noticed that I had stopped applying for management jobs. I used to intensely study the openings, and wore out several typewriter ribbons making up the Form 991s and 2945As (I think that’s what the latter form was), sending the forms in and waiting to hear if I got an interview. My lack of success became frustrating, and helped convince me that I was wasting my time and theirs.

A tour supervisor said one day she noticed that I hadn’t applied for the latest batch of management jobs, and I said that I was on a new track and didn’t want to waste any effort on a hopeless endeavor.

It takes determination to get ahead. For six years, I worked at a large postal facility at night, then went home to sleep, then went to college, first at Palm Beach Community College and then at Florida Atlantic University. I was able to pay as I went, and graduated from both colleges with no student loans. I was also active on the schools’ newspapers.

I can see why so many, especially in management, were trying to discourage me from pursuing higher education. One manager had told me, “Henry Ford said blue-collar workers need to know only three things: Where to show up for work, when to show up for work, and how to do their job. Everything else is a waste.”

In fact, managers with just GEDs or high school diplomas were mostly eager to keep the upper hand intellectually over workers. Someone with college could stir up a lot of trouble and might even take seriously the notions then being bandied about regarding  contacting the Postmaster General directly about conditions at the facility. (They even gave out a toll-free number.)

I did even more than that. I wrote opinion pieces in the local newspaper, and even sent long, detailed letters to the Postmaster General. I’d get back from the latter’s office mildly threatening letters about not bothering his excellency with my comments. One of the nastiest letters I ever got was from the local head of HR at the postal facility, telling me – he thought – once and for all that I should just stop griping and accept that I was doomed to be a low-life.

Seeing no future in the Postal Service, I decided that trying to change things was pointless. But I was developing journalism skills, and decided to tweak the nose of management with a new employee newsletter. I called it “Samizdat” because I knew no one would even know what that meant. (Samizdats were illegal publications written by dissidents in the Soviet Union.)

I’d lay out articles, grab stuff out of Federal Times and other publications, and even take stuff from memos sent down from Elephant Headquarters. I loved to watch incognito as people picked up my newsletter in the break room and read it. Right then, I fell in love with journalism and the power of the written word.

I was nearing the end of college, with enough credits to graduate. I decided that I’d graduate in April 1994 and quit in June 1994, so I decided to go out in a blaze of glory. I sent the Postmaster General a copy of several issues of “Samizdat” and a letter detailing the racial views of one supervisor (a very bitchy white girl with a propensity for using the “N-word” whose reward for hating black people was being put in charge of a number of black employees) and another who was just evil toward everyone. Local management seemed to figure they had the right idea even if they were violating several rules governing behavior, and I thought since I was leaving I might as well do something good.

Well, I got more than I bargained for. The local plant manager summoned me to his office, with the black shift supervisor. I had asked the Postmaster General to come to the facility in West Palm Beach, Fla., where I would name names. The plant boss asked me to name names, so I did. I also reported the use of the “N-word” by one supervisor, and said I didn’t care what happened to me since I was leaving in June (this was around March 1994, before my graduation.)

The plant manager actually tried to talk me out of quitting, and dangled the prospect of an immediate promotion to management if I stayed. I could help fix the Postal Service from within with my knowledge, experience, education, training and understanding, he said.

It’s important to recognize that the above-mentioned qualities were often used as reasons to not advance someone in the Postal Service, so I was immediately skeptical. What would happen when he or the other people moved up, I wondered. I could be left in a very bad position. I said I’d think about his offer.

Also, I had seen in more than 10 years multiple plans to treat the workers better, and they all fell apart due to management opposition. Supervisors rarely acted to make like better for the workers in the Postal Service, and those significant few who tried found themselves treated as outcasts and usually transferred to less desirable shifts or even sent back to craft. When all else failed, kick ass and take names and write everyone up was the way to go.

I talked to the few supervisors I respected, and they expressed their own dismay with their current positions. I appreciated the honesty, and decided not to accept the offer.

Did I ever regret quitting the Postal Service? No. I moved on in my life and career, and found that no one cared that I had worked there when I went looking for a job. Could I have fixed the Postal Service? I doubt it. The system rewarded those who were corrupt and punished those who were honest. New hires would sometimes foolishly believe that if they blew the whistle on something that they had protection, but that was on paper. Announce that a facility was sending mail to the wrong place or doing something else wrong, and the offenders would get off scot-free while those who made the charges would find themselves with a ruined life.

In one case, a supervisor who reported over-reporting of mail volume nearly had his life destroyed. To me, it just wasn’t worth losing everything to fix a broken system whose managers wanted it to stay that way. Life is just too short to waste on lost causes.

This goes for a lot of other places as well. It would be nice to believe that one person can fix some place, but unless you’re rich you’ll probably end up destitute, in debt and unemployable.

Face it, some places will never work right. I’ll admit that I get all the mail I’m supposed to from the Postal Service. I suppose it does a good enough job. About the only thing I’d give the agency credit for is giving me enough salary to have a decent middle-class life (albeit as a single man living alone with cats) and to finish a college degree without taking on debt.

Other than that, the Postal Service went its way, and I went mine.

May 24, 2009 Posted by | Living in the modern age | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Talking down to the community college

As someone who came to the college experience later than normal, in my late 20s instead of my late teens, I was always of the view that learning was learning, whether you got it in the Ivy League or at a lesser institution.

Circumstances — such as an insistence that I make my own decisions after graduating from high school — led me to join the Marine Corps at the ripe young age of 17 in 1978, and then my efforts to make my way in the world after my four years of service led me to the Postal Service. It wasn’t until around 1988 and I was beginning to tire of the sameness of life in the Postal Service that I realized that to take my life and career to the next level, I needed to go to college.

And Palm Beach Community College was there. Close to my house, on my way to my job at the post office, and willing to let me drink at their fountain of knowledge. I worked nights at the post office, and was able to take day classes almost like a real and traditional-age college student. Thanks to good pay and benefits at the post office, I was able to pay for the whole thing out of pocket without taking out student loans.

Honestly, I could have gone to Florida Atlantic University first, but I was a little uncertain about whether I could handle college work and wanted to stick a toe in the water, so to speak. I eventually did go to FAU after I graduated from PBCC, but that’s another blog post.

Because I had to attend PBCC part time, it took me three years to finish the two-year course, and in that time I became more than just someone with a bunch of credits, but a more educated and cultured man. I still had a lot to learn, but I was on my way.

So when I read things about community colleges that tend to dismiss them as inferior places of learning, I get kind of defensive. It hurts more when someone acts as if attending a community college is a sign of failure that will have to be explained in a job interview.

When a community college tries to rise above and be a major player, it seems like there is an attitude that the leaders of the place should recognize their inferiority and remember their place in the educational pecking order.

That hurts. I learned so much from the instructors at Palm Beach Community College, and received encouragement to do more than just attend college. At PBCC, I worked on the newspaper, took courses whose lessons remain with me to this day, and have a cup running over of memories. Maybe I never pledged an “Animal House”-like fraternity or engaged in hi-jinks, but that was because I was paying the freight on my education and needed to focus on that. I was active on the newspaper and in the PTK chapter as much as I could.

Indeed the same folks who run down community colleges also tend to run down adult students such as I was, and throw words around like “career student.” I changed in a lot of ways during my time in both community college and at the university, and sometimes that upset people at the post office. Suddenly, I was studying on my breaks or doing homework. After work, I’d go home instead of going to a local bar to whine about management. Often, I had to get up the next morning for class after working late. Believe me, it wasn’t the easiest path, but it was one I willingly took.

Community colleges labor in obscurity and their successes are not immediately apparent, but those who have a negative view of them are wrong. The people attending them are intent on success and determined to get ahead in this world. Sure, that’s a threat to some people, but the students just want a better life, and are willing to invest their time, money and effort into it.

For that reason alone, community colleges should be cheered, not dismissed, and their staffs should be honored, not belittled.

Indeed, one of the greatest teachers of English literature worked his magic for decades at Palm Beach Community College, Watson B. Duncan III. You may have heard of him. Once, he encouraged a smart-ass student in the back of the class to try out for a play. You may have heard of that student: Burt Reynolds. See the Wikipedia entry for the full story: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Watson_B._Duncan.

Duncan could have taught anywhere, but he seemed happy at PBCC, where more than a hundred eager students would crowd into the Duncan Theater at PBCC to hear him explain the wonders of English literature. I still remember the names of those classes: “English Literature to 1660” and “English Literature After 1660.” The textbook you had to buy, “The Literature of England,” sits in a bookcase in my house. I should open it more often.

Back before Web-based signups for class, you had to line up and give your proposed or dreamed-of schedule to a clerk, who would check to see if there was room. Those hoping to attend Duncan’s class would line up early, and I know I punched the air when I got into Duncan’s class. His reputation preceded him, and he taught people, their children and even their grandchildren.

Like everyone, I loved his lectures, and loved to kid him. One time, I was sitting in class and he was declaiming on the wonders of the man he called “The greatest writer in the history of the English language: William Shakespeare!” Well, this time, I decided to have some fun, so when he said “… language,” I burst out, “Stephen King!”

He looked mad. I apologized after class, and he accepted it with good humor, noting that his wife, Honey Duncan, read King’s books, but he couldn’t see why they were so popular.

Duncan was a great man, and his passing in 1991, before I graduated, was mourned at PBCC. This long diversion into Duncan was just to show that there’s quality in community colleges, and it’s the people who make it so.

So next time someone says, “Ah, it’s just community college,” reply this way: “It’s way, way better than you think.”

September 20, 2008 Posted by | Education | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Living on the edge … in Florida

Back in 1985, I broached the idea of moving from Long Island, N.Y., to somewhere in Florida.

My reasons were mostly financial. With lots of overtime at the post office, I had managed to get within striking distance of a salary of $30,000 a year and I had no savings. I had a girlfriend at the time, we were hinting at marriage, and I had no illusions about my ability to support a family on postal wages.

Long Island’s home prices were pretty high, taxes were crazy high and the much-maligned LILCO always got a cut of everyone’s wages. We couldn’t live without electricity, and LILCO, the Long Island Lighting Co., believed that every spare dollar belonged to it if we wanted their precious electrons.

Although my girlfriend broke up with me, I was still of a mind to go to Florida, if only to escape the hurt and bad memories. But people insisted that Florida was like some strange land alien to anyone from New York. There were alligators, I was told; sinkholes, too; and the conversation-ender: the dreaded hurricanes.

To hear it told, the state was raked regularly by massive storms that left destruction in their wake, and disaster was just around the corner.

I suppose it was the fact that Hurricane Gloria hit Long Island in 1985 that made me realize that Long Island was pretty exposed to hurricanes, too, and Florida had to be better.

So I wangled a transfer in the post office to West Palm Beach, and in December 1985 packed up my cat and on New Year’s Eve 1985 set off in my 1985 Plymouth Reliant on my adventure to Florida. It was the first and so far only time I drove I-95 from New York to points south. I had flown down in December to find an apartment, had found a nice new place in the western part of West Palm Beach and arrived safely after two days.

It was a quiet time for hurricanes in Florida. Of course, 1992’s Hurricane Andrew was a big worry for me and there were other tropical storms that caused concern, but it was not until 2004 that I was living in a house that was hit so hard by a hurricane. Indeed, my house was hit by two hurricanes, and thanks to its construction quality, as well as being sheltered by a larger house on either side, it came through with very minor soffit damage that was easily repaired for a few hundred dollars.

One thing about newer Florida houses is that they are built better than older homes. I remember going to look for a job in Columbia, S.C., in early 2004, and seeing new houses under construction that were basically frames; it shocked me because in Florida, concrete block and stucco (CBS) construction was the standard for most new houses. I guess they felt safer. Still, I have lived in concrete block houses my whole time in Florida and feel secure in the event of a hurricane.

Having lived through some active seasons, why don’t I move somewhere else, where hurricanes are just things I watch on The Weather Channel? Well, some folks have moved to get away from Florida and hurricanes, and I respect their decision. Still, you can’t really escape bad weather or weather disasters, even in the Midwest. And let’s remember that it can get pretty darn cold in the winter in some places; Florida does experience cold snaps that can send the temperature into the 30s and sometimes 20s, but they are mercifully brief. I mean, where else but Florida (OK, some other southern states) can you do holiday shopping in shirt sleeves?

I guess part of the adjustment of moving to Florida in the winter of 1985-86 was seeing winter constellations like Orion in the night sky, and not being cold. In 1986, I experienced a Florida Christmas and was hooked.

True, I sometimes think I want to be where there’s snow on the ground and lots of winter fun, but then the thought of heating bills and bundling up to go out brings reality back. I can take the heat better than the cold, and in my current situation, Florida is the ideal place to live.

In 1985, I voted with my feet and left Long Island far behind. In 2008, I’m voting with my feet again … and staying right where I am.

September 7, 2008 Posted by | Living in the modern age | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment