What we know, what we don’t and what we think we know

We only know one thing tonight: The slog of restoring a sliver of normalcy to Key West after Hurricane Irma continues. Progress is astounding thanks to scores of men and women who do what most of us would never dream of doing. I stand in awe of them. Data and cell service are back and strong. Electricity on-island is coming back slowly. (The Meadows is still out as I am writing; lots of wires still dangling in the trees and streets.) Running, potable water is a trickle, but FKAA is out there whacking their water moles.

May I come home now? It is what we think we know that makes for happy dancing. It is possible, maybe barely possible, that Key West residents might be able to go home on Sunday, Sept. 17. That’s the latest we heard from city commissioner Sam Kauffman. He adds multiple lines of caveats, but he’s willing to go out on that broken limb and hazard a guess. Maybe Sunday.

The county just announced there will be a news conference Saturday morning around 8:30 to announce re-entry plans for residents.

Do not start packing yet. But you might want to think about a list of things to round up for the journey. Better bring bug spray.

Tourist, seasonal and vacation friends: Not you. You don’t get to come yet. And, I don’t have a time frame. Gonna be a while, for sure. First ones home will have to have a hurricane re-entry sticker or ID with a permanent residence in Key West.

Old-time journalists in a social media world

Back when Ed and I combined our marriage with two careers, one of which consumed most of every 24 hours, we reached an agreement. “If I roll over in the morning,” he said, “and you’re not there, and if I haven’t heard from the state cops, I’ll assume you’re OK.”

You gotta love a partner with an attitude like that. I’d call home, say I’d be there in an hour (the New Jersey commute was never less than an hour one way), then get distracted by some newsroom crisis or interesting conversation and not show up for four.

Oh, don’t be horrified and send me nasty texts. If you ever dated, much less married, a journalist you’ll nod wisely. If not, it’s complicated. Trust me. Despite today’s joyful disrespecting of “the media,” those journalists who show up and do their jobs well, do so because they love to write, they care about their communities and they believe in doing the right thing.

We’re also crazy. We’re so crazy that John Teets and I have spent the past week staring into computer screens, scrounging for information, whacking trolls, crying over the damage to our (and your) homes, sharing the frustration of not knowing where your friends and families were. And, I’ll admit, we’ve enjoyed every cross-eyed, laptop-blinding, finger twisting minute. My arthritis is killing me.

John and I shared parts of our careers in northern Illinois, land of minus 50-degree wind chill, deep dish pizzas and an affinity for Wisconsin. He spent seven years at the once-legendary Chicago Tribune and 17 at the (always feisty) Chicago Sun-Times. I spent 20 at the Rockford Register Star. We met in Key West at a Equality Florida party. Journalists can sniff each other out in a crowd. Something about ink in our veins.

John and I traded ink and paper for the digital world of social media and websites; hence, you all get the Key West Hurricane Irma page — and we don’t have to find a printing press. Definitely more cost effective, though way more time sucking. Once the press starts, we could go to the bar — or home. Not so much with the interwebbie way of doing news.

We agreed when we started the page to follow our old-fashioned journalism rules: Whack the moles; verify the information as best we could; use credible sources; keep it news, not opinion; connect with our readers. I added one more: This is our house. You’re a guest in our house. So, if you become unruly, we’ll show you the door.

Eventually, John and I will shutter the page and let other news folks take the lead. Eventually. We’re not sure when, but we’ll know when. In the meantime, we’re both staring at brightly-lighted screens — both of us off-island and wondering when we can go home.

It’s a darn good thing Ed was safely (so to speak) on-island because he’d once again be wondering where the heck I was. Once a journalist, etc.

We understand how Heather feels

With her permission, I share a personal post from county commissioner Heather Carruthers. She’s one of our most reliable sources for information during Hurricane Irma. We are grateful to her. Her Facebook post this morning made me cry, then smile. I knew you needed to hear her, too, so I asked. She said “yes.”

A personal post…I am dead tired and can’t sleep. Again. I stop for a minute and I start to cry. We are lucky. Our home is fine, our friends and family are safe, our town weathered Irma better than Wilma.

But the enormity of the loss in my beautiful islands is unfathomable. I cannot imagine the feeling to know someone you love did not see Monday, or the home you built and loved is just gone.

I’m sure this takes a toll on relationships too. Even here, in our comfortable if cozy hotel room, the stress for me of trying to help from a distance, and the stress on my wife of managing a five-year-old and a one-year-old (with a cold) in an unfamiliar place gets to you both. It must be overwhelming to those who weathered the storm or are just realizing what lies ahead for them. I’ve read posts about breakdowns, about public tears. We’ve all had them.

And at the same time, the outpouring of support and caring is almost more than a heart can hold. I’ve heard from friends and family that I haven’t heard from in years. People we do not know literally from around the world have been here for us, emotionally and physically.

This is a galvanizing event. I’m a Gemini. The head part of me is trying to balance our collective desire to be home with the realities of scarce resources, is thinking of what we must do to make ourselves safer for storms like this, is constantly evaluating our technology and processes, and is determined to find sturdy and appropriate housing (call it workforce or affordable, I don’t care) for those who lost theirs. And the heart part of me, well that just aches with empathy and gratitude. Thank you, my One Human Family, for being.

And, with that, my friends, good night. The time for hard work arrives.

Linda Grist Cunningham is editor and proprietor of KeyWestWatch Media. She and her husband Ed live in Key West with their five cats — who are doing fine, by the way. Hot. But fine.

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