Hi there, Dear Reader. It’s early afternoon here in my corner of Florida on Monday, September 6, 2021. It is a rainy early fall day here. Currently, the temperature is 85˚F (30˚C) under cloudy skies. With the wind blowing from the west-northwest at 5 MPH (8 KM/H) and humidity at 61%, the heat index is 95˚F (35˚C). We’ve already had some rain, but the forecast calls for light rain throughout the day and a high of 90˚F (32˚C). Tonight, skies will be partly cloudy and the low will be 74˚F (23˚C). The Air Quality Index (AQI) is 80 or Moderate.
It’s on days like this – gray, rainy, and gloomy – when I am prone to feel melancholic and morose. I have never been one to look avidly out the window to look at the rain fall or say things like “Oh, I love thunderstorms!” I know people who don’t mind the rain and are fascinated by thunderstorms, and that’s fine, I guess. As the Romans used to say, De gustibus non est disputandum. For me, though, I get depressed on bad-weather days, and I loathe thunderstorms.
In that respect, I am diametrically different from my older half-sister Vicky. Rainy days tend to energize her, or at least, they used to. If she had the day off from work – she used to be a nurse and worked in three Miami-area hospitals for close to 40 years – she would run errands even in the rainiest, darker days of late summer and what passes for fall in South Florida. She even used to go to the beach and walk in the surf during thunderstorms, much to our mother’s consternation.
Vicky, of course, never told us that she liked this dangerous activity. She knew Mom and I would disapprove – walking out on an open field or a beach near a large body of water is one of the things you should NOT do during a thunderstorm, after all. We only found out sometime in the early 1990s, and only because my cousin Luis Enrique told us about it when he was staying in the guest room at what used to be Mom’s – and, briefly, my – townhouse near Doral.
Like most of my cousins on my mother’s side of the family, Luis Enrique lives in Colombia. At the time, he was in the import/export business, with a heavy emphasis on golf-related products. Like my Uncle Octavio (my mother’s older brother), and his sister Angela, Luis Enrique is also a golf player, so he was familiar with the now-closed Fountainbleau Park Golf Club and, on his occasional trips to Miami, he sometimes played a couple of rounds of golf there.
On a late summer day in 1993, Luis Enrique was in Miami for a business trip. He was staying with us at the townhouse, and although this time he didn’t bring his golf clubs along, he liked to go for walks to the golf course – parts of it were right next to East Wind Lake Village, the condominium association where we used to live – before driving his rental car to sight-see around Miami, go shopping, or run errands.
On the day in question, the forecast called for the usual Florida rainy season pattern: sunny and hot in the morning, rainy with a chance of thunderstorms in the afternoon. So Luis Enrique decided to forgo the walk to the golf course and just go in the car to run a few errands in Downtown Miami and Key Biscayne.
And, because Vicky had the day off from work, Luis Enrique invited her to go along, since his flight back to Bogota was booked for the next day and he wanted to spend time with his cousin, who was in the same age group as he.
It was still sunny – if maybe a bit cloudy – when Luis Enrique got in his rental car and drove out to my half-sister’s apartment in the International Gardens. He was in a good mood as he left the second parking spot assigned to our townhouse – he waved to Mom and me as we watched him leave from our house’s front step.
Sometime around 1 PM, the thunderstorms Bob Weaver, the chief weather reporter at WTVJ-TV, had warned us about in the morning newscast made their appearance. The skies darkened ominously as the massive anvil-topped cumulonimbus clouds obscured the sun. Then, the rain started to fall. First as a light, almost insignificant drizzle, then escalating from a few occasional drops that you could count as they hit the asphalt of NW 5th Terrace to a torrential downpour which hissed loudly – like a thousand bathroom showers going off simultaneously – and made it impossible to see the houses on the other side of our cul-de-sac.
And, of course, the gray-black skies were slashed by bright blue-white flashes of lightning that went off like a billion strobe lights. There were cloud-to-cloud bolts as well as cloud-to-ground strikes. Thunder boomed and cracked loudly, too. Sometimes it was far away and dull-sounding, like artillery being fired in a distant battlefield. Other times, the gap in time between the flash of lightning and the peal of thunder was brief, meaning the bolts were striking somewhere close by.
In short, it was not a good day to be out and about in the Magic City.
I don’t know how long the storm lasted. It might have lasted one hour. It might have lasted three. All I know is that Mom and I followed our typical “Thunderstorm Protocol” and unplugged TVs, VCRs, and any other electronics, turned off the air conditioner, and stayed as far away from windows as we could.
What I do know is that Luis Enrique was livid with anger when he returned to the house after dropping Vicky off at her apartment.
“What’s wrong, Luis Enrique?” Mom asked.
Luis Enrique took a deep calming breath before replying. He was usually a quiet but affable man, but this time he had an exasperated expression on his thin, bearded face.
“I’m sorry. Tia Mona,” said my cousin in a quiet but angry voice. “I love my Miami family, including Vicky, but I’m never going to go on errands with her again. Ever.”
Uh-oh. Mom and I exchanged a quiet but meaningful look.
Apparently, the errands part had gone well. Luis Enrique and Vicky drove into Miami before the rain started, and because my cousin is the kind of guy who doesn’t like wasting time, he went to the places he needed to go to – mostly to arrange a shipment of golf supplies from Miami to Bogota – before the skies darkened. He invited Vicky to lunch at a restaurant. After they finished eating, Luis Enrique said, “Okay, prima. Let’s head back to your mom’s house. It looks like we’re going to have a nasty bit of weather, and I don’t like driving in heavy rain.”
“No, no, Luisito. Let’s go to Miami Beach instead. If it rains, it probably won’t last long.”
“Vicky, the forecast calls for thunderstorms. Let’s just go to Fountainbleau. Besides, I’m tired and I still have to pack. I promise, next time I come to Miami we’ll go to the beach,” Luis Enrique said patiently.
A reasonable person would have said. “Okay, I’ll go along with that.” Especially when the South Florida sky turns dark and menacing as the towering cumulonimbus clouds appear overhead.
Vicky has never been particularly reasonable, especially when she gets it into her head that she is going to do something, even if the other people around her say “No.” In fact, she is at her worst when she is faced with opposition when she wants to do something at an inappropriate time.
“Oh, come on, Luis. Let’s just go to the beach for a while. I love to go there and walk barefoot by the seashore.”
My cousin told Mom and me that he seriously considered leaving my half-sister in Downtown Miami, but out of consideration to his aunt, he did not.
“Vicky, let’s just go to your mom’s house,” Luis Enrique said. He pointed at the thunderhead, which was still so far off that he could see the anvil-shaped top rising 50,000 feet above the South Florida horizon. “That’s not a mere aguacerito,” he said. “That’s a thunderstorm.”
Vicky shrugged that off and kept up her insistent demands that they go to the beach. She was so relentless and childish that my cousin finally said, “Okay, I’ll take you to the beach,” just so she would stop arguing.
So off they went to Miami Beach. Luis Enrique drove wordlessly, fretting about having to battle both Miami’s notoriously heavy and dangerous traffic and the worsening weather. Meanwhile, Vicky prattled on and on about how much she missed Franco, the married man from Italy she had been seeing for years until he finally broke off their affair in 1989.
“I come to the beach on days like this and think about my Franco,” Vicky told my stunned cousin. “I’ll park the car and go to the public access beach and look at the ocean. I even walk by the water’s edge and let the water cool my feet.”
This woman is crazy, my cousin said he remembered thinking while Vicky reminisced.
Just after Luis Enrique parked the car at a public parking space near Miami Beach’s Collins Avenue, Vicky opened the passenger side door and strolled off toward the beach on the Atlantic Ocean side of the island city. My cousin put some quarters in the parking meter and ran after Vicky, who was walking toward the beach at a fairly fast clip.
Just as my half-sister neared the water’s edge, thunder boomed in the distance and a few water balloon sized raindrops spattered loudly on the sand. The storms that had affected Fountainbleau had now reached Miami Beach. My cousin was aghast at Vicky’s nonchalance.
“Vicky,” Luis Enrique said as calmly as he could. “We have to go. Now. Let’s get back in the car.”
“No!” cried Vicky. “We just got here!”
Behind the arguing cousins, a bolt of blue-white lightning seared across the sky, followed shortly afterward by the sizzling C-R-A-A-A-C-K BOOM sound that thunder makes when lightning strikes occur nearby.
My cousin Luis Enrique inherited our grandfather’s calm, quiet demeanor as well as his thin, wiry build. He is not prone to anger – at least, not that I know – or raising his voice. But at the sight of a 43-year-old woman behaving like a toddler in a dangerous situation, he finally snapped.
“Vicky, you have two choices,” Luis Enrique said. “Either you get off this beach and head back to the car with me right now, or I’ll leave you here.” Before Vicky could start to argue, he turned around and walked toward the parking lot.
Cursing and crying, Vicky staggered angrily after Luis Enrique, a look of extreme rage on her face.
They drove the 20.5 miles from Miami Beach to my half-sister’s apartment mostly in silence. Luis Enrique told us later that he tried to calmly explain that he had lost two of his golfing buddies in Colombia when a sudden thunderstorm passed over the golf course where they were playing a round after lunch several years before. “Vicky just glared at me,” Luis Enrique told us, still in shock that a woman with 20 years’ nursing experience could be so immature and irrational, especially considering that Florida is known as the Lightning Capital of the World.
Simply mind-boggling, is it not?