I was blessed this past week to travel around the Southeast. In spite of the fact that my business requires that I hit the road regularly and that a lot of the travel is routine and pedestrian, this week’s trips are worthy of note.

I was blessed this past week to travel around the Southeast. In spite of the fact that my business requires that I hit the road regularly and that a lot of the travel is routine and pedestrian, this week’s trips are worthy of note.

Following a few days in the grinder I flew to Ft. Lauderdale to spend a couple of days looking at potential warehouse sites in Broward County and at an existing location in Miami. I have not had the occasion to travel there other than to pass through in many years. In the days of my youth I spent a lot of time down there peddling high-production equipment to roofing contractors and distributors. While the area has continued to grow almost nonstop, one thing has not changed. It is a very different roofing and construction market than the one I work in, as well as most others. I always say, “It’s a different country.”

Truth is, most roofing markets are unique unto themselves. Some are more unique than others, but all have their own nuances. The Florida market is truly unique and influences many other markets, especially in the coastal U.S. and Caribbean (and beyond). Manufacturers boast of their products that have earned the right to be installed there by way of their Dade County Approvals.

The other thing that makes me call South Florida a different country is the fact that it is truly an international region. Many languages may be heard just about anywhere you go there. The faces of the people and the variety of their dress have a uniqueness all their own. I still love visiting there. Spending a few days in South Florida made me wish I had never stopped making the routine trips that I made in the days of my youth. Perhaps I will return one day.

A Trip to Remember

On Friday I took a day off and headed west with some of my church friends to lend a hand to our neighbors in Tuscaloosa. Yes, three months after a large part of the city was devastated by tornados there is still a lot of work to do. Sorry it took so long to make the journey (it’s less than four hours by car), but not sorry we went.

At this point the numbers of volunteers have diminished but the need for them is still fairly significant. The rebuilding process has not begun as new building permits are being withheld pending the cleanup process. The cleanup process is fairly advanced but there are still quite a few downed trees to clear away and some structures that have yet to be dealt with. Many we saw will doubtless be demolished but appear to be safe for the time being.

So volunteering now, with reports of the violent tornados and the aftermath well off page one, is a good thing. The pace is a bit slower but the need is still great. I was blessed to work with other volunteers clearing downed trees for a couple of days. The work was tough and the heat oppressive, but seeing the devastated parts of Tuscaloosa and meeting with the people who survived the terror of the storm brought the entire event into focus.

Our last stop was at Mr. Bolton’s place. We cleared the last of the trees from the middle of his 10 acres and downed a few that remained along the long driveway that split the property. When we arrived he was sitting alone on the bed of his pickup parked near what looked like a small junkyard. In a space no more than 20 feet by 20 feet was a steel table and a variety of “things” that included old car parts, a few tools, and an old refrigerator that served as the only storage he had on the place.

Bolton told us much of what was left of his possessions were stolen. The insult added to the injury of losing his home of 56 years, a shop/garage, and another building or two. Except for the trees we worked on and the remaining piles of trees that had been bulldozed aside, the only thing remaining on the property was the mini-junkyard.

Bolton and his wife were both in the home when the tornado struck. Asked how they survived, he simply said, “I don’t know.” They tried to make it to the tub but did not make it. He does not know how they made it while so many others did not. Now his main project is trying to convince Mrs. Bolton to return and rebuild. She does not want to come back. With a ground-level view of the devastation it is hard to blame her.

The Bolton’s place is on a ridge and provides a panoramic view of a good part of the land and buildings that were wiped out on April 27, 2011. A volunteer on leave from the military said the area looked worse than the war zone from which he just returned. A car ride less than four hours from my home and I am in a different country again.

But it is amazing how resilient people are. In spite of loss and unwanted change, I have no doubt that Tuscaloosa will rebuild and come back better than ever.