Jean and Joe Thornton are the dearest of friends. Today, they celebrate their 51st wedding anniversary. Gold plus one. Blue sapphire to be precise.


They are two of the best friends I have made in my many years in Key West.

Initially Chart Room buddies. We became exceptionally close beginning with Hurricane Irma.

Jean and Joe were home in Birmingham as Irma approached. They were watching Irma’s approach as those of us who lived full time in Key West were. The spaghetti was scary. For days a straight line to Key West. Projected as a Category 5. No deviation. I knew I had to get my ass out of Dodge.

I left 5 days before Irma hit. My cautious nature at work. The game plan was to drive wherever would be safe. Weather reports advised Irma would come over the Keys and then run up the west coast of Florida. I opted to drive up the east coast. Put into Pompano the first night in a motel. Figured I was safe. Even the young lady at the registration desk thought Pompano would be safe. The motel was not busy.

The next morning around 5, I got a call. I was told I had to leave, the motel was closing down. Irma had changed course and was going to come up the east coast.

I checked the weather reports. Nothing appeared certain. East coast, west coast, center of the State. I decided to drive right up the middle of Florida on the Florida Turnpike. Keep driving that day as far as I could. Traffic was an abomination. Had been even on US 1 as I drove north out of the Keys. Move a mile or two in an hour and then 50-60 miles in an hour another time.

Needed gas. No gas. Another story for another time.

In any event, I drove straight north out of Florida into Georgia. Made it to Atlanta about midnight. Went to the big downtown Marriott. I had used Marriott for years, had their super duper card. Only 2 rooms left. Both suites. I think on the 47th floor. Not sure of the exact floor number, other than it was high.

Since I was a card holder, got the room for $135 a night. Good deal! The registration lady said they were full up because of the hurricane. Fortunately, it was not expected to reach Atlanta.

Spent two nights in the Marriott. Received an early morning call the third day. I was required to check out. The hotel was closing down. Irma on the way.

Where was I going to go? Decided to call Jean. She had said if I needed a place to stay, I could with her and Joe at their home in Birmingham. Jean said come hither, Louis. Several others and some dogs on their way also. I was on my way to Birmingham, Alabama.

I have left out of the story the minor inconveniences experienced just getting to Atlanta. Like gas was always a problem. A one to two hour wait. The bathroom another. I was at a rest area on the Florida Turnpike. Had to take a wicked piss. The line for the men’s room was like it always is for ladies. Long and ran to the outside of the building. In an hour, I moved about 10 feet, was still not in the building let alone the rest room, and my gut was ready to burst.

Screw this I thought. I went outside and walked over to a forest area to relieve myself. It was old home week. Men and women everywhere doing what I was.

Finally made it to Birmingham. The Thornton home lovely. In due course, 6 or 7 of us arrived. I was the first. Lucky. Got a large bedroom and bath.

All of us spent 11 or 12 days. Irma deviated at the last minute and hit Key West as a mere 1. It hooked back onto land 16 miles north at Cudjoe Key however as a 4 or 5.

The time as guests of the Thornton’s was wonderful, top shelf, the best, always made to feel welcome, etc.

We all did out own thing till 5 in the afternoon. Then it was 5 o’clock as it is 5 o’clock everywhere. Drinking time. The Thorntons have a large screened in porch on the rear of their home. That is where we began. A few drinks and some pickies. Dinner around 8-9. Around a large dining room table.

Joe and Jean are as loved in Birmingham as they are in Key West. Most evenings their friends and neighbors brought whole meals for all of us. Between we “guests” and Jean and Joe there were about 10 of us. The meals were ethnic denomination based. The whole meal. Cases of wine sometimes also.

Then we partied till 2-3 in the morning. Fun time!!!

There is a video floating around on the internet. It is of Jean and I jitterbugging around 3 in the morning. We did it all! Oh, what a time we had!

I was sorry to leave. We all were.

You didn’t leave right away once the hurricane had passed Key West. Can’t go back till there is electric power and water at the very least. So we stayed 11-12 days. My recollection is I left day 12. I was sorry to go. I honestly believe Jean and Joe were sorry to see us go.

I wrote a book about the experience. Titled it Irma and Me. It is available on Amazon. Cheap. Buy it if you want a blow by blow of my trip back and forth. From the moment I left to Key West till I return. Beside the stay at Jean and Joe’s, what I saw as I hit the Keys. Irma had left its mark everywhere.

Capsulating a couple of things as examples. Boats were on the highway, cars in the water, houses other that on their foundations. One thing I observed as I approached Islamorada on the return trip. A tree on my right as I drove down US 1. Sitting on some branches about 20 feet up, a large refrigerator laying on its side.

What a wind it must have been!

Enjoy your Sunday!


  1. Louis, in the book of Jean’s and my life the visit from Key West friends during Irma is at the top of our list of wonderful experiences. You were there 12 days and Jean and I missed you so much when you left. We hope you will return someday, when the circumstance are not as dire.

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