Times Staff Writer
GULFPORT -- Street signs blew down, tree limbs crushed fences and Spanish moss blanketed the town. But the roads were clear, just puddles even down by the beach.
So at 8 a.m. on Monday, bartender Sally Douglas rolled open the metal shutters at O'Maddy's Bar & Grille, as she has every morning for 35 years.
"Folks were already here waiting," she said, pouring a shot of Absolut into cranberry juice. "Of course we're open."
No power? No water? No problem.
Douglas covered the melting ice in the beer cooler with cardboard and told customers they had to pay cash. "The drafts are warm," she said. But bottles and cans were still cold. For now.
By 10:30 a.m., 32 people sat at the beachfront bar, drinking and watching the whitecaps roll in on Boca Ciega Bay.
"We cheated death again!" said Billy Trudell, 52, raising a bottle of Yuengling to his pals. "I blame it on the Indians."
Trudell, a Gulfport native, said he has heard the story all his life. "Some ancient burial mounds in Tampa Bay. Sacred grounds," he said. "Every time a storm is supposed to come here, it turns. We always seem to get spared."
At 11 a.m., Charlie Williams, 64, walked into the bar and hugged Trudell.
"We did it again!" he cried. "We're all still here.!"
Williams, a commercial mullet fisherman, had been drinking whiskey for two days and hadn't slept. He swore he was never worried about Hurricane Irma. "I ain't afraid of nothing."
Gulfport's long public pier, which juts into the bay just across from O'Maddy's, was named for Williams' grandfather. "He and my daddy and uncle rode out the last hurricane that came ashore here in 1921," Williams said. "Every boat in that bayou ended up north of Tangerine Avenue." More than a mile from the beach.
That storm destroyed Williams' grandfather's house and farm. "Nothing left but sand and shells. The whole barn was gone, just disappeared. All the chickens drowned or were dying in the coops," he said. "People were starving. So granddad barbecued up all those chickens. My daddy, who was 6, never ate another chicken in his life."
His dad, uncle and grandparents had to live in an Army tent for the next year.
"But that's not gonna happen here again," he said, and ordered another whiskey, straight up.
Contact Lane DeGregory at [email protected] Follow her on Twitter @LaneDeGregory