Nobody says a word at first. Not because we can’t think of anything to say, but because we are strangers.

Hurricane Michael is making its way onto shore while I write this. Michael is 350 miles across, 90 miles in diameter, and very ugly. This is a storm that’s roughly the size of South Dakota, arriving on Floridian soil like an unwanted houseguest.

I am miles away, watching a television while this storm batters Franklin County, Gulf County, and Bay County.

The big TV in the corner of this restaurant is tuned to the Weather Channel. The joint is nearly empty, the lunch rush is over. A few people gather around the screen, arms crossed, eyes unblinking.

We are a varied lot of strangers.

There is a woman with her hand over her mouth, watching TV. Her name is Ellen. Her mother lives in Gulf County, and she can’t get a hold of her.

Gulf County is a war zone right now. The live-coverage proves this. And Ellen is a mess. The TV shows palm trees bending forward, 100-foot waves swallowing boardwalks, flooded highways.

Mexico Beach is devastated. Port Saint Joe is waterlogged. Apalachicola is covered.

Between reports of tribulational destruction, the TV rolls commercials which advertise: Metamucil, Capital One credit cards, chocolate-flavored laxatives, Quaker Oats, and how to get a good deal on a reverse mortgage.

But when the commercials are over, we who gather at the television remain silent while the monster makes landfall.

I recognize the places shown on TV. One reporter is perched only fifteen miles from my front yard. I can sympathize with Ellen, worrying about her mother. In fact, I have been sick about my own mother—who decided to stay behind and weather out the storm.

I texted my mother a few minutes ago.

She texted back: “The wind has gotten bad, we’ve moved to the back room, but we’re okay. I love you.”

Then, I texted my sister—who also stayed behind. She wrote: “I’m scared, please pray for us.”

So while I write…

With eyes still closed, he says, “I’m gonna make this coin turn from heads to tails by resting my hand on it.”

Waffle House is full of people who are fleeing a hurricane. While I write this, Hurricane Michael is circulating in the Gulf like a Margarita in a cheap blender. I’ve seen TV footage of this storm filmed from outer space. This sucker looks angry.

Hurricane Michael slowed down last night, but meteorologists tell us he’ll get meaner when he hits warm Gulf water.

Satellite images on the national news projected the eye of the storm making landfall around 7:00 PM. Then, computer models estimate that Michael will gain strength and run directly into my garage door.

So this is what everyone's talking about at this interstate Waffle House. This one-room building is alight with nervousness in the air. We are all evacuees, eating waffles and hash browns.

“You think the storm will hit our house, Mom?” says a boy behind me. He might be six years old.

His mother is tall, lean, and wearing a service uniform. A hotel maid, maybe. Or perhaps she works in dry cleaning.

Her hair is a mess. Her eyes are baggy like she hasn’t slept in ten years.

“Hush,” she says. “And eat your dinner.”

But the boy is becoming anxious. He’s hardly touching his waffle. “What about our house?” he says to his mother. “What’ll happen to it?”

“Eat, I said.”

“When will we be able to go back home?”

“I don’t know, now quit worrying and eat.”

“I’m scared.”

Join the crowd, kid. You and two million others. Michael is a storm that threatens to suck our houses from the foundations and launch them into orbit somewhere near Jupiter.

Behind the boy is an old man seated on a stool at the counter. The man wears a cap with “Massey Ferguson” embroidered on the front. He overhears the boy and his mother.

The man wipes his mouth, leans over the divider,…

I consulted the Weather Channel. Things weren’t looking good. The TV rolls footage of mudslides, floods, torrents, and frightening commercials advertising Preparation H.

We have evacuated Florida, and my wife managed to fit all our earthly possessions into a midsize SUV.

We are travelling with 2 large dogs, 57 pieces of luggage, 6 boxes of wedding pictures, 10 years of past income tax records, and a glass cake dome my aunt Eulah gave me for a wedding gift.

Our evacuation decision happened this morning. I opened the paper to find a headline which read: “Hurricane Michael: Everyone is Going to Die: Continued on Page A5. ”

Then, I consulted the Weather Channel. Things weren’t looking good. The TV rolled footage of mudslides, floods, torrents, and frightening commercials advertising Preparation H.

The weather woman announced:

“Hurricane Michael could be the MOST devastating storm in history, ladies and gentleman. Right now, we go to Danny McDannyson, who’s live on location, bringing NON-STOP coverage of this devastating disturbance.”

Then the camera cut to a man wearing a Naval issue windbreaker, standing on the beach somewhere off the coast of Hiroshima.

“THANKS STEPH, THIS STORM CONTINUES TO BECOME MORE DEVASTATING BY THE MINUTE, AND AS YOU CAN SEE, I AM STANDING ON THE BEACH, FOR NO SENSIBLE REASON, WHERE WIND SPEEDS WILL SOON BE STRONG ENOUGH TO PEEL A MAN’S EYELIDS OFF HIS EYE SOCKETS AND...”

“Thanks Danny, any recent developments?”

“YES, STEPH, MANY DEVELOPMENTS OVER THE PAST FEW MINUTES, OUR METEOROLOGISTS ARE TELLING US THAT THESE NEW DEVELOPMENTS KEEP DEVELOPING WHILE THIS STORM CONTINUES TO DEVELOP.”

“Thanks Danny, I understand the National Weather Service issued an update on the storm’s position, can you tell us more about this?”

“STEPH, I WOULDN’T CALL IT AN ‘UPDATE,’ INASMUCH AS I WOULD CALL IT A ‘DEVELOPMENT.’ BUT REST ASSURED WE ARE KEEPING OUR EYES ON THESE DEVELOPING NEW DEVELOPMENTS, AND BRINGING YOU DEVELOPMENTAL INFORMATION AS THIS DEVELOPS...”

“How about the National Weather Service’s spaghetti models, Danny, what do you make of them?”…

And I’m thinking about the lead car. I know what the family inside it is doing. They’re doing the same thing my mother and I did once. We were too stunned to even cry.

It’s overcast. I’m with my wife and my bloodhound. We are on a wide porch of a rental house. This is the main road which cuts through town. There are sounds of kids laughing, playing. Easy traffic.

This is an old porch. The kind my father used to sit on. I can see him in my mind, shirtless, reading baseball box-scores. Or carving a pine stick.

My wife is asleep in a rocking chair. My dog snores beside me.

I see vehicles. Lots of them.

The first car is a police cruiser—blue lights flashing. Another cruiser follows. Then comes a slow-moving long black car—with curtains, and chrome fenders. It’s followed by the world’s longest line of cars. A million headlights.

The cars are flanked by a railroad crossing.

The train is running. The funeral procession comes to a halt at the flashing railroad-crossing lights.

There’s a man on the porch of the house next to me. He's within spitting distance from me.

“A funeral,” I hear him say to his wife.

They step off their porch together to stand in the yard.

This is

what we do.

A few other folks in nearby houses do the same. It seems like a good idea. My dog and I walk off our porch to stand by the mailbox.

Across the street, a woman in an apron holds hands with a little girl. An old man is in his driveway, holding a wrench. Watching. Kids stand beside bikes.

A few cars pull to the side of the road.

We've all stopped what we're doing.

And truth be told, I don’t even know why we do it. Of course it’s a gesture of respect. But why? Why respect a stranger we’ve never even met?

I guess it's just how we do things.

The string of cars is impressive. There are models of all kinds. Fords, Nissans, BMW’s, a few work trucks. A motorcycle.

The…

An elderly man was bagging my groceries. He had white hair and liver spots. I’m guessing mid-seventies. He noticed my Braves cap. And I noticed the familiar look on his face when he said, “You think the Braves can do it this year?”

I am listening to baseball on the radio. Two dogs are sleeping around my feet. The New York Yankees are battling the Boston Red Sox in the division playoffs.

Chances are, you don’t care about baseball—and I don’t blame you. But this column isn’t about baseball.

Tonight, I promised myself I wouldn’t write about baseball. Too many people already write about it.

Sure, I grew up with baseball. It was in my drinking water. My father ate, breathed, and read about it. And when autumn rolled around, I remember him listening to October baseball like some men listened to preaching.

My father would park his truck in the driveway. We sat in the front seat, listening to a radio. The sun was high. Crickets whined. My father explained plays while sipping beer. And I felt like the most important human on the planet.

But like I said, this isn’t about baseball.

I remember the fall evening when he said, “One day, you’ll listen to these games without me.”

And silence filled the truck.

His eyes became glassy after he said it. Then, he tousled my hair. And I’ll never forget this: he offered me his beer.

To the rest of the world I was a child. But that night, in his eyes, I was a man. I held the can with both hands. I took a swig. It tasted like frog urine. I almost gagged.

He laughed. “When you’re older, it won’t taste so bad.”

I am sipping a beer right now, listening to WCCM 1940 AM radio. The Sox are fighting. I don’t particularly care about the Sox, and I care even less for the Yanks. But anxieties are high. The championship is riding on their shoulders. Thusly, I require another can of frog pee.

Earlier today, I went to the grocery store for tonight’s supplies. Namely: Chili Cheese Fritos,…

The man looks at the boy. He hugs the boy and messes up the kid’s hair. I’m no Spanish major, but I know what the word “gracias,” means.

A woman pushes her cart through a grocery store. Her son is with her. He holds the cart, following behind her. He is small, lean, and his eyelids are closed tight.

He is blind. He lets go of the cart and soon he is lost. His mother is a few feet ahead of him. She stops. She watches.

“Mom?” he says.

“I’m over here,” she says. “Follow my voice.”

The child wanders toward her with unsure steps, arms outstretched. He finds her. She hugs him.

“That was good,” she says. “You’re so good at finding me.”

She kisses him on the mouth. She stares at his clenched eyes. “I love you so much, Peter Pumpkin Eater. Don’t ever, ever, ever forget that.”

He nods. Peter won’t forget.

A woman drives an old model Nissan. She has two dogs in her vehicle. Labradors, I would guess. She is in the parking lot, loading groceries.

A man sees her. He offers to help load groceries for her. Something you don’t

see much anymore.

“Pretty dogs,” he remarks.

She’s smiling at him. He’s grinning back at her. She hands him a business card. He says he’s going to call her sometime.

And you know the tune: first comes love, then comes marriage, then comes a baby in a baby carriage. And then comes health insurance premiums stiff enough to squeeze blood from a block of granite.

A gas station. A man with a little girl on his shoulders leaves the convenience store. The little girl is eating a candy bar. She gives him a bite. He takes a bite, then hands it back.

I can’t hear their full conversation, but I do hear: “Love you, Danica.”

“Love you, Dad.”

Same gas station. Two Hispanic men near a pump. One is old. One is a teenager. They are speaking rapid Spanish,…

There are holes in his shoes. He found these sneakers in a sporting-good-store dumpster. Buck estimates he’s put nearly eight hundred miles on them.

He sits on the steps of the Shell Station. A backpack beside him. His skin is rawhide. His beard is white.

His name is Buck. He’s from North Carolina. He fought in Korea, and completed two tours in Vietnam.

He’s not here begging, he’s resting his feet.

“My old feet hurt more’n they used to,” says Buck. “It’s hard getting old, buddy.”

There is a half-smoked cigar next to him. He dug it from an ashtray. It still has life in it, he says.

He’s sipping coffee.

“First cup’a Joe I had in a week,” he tells me. “Fella gave me a quarter, few minutes ago. Piled my coins together to buy me a cup.”

A quarter.

When Buck went inside to buy it, there were only cold dregs left. He asked the cashier if it were possible to brew a fresh pot. She told him to get lost.

So, he’s drinking dregs—for which he is grateful.

There are holes in his shoes. He found these sneakers in a sporting-good-store dumpster. Buck estimates he’s put nearly eight hundred miles on them.

His bloody toes poke through the fronts.

His middle toenail is missing.

Buck explains, “God says, ‘Don't worry what you’ll eat drink or wear.’ That's hard sometimes. Specially when you ain’t eaten.”

I walk inside the gas station on a mission. I ask the aforementioned cashier to brew a fresh pot of coffee—for me. I am very nice about it.

She smiles and says, “Sure, sweetie.”

Ain't she sweet.

I buy a hot cup, an armful of snacks, and a pack of Swisher Unsweetened Mini-Cigars. I give them to Buck, and I tuck a bill into his hand. I wish I had something bigger, but I don't.

Buck starts crying.

And the truth is, I’m embarrassed to even be telling you this. Because this story isn’t about me—it’s about Buck.

“Did you know that I see God in…

He bows his head. Twelve men bow, too. I bow. And he says nothing. Not even a word. The music in the restaurant is still playing overhead. Don Williams is singing about Amanda. People are eating. Clinking plates.

The men’s breakfast. I am here with twelve unsupervised elderly men. Baptist men who all tuck their shirts into pressed slacks.

Baptist men always wear tucked-in shirts with pressed slacks. Even when they go swimming.

I give Baptists a hard time because I descend from them. But they are magnificent people, with kind hearts, tender spirits, and they know all the words to the fourth verse of “Amazing Grace.”

I’m here today because Larry invited me.

“This is Sean,” Larry announces to the group.

Many of these men are hard of hearing. One man calls me “Shane” when he shakes my hand—which is a common mistake. Another man calls me “John”—also a common mistake. And one man with two hearing aids pumps my hand and says, “Thanks for coming today, Dominick.”

A waitress takes our orders. One man orders fruit and oatmeal. Another orders pancakes. The man next to me, Ron, orders a double meat breakfast with extra bacon and cheese grits.

“My wife has me on a diet,” Ron

explains.

I order eggs over medium, toast, and coffee.

When food arrives, no man touches his plate. Larry, rises to his feet and asks for prayer requests.

One man asks for prayer regarding kidney stones.

Men offer their condolences.

Another man asks, “Would y’all remember my son, today? He’s gonna be starting a new job, he deserves to be happy. We love him so much.”

And one old man removes his ball cap. The man has a gentle smile. He glances at his lap and says, “Please pray for my dog, he’s finally old enough for us to tell him he’s adopted.”

A mushroom cloud of laughs.

You have to love Baptists.

Another man speaks up: “I don’t have anything to pray for. I’m just filled to the brim with thanks.”

“Me too.”

“Here,…

He hugged me one more time. His mother took his arm, they walked away. The boy walks with a pronounced limp, holding his mother for balance. And I can’t quit thinking about him.

He was tall, lean, and young. When he approached me, he hugged me. Then, his mother hugged us both. A three-person club sandwich.

He must’ve been a foot taller than I was. His voice squeaked with adolescence. His skin was freckled. He had a long neck.

He recognized me.

“I liked your books, sir,” he said, through a nervous stutter.

Sir? No way. Such titles are reserved for men who wear penny loafers when fishing.

“I read all your books when I was in the hospital,” the boy said. “I kinda got to know you, and it was kinda like we were friends.”

His mother tells me his story. It’s a long one, and it’s not mine to repeat. He has the determination of a saint, and a long road ahead of him. He suffers more than other kids his age. And he might not survive his struggle.

Before he walked away, he told me: “I list ten new things I love every day. I write’em on

paper. My dad told me to do that.”

He tapped his finger against his head. “Gotta keep on thinking ‘bout good things I love. What kinda things do you love?”

I was rendered mute. I couldn’t seem to find words. I noticed a large moon-shaped scar beneath his hair. I tried to say something, anything, but I didn’t.

He hugged me one more time. His mother took his arm, they walked away. The boy walked with a pronounced limp, holding his mother for balance. And I can’t quit thinking about him.

On the off-chance that he is reading this:

1. I love Mexican food. In fact, I have had a lifelong love affair with it. A Mexican man I used to work with with used to make a dish called “chilaquiles verdes.” Before work, he would fry corn tortillas and scrambled eggs, then crumble enough…

We talked about how sad we felt. And about things that made us happy. She liked the Four Tops. I liked Willie. She wanted to be a hip-hop dancer. I wanted write for a newspaper.

Dear Mary,

I got your letter in the mail this afternoon. I read it aloud to my dogs while sipping an iced tea on my porch.

It was a nice surprise, receiving a handwritten letter. I don’t get many.

Even though we are strangers, I was glad to hear about your life. Your new job, your newborn son, and about how much you like Willie Nelson. You’re in good company, Willie Nelson is very special to me, too.

I am sorry your father died. I don’t know exactly what you’re feeling, but I know what it’s like to lose a father. I know you will never be the same.

Not that it matters, but when I was fourteen, I found an ad in the back of a magazine, it advertised a pen pal agency. I responded to the ad, requesting a pen pal.

My assigned correspondent was from Atlanta—keep in mind, this was before the age of the internet. The most advanced form of communication in our day was homing pigeons.

My pen pal’s name was Bee Bee. She was fifteen and wrote in purple ink. She dotted her lowercase “I’s” with little hearts, and I accidentally fell in love with her.

We only wrote each other a handful of times, but we talked about our lives in our letters. She told me about her parent’s divorce. I told her about my father’s suicide.

We talked about how sad we felt. And about things that made us happy. She liked the Four Tops. I liked Willie. She wanted to be a hip-hop dancer. I wanted to write for a newspaper.

She closed each of her letters with:

“Your forever-friend, Bee Bee.”

And well, I’d had never had a forever-friend. Especially not since my father’s death. In fact, I didn’t have many friends at all.

I wished I could end…