‘You go when you go’: the 70-year-old man who spent Irma in his pickup

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “‘You go when you go’: the 70-year-old man who spent Irma in his pickup” was written by Ed Pilkington in Key Largo, Florida, for theguardian.com on Wednesday 13th September 2017 00.24 UTC

You have to wonder: does Ronald Sandelé, a 70-year-old resident of Key Largo, care about protecting the life of a seagull more than saving his own skin?

I met him as I was trying to find gas in Key Largo in the Florida Keys, no easy task in the wake of Hurricane Irma, when looking for fuel has become an obsession for millions of Floridians in the absence of power, food and water. He suddenly appeared, shirtless and dressed in shorts, and walked perilously out into the road to rescue the bird that was lying stricken on the tarmac, its wings clipped by a passing car.

“Nice birdy, nice birdy,” he said, as the bird bit hard on his fingers with its beak in distress. “I only need four fingers,” Sandelé said.

Having laid the bird gently on the grass, he got back into his grey pick-up truck. I was curious about this older man who was so concerned to save the life of a seagull, even amid such human devastation after the hurricane on the Florida Keys.

Ronald Sandelé
Ronald Sandelé in his pickup. Photograph: Ed Pilkington for the Guardian

He said that he’d been living in his truck for the past three weeks, after he was thrown out by his landlord from the home he had rented for 31 years.

For the past three weeks? So where had he spent Sunday, when Irma passed through the Keys as a blazing category 4 hurricane, chewing up everything in its path?

“In the truck,” he replied, to my astonishment. In a pickup truck in the middle of a huge hurricane – that must be one of the most dangerous spots on earth.

“It was kind of rock’n’roll at the back end of the hurricane,” he said. He described how the vehicle began to shake violently and then its rear started to lift up into the air, as though it were about to flip over and soar into the sky. Like a bird.

He must have been scared, I said. “No, not scared. I believe in providence: you go when you go. And what’s the point of being scared? It paralyses you. You function better without fear.”

And then he said, talking to me from the driving seat of the truck which now passes as his home: “It was fun, actually. Irma tossed the truck around like a toy. I never knew a hurricane could do that.”

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'You go when you go': the 70-year-old man who spent Irma in his pickup | NORTH INDIA KALEIDOSCOPE

Rajesh Ahuja

I am a veteran journalist based in Chandigarh India.I joined the profession in June 1982 and worked as a Staff Reporter with the National Herald at Delhi till June 1986. I joined The Hindu at Delhi in 1986 as a Staff Reporter and was promoted as Special Correspondent in 1993 and transferred to Chandigarh. I left The Hindu in September 2012 and launched my own newspaper ventures including this news portal and a weekly newspaper NORTH INDIA KALEIDOSCOPE (currently temporarily suspended).