In plaid pants, T-shirt and black Dodge gimme cap, Raymond Clark, 85, is mending a small ornamental windmill in his front yard on Bradley Drive.
The feet of his stepladder sink in the boggy grass as he climbs another rung. Around these parts, this is known as high ground. Other patches of his lawn look like small ponds, thanks to Hurricane Frances.
Clark estimates that the monumental storm and its offshoot bands of rain have dropped seven or eight inches on St. Cloud since Friday. And he is still recovering from Hurricane Charley, which swept across Florida from the opposite direction just three weeks earlier and ripped the roof from his enclosed patio.
Hurricane Charley was compact, fast-moving and made of wind. Frances, on the other hand, was morbidly obese, lumbering and made of water. The paths of the two storms met at this crossroads, Clark says. And now there is talk of Hurricane Ivan heading for the same star-crossed spot.
"I'm thinking of selling the goddamn place and moving away," says Clark, a retired machinist from Erie, Pa.
He chose to live in this quiet little neighborhood, a melange of concrete block homes and mobile homes, in 1981. Over the years he has put his quirky stamp on his abode. The family name is written in large letters across the front of the house. Yard art abounds. Posts on either side of the driveway display models of bears, rabbits and foxes. A plywood cutout of a gardener sits here; flowers bloom over there. American flags are pasted in several windows. Such stuff dreams are made on.
But there is no time for reverie. There is much work to be done in the wake of the two storms, Clark says. While Frances moves on to the Florida Panhandle and beyond, the storm's effects here continue. Violent squalls come in waves. Tornado warnings pop up here and there. The sky spits rain. The electricity is still off. Clark climbs down from the ladder, excuses himself and steps inside. The generator in his carport hums like a mighty wind.
Throughout St. Cloud and much of the rest of Florida, folks can't help but compare Frances and Charley. This storm did this; that storm did that. Everywhere the devastation is evident, even if the culprit is not. Charlie's Restaurant Meat-A-Rama just off of Irlo Bronson Highway has collapsed into itself like a white dwarf star. The roof of Chubby's transmission shop has been peeled back like the top of a sardine can. Side streets are walled in by piles of fallen branches.
David Cooper, 46, who is a machine operator for a company that makes plastic soda bottles, says Charley didn't do a bit of harm to his cheery yellow-and-white trailer in the center of St. Cloud. But Frances turned his lovely aluminum portico into a homely scrapheap.
In the Land of the Sun subdivision nearby, George Critchlow, 69, is still picking up after Charley. In work clothes and gloves, he loads a small trailer with large oak branches and carts them to the street.
"We only lost a window during Frances," he says, pointing to the front of his three-bedroom, ranch-style brick home. People in St. Cloud and Osceola County agree that neither storm was as bad as the tornadoes in 1998 that killed more than 40 people in the area. One leveled a shopping center within a stone's throw of Critchlow's home. But the parade of hurricanes is growing tiresome.
The Cracker House Saloon near the Florida Turnpike is hurting from when Charley met Frances. The front door is broken and a large corner of the roof has fallen. But a red neon sign reads "OPEN." Inside there is a Confederate flag draped over a small bandstand, and opinionated bumper stickers -- one reads "Gun Control Is Being Able to Hit Your Target" -- paper the wall behind the bar.
Friendly bartender Jocie Tolliver, 41, says it's important that the saloon be open for thirsty people. She's wearing a black tank top and jeans. Her blond hair is tucked beneath a Budweiser cap and she sports an artful lion's head tattoo on one shoulder.
Overhead, people work between rainstorms to fix the holes in the roof. Tolliver explains that winds from Charley felled a beloved old oak. The trunk crashed into the side of the dark-wood saloon and weakened the ceiling. Frances added insult to injury by tearing through the roof and sending rain into the bar.
"The pool table out there is all filled with water," says Tolliver as she serves tangy barbecue. "We were out of electricity for 24 hours."
Fortunately her boyfriend is a welder. They were able to crank up a generator and get electricity into their house. They even invited a stranded stranger to stay with them for a few days.
Frances was bad, she says, "but Charley was a whole lot worse for this area."
On Bradley Drive, Raymond Clark's neighbors gather in the street. They assess the damage -- from both storms.
Ray Baybrook, 81, a retired engineer from Pennsylvania, points to a crumpled mobile home two doors down from Clark and says, "That was from Charley."
But the ocean at the end of the street, which makes Bradley Drive nearly impassable, is courtesy of Frances.
Many of the homes and trees on this one unassuming avenue have sustained heavy and obvious damage, but not the house of motorcycle salesman Pete Callas, 53, who stayed home as Frances moved through Central Florida. He tied down his front porch with ropes and stakes. "The house shook some," he says.
Arthur Scheidt, 46, wanders up to join the conversation. He is another one of the lucky ones. His home was undamaged by either storm.
Scheidt says he is disabled. He is wearing white rain boots. During Frances, he grabbed his next-door neighbor, who is deaf, and they both stayed in a storm shelter at a local elementary school. "I didn't like it," Scheidt says. "I felt like I was in jail."
He's not sure what he will do when the next hurricane comes, and doesn't have homeowner's insurance. There is a stoic acceptance among these men that they live in fragile dwellings along perilous paths.
But Scheidt says that, unlike Raymond Clark, he has not thought of moving. Scheidt's corner house is built around a 1962 single-wide Rembrandt mobile home.
He looks down the street toward his property. "I feel sort of bulletproof," he says.
Then adds, "Not completely."