The Follies Frances: Dumb To Dangerous

You’ve seen the TV footage and the newspaper photos. Maybe you were an eyewitness. Perhaps a participant; hopefully not. Call it the “Follies Frances.” Bayshore turned into a photo-op flood plain of gamboling and frolicking from an early morning storm surge and high tide.

Call it something else too. Dumb. And dangerous.

Now a note of context. This is a first-hand account. Specifically, the perspective is that of someone who had three uprooted trees, a backlog of storm refuse, a sandbagged front door, skittish power — and nothing that resembled a party temperament. But still, dumb is dumb. Dangerous is dangerous.

Let’s start with the most obvious. The numbskull exhibitionist on the Jet Ski and the simp in the Bayshore-traversing Land Rover represented a new level of idiocy. We’re reminded that money can’t buy brains. Maybe it’s the parvenu gene.

Now for the most serious — and most confounding.

Concede the surreal scene that is a flooded Bayshore; it is quite the sirenic attraction. Any kid would be tempted to play in it. Indeed, there were splashing tykes in bathing suits and older kids on skim boards.

What makes no sense, however, are the parents who permit it. What is it about brackish sewer water — in all its contaminant variety and menace — that they don’t understand? Doesn’t coliform count?

“Sure, it looks like fun, but I can’t stress enough how inadvisable it is for parents to allow their children to play in it,” says Cindy Morris, the director of environment services for the Hillsborough County Health Department. “With normal flooding, you should avoid standing water — let alone a major storm with major pumping stations out. Sewage overflows. The natural runoff includes animal and bird feces, for example. It was in that water.

“We can’t stress enough to the public that it’s risky to be submerged in that water,” Morris adds. “You get intestinal illnesses from contaminated water if you ingest it. If it gets into your eyes or nose. Or if you have sores or lesions. Then there are the hazards of not knowing what’s there. It could be electrical; it could be glass.”

It could be avoided. But obviously common sense was in as short a supply as generators were.

Runner-up: Those who made the Frances Follies a well-photographed, early Labor Day family event. Very early — as when the storm still surged, the rain remained heavy, the wind stayed stiff and the occasional tree branch whistled by. Some brought their very youngest — still in strollers — pulled from behind to avoid facing into the wind. The photo album will surely bear witness: “Baby’s First Hurricane.” Cute. Derelict and stupid, but cute.

Honorable mention: The early morning mom who accompanied her two young boys, both of whom were outfitted in skates and umbrellas. Bonding in a breezy obstacle course.

Honorable mention: The lad who brought his three-wheel, all-terrain vehicle beyond the water’s edge before turning around and performing a wheelie on the soggy lawn of St. John’s Episcopal Church. Maybe an agnostic — as well as a garden variety, inconsiderate punk.

Honorable mention: The man-on-a-mission guy in the pick-up who drove so close to Bayshore that his wheel wells were covered — as he parked it in a half U-turn. He jumped out, took a photo of his monster truck in a tropical flood and climbed back into his now stalled vehicle. Touché.

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