At West Meck, a poet writes about storm’s destruction, about whether to go or stay

A part-time poet, a homeless truck driver and a mom and her kids running from the storm — all were among the residents Sunday at a Red Cross shelter set up inside West Mecklenburg High School.

With Hurricane Florence still assaulting Charlotte, the school’s gym had been turned into what one of the temporary neighbors called a “safe haven” from the relentless rain outside.

Statewide, about 20,000 North Carolinians have taken refuge in a shelter, which offer a cot to sleep on and three hot meals a day.

Marion Shepherd, 53, had checked in to the shelter — a first for him — on Saturday night along with his daughter, LaShanna, 30, and his grandson, Antione Rivers, 8.

“By my house (off Brookshire Boulevard), I have a lot of trees, and I didn’t feel safe staying at home,” said Shepherd, a retired electrician and now an Uber driver whose memories of Hurricane Hugo’s punch convinced him to take Florence seriously.

While his daughter slept on a Red Cross cot and his grandson tossed a football and watched cartoons with a new friend, Shepherd found a semi-comfortable spot in the bleachers and spent his Sunday writing a poem.

He’s calling it “Hurricane Florence.”

“For over a year I wasn’t able to watch television,” it begins.

“So everyday seemed to be the same.

Then one day my daughter told me a hurricane was coming our way,

And Florence was her name.”

It ends with a line about people who want to stay, then:

“But I have seen the destruction of these storms,

“And I know to leave and get out of their way.”

Jesse James Bristow.JPG
Jesse James Bristow, a Charlotte-born trucker, found refuge from Hurricane Florence on Sunday in the Red Cross shelter at West Mecklenburg High School. Tim Funk The Charlotte Observer

Down on the gym floor, Jesse James Bristow, 60, was trying to get some shut-eye, his head resting on balled up Red Cross blankets.

These days, his only home is whatever tractor-trailer truck he’s driving. And as Hurricane Florence landed in North Carolina, the Charlotte native was between truck assignments.

“My money was depleted and I had nowhere to go” he said.

So a friend who drives a cab dropped him off at the Red Cross shelter, at no cost. “The storm was coming, so I figured it was a safe haven.”

On adjacent cots were Auriel Tinsley and her son, Colin, 3.

She and her kids — nearby were Carter, 5, and Caleb, 1 — hail from Hope Mill near Fayetteville. And on Thursday, amid all the dire headlines about Hurricane Florence, Tinsley scooped up her three small children and got on a Greyhound bus bound for Charlotte.

“I was just running from the storm,” said Tinsley, 26, who works at Food Lion. “I wanted to get farther away (from the hurricane). I was scared.”

She, her children and her grandmother, 66, have been at the Red Cross shelter since Friday morning.

And she plans to stay put for awhile. “I’m just riding a wave,” she said. “We’ll go back when it’s over.

Tim Funk: 704-358-5703; @timfunk

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