Thu, 9th Sep '04, 5:40 pm::

My boss forwarded this to me:

Subject: Letter to Ivan

Dear Ivan:

Hey, how's it going out there near Barbados?

Listen, lots of us here in Southwest Florida have been talking about your scheduled visit.

Now, please don't take this the wrong way. We like spectacular forces of nature as well as the next guy. We realize that Florida and hurricanes go together like country music and drunken driving. We don't want to mess with tradition.

And we know you hurricanes recharge the aquifers, provide an exhilarating break in the stifling heat of late summer, and give neighbors a chance to bond. The economic boost you give to Home Depot alone is enough to make up for whatever inconvenience is to be expected.

So normally you would be as welcome as a gang of Harley riders during Bike Week.

But may I say that this year the timing of your tentatively scheduled arrival seems less than ideal.

You know that visitors start to wear out their welcome after a few days. And too many visitors in a row can also wear down a host and hostess. That, I'm sorry to say, is pretty much the position we Floridians find ourselves in just now.

Your cousin Charley blew through a few weeks ago and, to be blunt, he was less than mannerly. He zoomed in like a hyperactive toddler, leaving the proverbial path of destruction, except that it was no proverb. And then he was gone without so much as a see-ya-later.

Charley was a leave-wet-towels-on-the-floor, never-pick-up-a-tab kind of guest. He inspired some grumbling, and picking up after him has been a real chore. You should have seen Punta Gorda, Port Charlotte, Arcadia and Wauchula.

At least Charley didn't stay long. But just when we were starting to get things almost back to normal, Frances sauntered in.

I don't mean to be crass, but she was HUGE. When she hung around the state, she hung around the state, you know what I mean?

And you know how some guests just don't leave? That's Frances. Even when we were looking at our watches and yawning and singing "The Party's Over" she just stayed and stayed.

Some of us who hadn't really rolled out the red carpet for Charley decided to prepare a lot more for Frances, and maybe we just tired ourselves out. And then she stalled and arrived late, which is always irritating.

She wasn't as wild as Charley, I'll admit. Those rumors about Frances possibly becoming a Category 5 turned out to be overblown hype. But she just sort of oozed through. I went to bed Sunday night and woke up thinking she'd be long gone at last, but she was still here Monday morning!

So a lot of us here are thinking that enough is enough for one year. Actually, the experience of almost back-to-back hurricanes has some people talking about canceling hurricane season entirely.

Don't worry. Floridians won't go that far. But we may consider moving hurricane season to a nicer time of year. I know hurricanes like it hot, but doing without air conditioning would be a lot nicer in November, or maybe March, so as not to interfere with football season.

I mean, did you see where Frances actually caused the postponement of a Gator football game? People will put up with a lot, but let's be reasonable here.

Some are saying we should limit the number of hurricanes allowed into Florida in one year. There might be some debate about whether the limit should be one or two, but there is wide agreement that three is too many.

So, Ivan, here's the point: Florida's famous hospitality is pretty much tapped out just now. Our enthusiasm for big winds and rains, and for TV reporters gushing forth with excited descriptions of it all, has bogged down like a riding lawnmower in the swamp that used to be my back yard.

As I said, it is nothing personal, Ivan, but what would you say to making alternate travel plans?

I understand that Bermuda is lovely this time of year.

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