They say it’s been 21 years, but damn if doesn’t seem like yesterday when he rolled into town, a cherub-faced former director of the National Hurricane Center with a crazy mad gleam in his eye and especially good bounce in his then-unfashionable flattop. Now, in advance of what could be the most deadly storm season on record (Don’t they always say that? They just gotta be right one time!) he’s taking retirement, consigning his still-vital (judging by the flattop) self to aimless days of golf and repeated afternoon listenings of Miles’ Birth of the Cool, reputedly his favorite sounds for “afternoons of lassitude and ease.”
The import of his passing from our TV screens was recognized by none other than the mayor, who declared Friday “Neil Frank Day in Houston” (well, that's according to Channel 11; perhaps you, like us, stayed in bed all day to observe the occasion). Channel 11, in the curious person of Greg Hurst, assured us that “Doc” (we never knew if he was a pediatrician or an anesthesiologist) would return to the airwaves in case of a hurricane (“Break Glass to Retrieve Dr. Neil”). It seems that hurricanes are to Neil Frank what crack cocaine is to a person who enjoys crack cocaine.
We can hope, of course, but we fear that another Neil with a similarly anachronistic hair-do may have foreseen Doc’s true fate many years back: “Once you’re gone, you can never come back, when you’re outta the blue and into the black ….”
So tonight we are bereft as we stand down the gathering winds and shout our questions to the blackness: Who, who, will get us ginned-up into near-hysteria the next time a tropical storm forms way out in the Atlantic? Who---tell us who----will mangle the pronunciation of the actual deadliest hurricane to hit these latitudes in many years (“Kre-TEENA, you so fine”)? Who will stay on the air for 40-plus hours, becoming progressively dopier and wild-eyed as the next killer hurricane takes a turn to the east? Who, we ask?
(The wind whispered “Mary,” we think …)