NORTH PORT — Susan Wetherington smoked her cigarette and watched things around her unfold.
After eight years at the Myakka River Park trailer home community, it was her final day there at the corner of River Road and Tamiami Trail.
As it was for everyone else.
Developers had set Thursday’s park closing deadline months ago. Those remaining at the park, mostly squatters or renters, raced around to collect and pack what they could and then left.
Others with no place to go waited for a miracle.
Those leaving took aluminum roofing, tools, ladders, work equipment, tires, a canoe, motorcycle parts — pretty much anything worth keeping, scrapping or selling. Tons of debris was left for landfilling. The parcel, owned by a Dallas-based developer, is to become a retail complex. It is hoped North Port will annex the property from unincorporated Sarasota County once the land is cleared, according to a spokesperson with MQ Development, the Dallas builder.
Those leaving Thursday had shoved personal belongings in what vehicles that ran or were licensed. A handful pushed their things outside a wire fence erected that day around the perimeter of the 8-acre parcel. They awaited friends with trucks to haul their stuff.
But since the others like Wetherington had no place to go in the finals weeks, they had delayed — living in denial.
The awakening came early Thursday. A Sarasota County sheriff’s deputy announced the inevitable, with a 45-minute lead time, as a huge yellow excavator with T-Rex-like jaws arrived to clutch and rip apart what was left.
The machine huffing as its operator clawed into aluminum, Wetherington — who is 62 and gets a first Social Security check this month — wept and wondered how it had all come to this.
“I made friends,” she said of first moving to Myakka River Park with her husband J.W.
The park dating to the 1970s, she added, was about 70 aluminum homes in a 55-and-up community, once festive but built for working-class snowbirds or lower-income locals. A trailer cost around $5,000, lot rent $400, cheap living only miles from the Gulf of Mexico. There was a clubhouse, talk of a pool, and plenty of partying with tiki lights glowing in the night.
“We’d sit on the lanai and talk,” Wetherington said. “Were their drugs? There were a few … most of us didn’t do it … But I’m going to miss the people here.”
A friend, Sarah Boyle, was nearby puffing on her own cigarette.
“We have this,” Boyle said, pointing to racks and stacks of what looked like rain-soaked flotsam. “But we don’t have a car to tow it.”
Those left at Myakka River Park had received plenty of warnings — final park closure notices came in June but were pushed back due to the coronavirus, a contractor at the site Thursday said.
And the water and power were shut off around Thanksgiving. Someone also had the mailboxes removed around the same time, Wetherington insisted.
“How were we supposed to know?” she asked of shutoffs and demolition. “I loved it here, it was nice.”
Developers held off Thursday on destroying the park’s final aluminum home. It belongs to Zyggy Szymczak, the so-called “piano man.”
He had attracted media attention for his plight. Szymczak, 87, who played professionally at Key West resorts and reportedly at the White House, was hospitalized last week for undisclosed reasons. Advocates scrambled Thursday to secure a new home and to remove a baby grand piano from Szymczak’s collapsing green-and-white home.
Nearby, Art Koch dashed about Thursday, loading things on a flatbed trailer … with deflated tires. The two RV trailers he and others had shared were minutes from getting destroyed. His parcel was layered in man stuff like half-built motorcycles, rusty tools and aluminum strips, much of it dropped off as other trailers got crushed, Koch said.
“We’ve know for a while,” he said of the final day. “But this is kind of getting kicked in the teeth. I guess it is what it is, though; a bump in the road.”
Another man wasn’t as bullish, however.
“They’re lucky the children are gone,” said the man, not wishing to identify himself. “Or we’d be fighting.”