The World According To Dutch: The Junkyard Dog And The Hurricane From Hell
The story here today is a story about one of my old friends...Sylvester Ritter who was more commonly known by his wrestling name of the Junkyard Dog. A little background on Dog..he was from a small town in North Carolina, Wadesboro, which is located about 45 minutes east of Charlotte. Dog played football at a Division ll school, Fayetteville State and actually received an honorable mention on the All American team that year. But he wanted to become a wrestler and he succeeded with his goal.
Dog ended up in the Mid South promotion which consisted of Louisiana, Mississippi, Arkansas and Oklahoma in the early 80's, which was booked and owned by Bill Watts. Watts was the original creator of the name, THE JUNKYARD DOG and it was here that Watts made the Junk Yard Dog a household name. Dog became legendary for taking on the biggest and baddest villains that the Mid South had to offer such was the Million Dollar Man, Ted DiBiase, Jake the Snake Roberts, Kamala and King Kong Bundy among others. Dog also headlined what was then billed as the SuperCards...at the Louisiana SuperDome in New Orleans and all of those cards did tremendous business at the gate.
But there was another promotion starting up at the time and it was turning into a monster...the WWF and Vince McMahon was blind to what was available to him if he just waved a checkbook in front of people. DiBiase, Kamala, Jake the Snake and King Kong all took McMahon up on his offer and when the WWF offered Dog a chance to work with them, he had no choice but to accept the offer. He could not make anywhere close to the money that McMahon was offering him so Dog followed the trail of dollars an in 1984, Dog found himself in the WWF where he had a very successful run. But alas...all good things must end and Dog left the WWF in 1988 and returned back to Wadesboro.
But the Dog, due to his popularity not only in the Mid South but in WWF, soon picked up another run in 1990 when he signed with WCW and this is where I reconnected with him. I was also working in WCW, at the time, cohosting a syndicated show with Tony Schiavone that aired in the international markets. WCW held a lot of their tapings at the time in Marietta, Georgia at the Cobb Convention Center about 20 miles north of downtown Atlanta. Those taping days were brutal...sometimes as many as 20 matches a day were taped and by the end of the night..not only were the wrestlers completely dead but the fans as well.
So one day, while Dog and I were in catering, subject of Puerto Rico came up in general conversation. When Dog heard Puerto Rico being mentioned, his ear pricked up and he told me he would never go back to Puerto Rico. Usually, when guys said that, it was always an issue it was with the fans or the promotion over money but Dog told me he loved Puerto Rico and liked wrestling there. What he didn't like was the weather. I said the weather was beatiful there and he said..not when its HURRICANE SEASON.
Dog started his story by saying when he finished his run in the WWF, he started making weekend tours in Puerto Rico and he was there in September of 1989 when a massive hurricane was bearing down on the island. As Dog explained, this was not just your regular
tropical storm..this was a MONSTER hurricane by the name of:
HUGO is a name that still strikes fear into the residents of Puerto Rico and all the Caribbean. Hugo was a dangerous Category 5 hurricane and folks, a Cat 5 hurricane can't get any bigger. A Category 5 hurricane packs sustained winds in excess of 160 mph and HUGO'S sheer mass was the size of Texas. Plus it was moving slowly over water and not losing any punch. Hurricanes pick up power while over water and the power only subsides when it touches landfall. Hugo was headed on a direct path right into the heart of the island. To compare it to a hurricane that is more familiar in size and deadliness, think KATRINA.
The date was mid September, 1989 which is exactly in the middle of hurricane season in the Caribbean. Dog had come into Puerto Rico just a day or so earlier when it was broadcast that HUGO was headed straight for San Juan. The wrestling office had provided a room for JYD a block off the beach and Dog knew that he sat at the very center of the storm. Dog had wrestled one night and had two more nights to go when he learned that the tour had been cancelled. It was the best thing but Dog told me that he had a bad feeling about all of it. Actually, everything was cancelled...because hurricanes are not a laughing matter in Puertot Rico or anywhere they hit.
Dog told me he was staying in a small but much older hotel right on the beach in San Juan and when he learned that the matches were cancelled, he made a beeline to the airport which was only a 10 minute taxi ride away from his hotel. But upon arrival at the airport, he was met by a sight that he wasn't prepared for. The airport was JAM PACKED with thousands of people, mostly tourists, who all had the same idea that Dog did. They all wanted to leave the island before the hurricane hit.
At the airport, there were literally thousands of people all trying to achieve the same thing. Get booked on the next flight out. Trouble was, demand far and away outweight supply. The ticket concourses were so packed and the lines were so long that it would have taken all day just to get up to the counter. Dog said that as soon as he got out of the cab, his cab driver told him that they had just from his dispatcher that the airport would be closing in two hours. His driver informed him that if you didn't already hold a reservation in your hand, you were out of luck. Dog had no choice but to return to his room and wait out the storm.
Dog told me that the first stop he made on the way back was the liquor store where he bought two fifths of Jack Daniels and 2 liters of coke. His next stop was at a grocery store which was completely overrun with people. When he went to get water, all the water was COMPLETELY GONE!!! There was no water at all because it was the first item to go. Not to be defeated, Dog did get one gallon of water but he did it by grabbing it out of someone else's shopping cart when they weren't looking.
Dog said almost all the food had been depleted but he did manage to get some little snacks such as crackers and a few cans of tuna. In a hurricane anywhere in the world, there is no telling when the natural order of things will be restored. Dog said, he was all alone...and he knew that it was going to be a long, long night. There were no other American wrestlers on the tour and he didn't speak Spanish.
Dog told me he sat alone in his hotel room that afternoon...saving his water and eating a little of what he had just purchased. There was no going out to eat...everything was locked down tighter than Mick Foley's wallet. The hotel that the wrestling office had provided him with didn't look sturdy or hardy enough to withstand a big storm. He watched the sky get darker and darker as it got later in the day. And gradually, he listened as a light rain started falling and the winds started to pick up. He could see the Carribbean through his window and noticed the palm trees outside the hotel as they started to bend more and more as the wind started becoming stronger. The waves on the beach started crashing in with more force and Dog me that you could feel the pressure in the air drop.
At the time in the late 80s, cable TV was really in its infancy and it was rare for anyone to have cable in Puerto Rico. Puerto Rico, as with most of the Caribbean at the time, was about 5 years behind the states in technological gadgets and with TV, were even farther behind. Since there was a lack of cable exposure in Puerto Rico, there were only three local channels to watch for English speaking people to get news or weather reports. There was no CNN, no Weather Channel, no MSNBC, no NBC, ABC or CBS. But HUGO had hijacked all the daily programming and even though he didn't speak Spanish, he told me you didn't need to speak Spanish to know how serious these reporters were taking this storm. He could see when they posted their radar graphics. HUGO WAS A MONSTER STORM and it was scheduled to make landfall in Puerto Rico at around 11PM that night.
Dog said he had never been so alone in his life...he called his wife and told her what was going on but in the middle of the call...the phone went dead. The storm was closing in on Puerto Rico and all Dog could do was pray and hope that he and the little hotel he was staying at was strong enough to withstand the storm. Then Dog said the wind started really blowing and from his balcony of the hotel, he could see gusts of wind carrying the rain and all the debris it was picking up from the street lights that were still on. There was no traffic..there were no people on the street..no police cars...nothing. It was as deserted as a ghost town Dog said. Finally..at about 10 PM, the power went out and with that, all the lights in San Juan. It was total darkness in Dogs room and on the street.
Dog felt a long night coming on. Dog just didn't know how long.
TO BE CONTINUED...
IN THE NEXT INSTALLMENT OF THE WORLD ACCORDING TO DUTCH, READ THE DOG'S FIRST HAND REPORT OF PERSONALLY SURVIVING A MONSTER HURRICANE AND WHAT HAPPENED AFTER THE STORM.