Storm Survivor Is Off Of “Shakey” Ground
When Superstorm Sandy poured its wrath on Gerritsen Beach homes, many victims were forced to find temporary housing. They rented apartments, stayed in FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) housing or with nearby family and friends for weeks – even months. Some are still displaced from their homes – like Michael Peterson, whose home is now a boat at the Tamaqua Marina, located on Ebony Court in Gerritsen Beach.
Peterson is from New London, Connecticut and split his time between New London and Brooklyn prior to Superstorm Sandy. As an avid fisherman, he loves being near the water. Peterson has a 27-foot sailboat in New London and ran summer sailing programs at a local yacht club there. “When I’m not in Connecticut, I’m in Brooklyn. Gerritsen Beach is my home away from home,” Peterson said. To his friends, he’s fondly known as “Shakey,” a nickname that’s stuck since 1996. When Peterson was 13 years old, he developed a slight tremor, which later became the source for his new name.
Shakey shared a basement apartment in Manhattan Beach with a friend, Tim Cothren. When Sandy hit last October, Cothren was out of town and Shakey was in Connecticut. The storm wiped out their basement apartment as water reached the ceiling, rendering it unlivable. Cothren moved to his girlfriend’s apartment in Manhattan…and Shakey to a boat on the water.
Shakey, who can be described as a bit of a wanderer or a vagabond by nature, has been on the road since he was 17 years old – doing what he loves to do best – playing music. “I have traveling shoes,” Shakey said. “I went to the U.S. Virgin Islands 33 years ago to play guitar – and stayed there for eight years.” Shakey formed a band while living there and played in that band for about four years.
Living on an island, Shakey was no stranger to storms. The singer/guitar player was in St. Croix when Hurricane Hugo struck in 1993. Besides being a musician, Shakey is also a carpenter and was able to put his skills to good use. He helped rebuild eight school roofs, 14 government housing roofs and 25 houses – all destroyed by Hugo.
Shakey began commuting to New York City to play gigs and started playing at the Tamaqua Bar back in 1996 on holidays like Memorial Day, Fourth of July and Labor Day. Eventually, he returned from the Virgin Islands and was hired by ABC as a cameraman. But, in 1998, Shakey became very ill and needed a liver transplant.
The waiting list for the transplant was two and a half years long – but his doctor in Connecticut told him he only had nine months to live and wouldn’t put his name on the list. Subsequently, he took matters into his own hands, chose another doctor and had a successful liver transplant in 2001. “I spent my sick days here in Gerritsen Beach; this community became a family to me,” Shakey fondly recalls.
In 2005, he formed a five-man band, known as “Shakey and the Tremors.” The country rock band plays at the Tamaqua and other local bars, like the now-famous Bay House — its bar floated across the Rockaway Inlet, over the Belt Parkway and wound up on the streets of Gerritsen Beach.
“I had nowhere to go after the storm hit. A boat owner, whose vessel is docked at the Tamaqua, offered to let me stay on his soft ocean fishing boat, non-gratis, until I get my feet back on the ground,” Shakey said.
Amazingly, none of the boats at the Tamaqua Marina were damaged from the storm even though the fierce storm waters converged on the normally tranquil canal. “It’s because of the Sarubbi brothers,” Shakey proclaimed. “They saved 50 boats. Braving the storm, the five brothers monitored all the boats on the dock and secured them – until the water rose so high that it was not safe to continue.
“Not one boat was lost at the Tamaqua because of the Sarubbis. I know of a nearby boat yard that did not heed the storm warnings and lost 30 of their boats,” Shakey explained.
At the height of the storm, the water rose nine feet. Fortunately, the Tamaqua Bar is elevated but the storm still submerged the building in three feet of water. The Sarubbis used squeegee mops to try and detain the water, but, as the water rose rapidly, their efforts were futile. Eventually, the brothers had to get to higher ground and stood on the stage to avoid the rushing waters.
“You get a real sense of community here. I would do anything to help these people,” Shakey said. And he does – using his carpentry skills to do any needed work around the Tamaqua. He also works with HEART 9/11, a volunteer driven, non-profit disaster relief organization that’s helping to rebuild homes in the community, as well as several homeowners in the area.
“It’s that pay-it-forward thing. When people are good to you, you need to do something,” Shakey concluded.
Although Shakey has “traveling shoes,” he may just stay in Gerritsen Beach for awhile. He says he is close to moving back to his Manhattan Beach apartment soon. “I have enough work here to keep me busy for two years.”