South

Beach.jpgJust chuck it all and start over.

Get rid of all the things that are bogging down your creativity.

Eliminate the fuss.

Relieve the stress.

Take yourself off the grid, but just remember to take the most important things with you.

Let the mistakes of yesterday become distant memories and lessons that make you a better person, but don’t let them become regrets.

Just chuck it.

Simple words to make a life choice. There was a decision to change my silly life onto a new mission, leaving tire treads on an unpaved dusty road that winds in every direction, but slowly meanders its way south. It was no accident, but a deliberate action of turning the wheel on the old truck off the pavement and onto the dirt that has made my life take this complete and nonsensical twist. The dog didn’t care, he just liked the ride, occasionally grateful to pull over so he could relieve himself on a bush or fence post. And when he was tired, he’d rest his head on my lap, stretching his body out across the vinyl bench seat.

We drove for four days, sleeping at night in the cab of the truck. It wasn’t comfortable, and by the fifth day I was starting to offend myself hygienically. So it was time to find somewhere to pull over and have a decent nights sleep, hot shower, and food that didn’t come in a wrapper.

The sign ahead said Key Largo was only 25 miles away, but the gas gauge on the aging truck was nearing empty. It was time to pull over, get one last drink before hitting US 1 and heading south over the bridge. We pulled into a service station and up to the pumps. I reached for my wallet, and thumbed through the remaining bills.

“Two Sixty two,” I said to the dog. He just stared at me and licked his mouth, then started panting. “Enough to get the truck full on gas and maybe enough for a motel and lousy meal or two. After that, we’d better figure out a new plan. Running out of road any way.”

Stepping out of the truck, a red corvette convertible pulled up to the pump across from the truck. A tanned blond girl stepped out wearing a bikini top and short jean shorts and high heels. Her sunglasses were the size of dinner plates, cherry red, matching the paint of the car. She looked at the truck, seeing the dog’s head poking out the window. She smiled and then saw me. He smile turned upside down quickly. At least I was downwind and she couldn’t become more repulsed by my smell.

I pumped my gas and went in and paid the thirty dollars, buying a couple bottles of water and a bag of chips. Pouring the water into a plastic bowl for the dog, he lapped at it happily from the bench seat, throwing water all over.

“Time to get moving. We’ll catch the sunset when we hit the bridge, buddy. That’ll be a nice way to end the day.”

‘Woof woof’

I hopped into the truck, flipped the key, and hit the stomp starter. She was an old truck, built in 1952, but there had been some modifications made along the way. Some I had done, some from prior owners. Actually, most of what I did was correct all the past mistakes. I was glad to hear that sweet 238 six cylinder turn over, its twin single barrel carburetors and dual exhaust tuned to perfection. She had never let me down. Jack the dog sat up and stuck his nose out the window. He loved the truck and the adventure. And he didn’t really care if I smelled bad. The perfect road trip companion.

As we crossed over onto the ninety mile bridge that leads to Key West and all the little islands in between, I let my foot fall hard onto the throttle and let the old 238 roar. The salt air wafted in through the open windows and the sun started to fall into the Gulf.Absolutely bliss washed over me, man, machine, and dog.

Half an hour later we came into Key Largo and I pulled over at the first neon sign Motel I could find with vacancy. I parked by a row of palms, told the dog to stay and went in to check in for a room. An old lady with snow white hair and a blue muumuu checked me in, uncaring for my appearance. I smiled my best smile, took the key and went out to retrieve my bag from the bed of the truck.

“Come on dog, time for a bath.” He leapt from the window and tucked himself to my heels as I made my way down to the room. The first part of this journey was now over. Tomorrow might bring in some new stress and worry, but for now, I relished in the humid Florida evening, smell of fish and salt on the sea breeze. Air so thick you could cut it with a knife.

After a shower, I stared at myself in the mirror, trying to recognize the person in front of me. Hair too long, a bit thinner now, but not gawky. Beard four days old, but somehow suitable for this place. I certainly wasn’t tan, though my left arm was a bit red from hanging out the side of the truck.

I pulled on the last clean pair of jeans and t-shirt in my bag. Slipping on my shoes and then running my hands through my still damp hair trying to get it into some semblance of order, I looked at dog laying on the bed, head on the pillow. I had put down a bowl of food and water before I showered, he’d eaten vigorously and drank well. Now he was content to have a long nap in a bed that wasn’t moving.

“You sleep little man. I’m off to find my own kibble.”

As I walked out of the motel parking lot, feeling the need to move under my own power some, I saw the moon rising over the neon sign of the motel. It was blood orange red, large and full. It occurred to me that I had not been down this way in nearly twenty years, and though much had changed in that time, the feeling in the air in this part of the world never really changed. Warm and moist, or hot and humid, or just stinking hot, the air never stopped moving with the constant sea breeze either off the Gulf or the Atlantic, mostly keeping the heat tolerable. The warm waters always glistened with inviting gifts cast on the rolling surf. This was a place that a person either loved or hated. If you loved it though, it would never leave your blood, salt ever flowing in your veins.

I walked about a mile down the road and found a little fish shack biker bar. A place most of the tourists would pass by and the locals considered home. I wouldn’t look local, but I certainly wasn’t a tourist. And this was just the right kind of place to find a connection or two. At the bar were half a dozen folks, sipping beers and staring at the TV mounted over the bar. I found a seat there as well, and waved at the lady behind the counter.

“What can I get ya?” she asked. She had the look of a woman who spent her life in the Keys. Deeply tanned skin, sun bleached hair, somewhat dry and frizzed from the salt.

“Beer, Hamburger and fries.”  She took my order and walked away, keying the order into a little computer. A minute later, a beer appeared before me, cold and frothy. As I drank I glanced at the TV, which was the single most point of interest for just about everyone in the bar, including those at the tables. It became abundantly clear that the whole place was completely captured by the message on the screen. It also occurred to me that the old bag in the muumuu had been watching the same channel earlier when I had checked into the Motel.

“Can you turn that up?” called the old man from the end of the bar. His long gray hair made him look like the lost member of ZZ Top’s brother. He still wore his sunglasses, despite the fact that one lumen darker and this bar would be a dungeon by candle light.

The scrawny bar made hit the remote and turned up the TV. It was on the weather channel, and there was some Latin lady standing on a dark beach in Miami talking into a hand held micro-phone that had a wind screen so large she could be standing at the fifty yard line of the Super Bowl. The ticker at the bottom of the screen headlined “Hurricane Storm Rages towards the Florida Keys.”

“Shiiiiit,” I said, perhaps a little too loud as the others at the bar turned and stared at me.

“Yea Shit!” came the ZZ Top looking dude. “Goin’ be a category 3 before it hits on Saturday.”

“What day is today?”

He looked at me and paused, then slowly said, “Thursday.”

“Shit.” I said again.

“Extensive literary skills you got there, Bub. Where you from?”

“North,” I said.

“Yea,” he said, then came off his perch and sidled up to me, pulling a chair next to mine and sat his large frame down, looking back at the TV. “She sure is cute though, that Chica. Best thing about this hurricane will be watching her on the beach in the wind and rain. Anyway, I can tell you’re from the North. On vacation?”

“Yea nah, actually, just coming to town. Heading to Key West tomorrow.”

My burger arrived, and I started drooling the moment it hit the counter in front of me. It was massive and smelled divine. I took a huge bite and chewed blissfully, the first good meal in days and one of the best burgers I’d eaten in a very long time.

“Good, ain’t they,” said the bearded man. “Name’s Chuck.” He extended his meaty paw at me. I grabbed hold and shook.

“Jake,” I said.

“You got a job down South?”

“Not yet,” I replied honestly between bites of mouth watering beef, lettuce, bun, tomato, cheese and some mystery sauce from bar-b-q heaven.

“What do you do?”

“I used to be something, now I’m not. So I guess I don’t do much right now.”

Chuck snorted, “Been there. About thirty years ago, actually. And here I am, still ain’t doin’ shit. But we can say this, we’re all in this one together, unless you’ll be one of the thousands that try to head North tomorrow. Be a jam from here all the way to Orlando. Rest of us are just going to ride it out. You got a place to stay, Bub?”

“At the motel up the street now. Head south tomorrow, sure I’ll find somewhere to hide out.”

“Well, you be careful Bub. This storm ain’t no joke. You get in a pickle, look up Maggie at the Hotel de Palms, about a block or so off the main drag just down from the southernmost jetty. Can’t miss it. Tell her Chuck sent ya.”

“Thanks, Chuck. Really appreciated.”

“Think nothing of it, after all, only two kinds of people keep driving into a hurricane, the insane and the fools. Gotta look after my own kind. Enjoy your meal, Bub.”

Chuck got up and retired himself to a corner table, staring at the TV and drinking his beer. I waved over the bar lady and asked her to throw a couple beers for Chuck on my bill.
Finishing my meal by licking each and every finger, I headed back to the motel and found Jack still laying on the bed snoring his guts out. I lay down, pushing him across enough for me to get some pillow and quickly fell asleep.

Tomorrow, the adventure would really begin, because only the fools and the insane drove into the hurricane.

bigred1946

Just a guy, happy with life, happy with my wife, dogs, antiques, and a passion for aviation, classic cars, and writing.

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