I always have some anxiety before a trip, and that anxiety is even greater when I fly. I don’t worry about plane crashes; rather, I stress about the logistics of flying. Will we make it to the airport on time? Did I accidentally bring contraband items with me? Do I have the confirmation information? Will we be able to sit together? I know that this may sound silly for some of you, but these things worry me. By far, my biggest concern centers around time and not having enough of it. This used to be a point of conflict between Julie and me. Julie prefers to spend the least amount of time at the airport, and I want to be there several hours early. Thankfully, Julie now understands the stress that arriving late causes me, and we get to the airport with hours to spare. This one concession has made air travel significantly easier for me.
As a big guy, flying is no picnic. However, it seems that fellow travelers have become more considerate as of late. On both of my recent flights, the person in front of me did not recline their seat. You have no idea how uncomfortable airplane seats are for someone like me whose knees are crammed up against the seat in front of me. When someone reclines their seat, it becomes impossible to shift my feet, and I am locked into torture for the duration of the flight.
With the flight behind us, it was time to enjoy the trip. Our dear friends, John and Barb, are gracious beyond belief, and they would have allowed us to stay with them for the six days that we were in Florida. However, Julie and I chose a different option. Partly because I never want to burden anyone, and partly for a couple’s reasons.
A few years back, we became empty-nesters. For two months, we grieved our loss; then, we settled into a couple’s life. After establishing a few who did what rules, we started to celebrate our newfound freedom. If we didn’t feel like cooking, we didn’t cook. If we wanted to lounge around the house however we chose, we did that. Suppose we didn’t have groceries in the house, no big deal. Then COVID happened, and our kids returned home.
Don’t get me wrong, we absolutely love having our kids around, but their return also meant the return of parental responsibilities. Our trip could give us a moment of being a couple again, so we decided to split the trip. During the first part of our travels, Julie and I would travel around the state. During the second part, we would visit with John and Barb.
Neither of us is very concerned about the hotels that we stay in. Our only requirement is that they are clean. Julie is the family travel agent, and she does a good job. However, the hotel that we had in Ft. Lauderdale did not meet any of our expectations. Light fixtures didn’t have shades, the microwave was missing its plate, and corrosion was on anything metal. Thankfully, we were there for one short night.
Our other motels were circa 1960s and 1970s. They were kitschy, but we like kitschy. I was especially fond of the place we stayed in Naples. It was a bright flamingo pink and right out of the 1960s. A Hispanic family owned it with pride. The son checked us in, mom showed us around, and dad brought us our complimentary breakfast. Our room was clean and had a little kitchenette. Even the motel sign was super retro.
Speaking of breakfast, I’m one of those guys who has to partake in a hotel’s complimentary breakfast. I’m especially insistent when we are traveling as a family. I’m sure that one of my kid’s memories will be me shouting, “Breakfast is ending in 30 minutes! I’m not going to stop and buy you breakfast when we can eat it for free!” Hopefully, it will bring a smile to their face and not a scowl when they recall this.
We are more National Parks people than Disney folk. We went to the Everglades on Monday, but from a different entrance point than previous trips, and took a boat ride to view dolphins and manatees. Monday was my 69th birthday, and we asked the captain for restaurant recommendations. He told us that the best seafood could be found at a local market/restaurant in tiny Everglade City, so that is where we headed. Everglade City is the Stone Crab capital of the world. I decided that stone crab was the birthday dinner that I wanted, but I was shocked to see how expensive it was. It was a special day, so I went for it. I did not regret my decision.
That night we walked the Naples city pier and viewed the sun as it sank into the Gulf of Mexico. A lovely day, indeed.
The next day we detoured Rt 41 onto a 25 miles scenic dirt road. We trailed a family who seemed to have eagle eyes. Every time that they stopped, we stopped and were treated to sightings of alligators, turtles, and exotic birds. We then dustily meandered on to Florida City at the tip of the peninsula.
The next day we drove two and a half hours on the beautiful Overseas Highway. Through towns and over the ocean, we traveled, stopping once in Marathon to use the bathroom and to buy car treats.
Key West was as I remembered it. Small, cramped, fun. Amazingly, we found free parking, which I immediately marked on Google Maps. Nothing is worse than trying to find your car when you are tired after a long day of walking. The last time we were in Key West, Hemmingway’s House was closed, so that was our first stop. Hemingway’s life is fascinating, but we were also there to see the six-toed cats.
We walked, shopped, and dined. However, our favorite activity was people-watching—another fun day.
We toured other spots in Florida, but soon it was time to drive to Coconut Creek to visit with our friends. John and Barb were as wonderful as always; their house was bursting with Florida charm.
Julie lives in our sunroom during the summer, so it was no surprise that she made a beeline to their lanai. We talked, drank coffee, laughed, and talked some more. John recently had a health crisis, but he has completely recovered. I talk to John regularly, and I was surprised that I was unaware of this recent event.
We got to see more old friends, Debi and Val, and others. It felt like I had returned to my college days. A large group of us went to a local restaurant. A regular haunt of theirs where the waiters knew them by name. I had an enormous serving of fish and chips, so large that I had to request a doggie bag. Julie dined on a shrimp and rice concoction. We remembered old memories and past good times. More fun.
The next day the four of us went to Dearborn Beach and spent the afternoon watching the waves while baking in the sun. I neglected to put on enough sunscreen, a decision that I regretted later. That evening we ate at another fabulous restaurant dining in the sea air. We took our time and talked.
I have gone to school with John since kindergarten, and we became best friends in 6th grade. I forgot how we connected, but John remembered. It was time to line up after lunch, but only John and I did so. The rest of our schoolmates were still playing. I started a conversation with John by telling him some elephant jokes. I had just gotten the Scholastic book 100 and 1 Elephant Jokes, and I was apparently high on humor. At some point, I asked him if he wanted to come to my house to do homework, and the rest is history. We have been friends since that time. We went to the same high school, and we roomed together in college. You never know how a chance encounter can lead to a life-long friend. Over time, John has become more of a brother than a friend. We have known each other for almost 60 years. As an aside, it was interesting to recall how incredibly nerdy I was. Standing in line when the others were playing, telling elephant jokes, socializing by asking someone if they wanted to do homework with me… I am what I am.
I met John’s wife during orientation day at college. We have been friends for well over 40 years.
The trip was just what Julie needed. She had been working hard and needed a break. I’m retired, so I can’t say that I needed the trip. However, it was delightful. I have been to Florida many times, but always in the summer. I don’t do well with extreme heat, and I generally felt exhausted when I was there. However, being in Florida in winter is an entirely different experience. The weather was perfect, and I didn’t feel like I was dying from heatstroke.
I’m a person who doesn’t need a lot of friends, but I do need some. Those who are willing to put up with me will be rewarded with my loyalty, and I will be rewarded by theirs. There is something special when you know someone for more than a short time. Pretense drops away, and you can just be yourself. There is no need to impress the other person because they already know and accept you. Spending time with them is like putting on a comfortable pair of slippers. It is a nice feeling.
Now, back in Naperville, I sit in my chair and type this story for no other reason than to relive those recent memories. What memories will I make today?