A Grouper Sandwich
The four of us were seated under the shade of a palm tree, around a white plastic table, on white plastic chairs, in Key West. Tourists wandered past on a narrow sidewalk a few feet below, on that tropical afternoon.
That’s when he said it.
My sweet Sven and I were on vacation.
We’d driven all the way to Fort Meyers Beach, Florida, from Wisconsin with my parents.
“They lied!” says my mom upon arrival, as cars whizzed by the screened in porch that faced a court yard and a pool.
“Genvieve, the brochure said the place had access to the water. It didn’t say it was on the water,” replied my dad.
That pissed my mom off more.
For some reason he still hadn’t figured out that when his wife was bitching, it was not the best time to defend who or whatever she was bitching about.
She pulled the brochure out of her purse and held it in front of us.
“It says seaside. Right here. Look. And what access to the water? I don’t see any access to any water.”
Charlie, the white-heron-neighbor was peering in through the screened door.
“It’ll be fine,” says my dad. “We can make do.”
“But Kerm,” she says softly, “you love listening to the waves when you go to bed. That’s your favorite part.”
I had to agree. The whole seaside description was a bit of a stretch.
Although technically there was access to the ocean.
The brochure just failed to mention that one had to train for a year in order to achieve this access.
You see, what one had to do was zip across the busy street on the handy crosswalk right there on the corner. Then just make one’s way between a couple of high rise hotels on the other side to a path that veered to the left of an ocean-marsh. This then led one to a rocky patch where one was able to do a little balancing act and then all of a sudden one would come upon clear water that one could wade through.
It only came up to my neck.
And once Sven and I made it to the end of the no-nonsense obstacle course, we were on a very nice beach.
There were just a couple of teenage lovers, a little black lab puppy, and the two of us.
And they didn’t hang around long once we’d splashed onto shore.
“Well, they will be hearing from me about this seaside bullshit!” says my mom.
The location was a bit of a disappointment to all of us.
Because history adds up.
It can take a toll on you.
This particular vacation happened to be our third trip to Florida, together.
Our first endeavor was in 1997.
I couldn’t wait to see my first real live palm tree from the back seat of the car. I was wondering if they would all pop up at once, or just how the transition would occur.
We’d stayed in a rental house in a quiet Orlando neighborhood.
Quiet except for the constant whir of air conditioners all lined up in every backyard.
And an occasional air plane passing overhead.
An occasional air plane passing overhead one after the other, all day long.
But you get used to that.
The reason the first trip even came about was due to the fact that my boys, Marques and Rene were going to be performing with their high school chorus at Disney World.
It was pretty exciting.
Not the kind of show that a mother should miss.
So, I asked my mother if she would like to accompany her daughter on a road trip to Disney World.
She said, “Yes.”
And then my dad said, “Well, I might like to go.”
And then my sweet Sven says, “Hey. Wait. What about me?”
We all loved that nauseatingly mauve and plastic plant decorated house and it’s screened in heated swimming pool.
The trip was a complete success.
Well, except for that one long day that we’d spent in Disney World.
We waited and waited to see Marques and Rene up on the stage in front of the big clock after a full day of Disneying around.
We stood there on the pavement and watched school after school after school.
Kids of all sizes, in robes of all colors.
Sing song after song after song.
As a matter of fact, we heard every high school in America harmonize that night.
Every high school in these United States.
Because unbeknownst to us, Lodi had been ousted from the big production due to a little mishap that occurred while in the changing room. It had something to do with Rene’s friend saying something that was completely misunderstood by a couple of Asian students.
To this day Ben claims he is innocent.
“Kooks, I said kooks!”
But that little mouth disaster, no matter what actually came out of it, did not stop the four of us newly found traveling companions from stepping up our game.
We’d been bit.
We had the fever.
So, a couple years later we booked ourselves a place on the Panhandle.
The Gandalfo House was an adorable little cottage that was perched on stilts on a white sandy beach.
Trip number two turned out to be a complete success.
Except that upon arrival we received a phone call.
“Who could that be?” we said.
My mom picked up the receiver.
“Hello?” she says. “What? Why?”
We watched her eyebrows go up and down.
She was nodding.
She shook her head.
Her eyes rolled.
“Oh. Okay,” she says. “We will do that. Thank you.”
And she hangs up the phone.
“We are supposed to leave the water running tonight,” she snaps. “It’s going to freeze.”
The caller had been correct.
It froze that night in Gulf Shores and every night after that, for exactly one week.
From Saturday to Saturday.
But, other than the bitter cold, the non stop wind, the one day that the freezing rain went sideways past our gorgeous deck all day, and that Sven and my dad got frostbite playing golf, it had been picture perfect.
We took this as learning opportunity.
That is why we aimed the dart further south the next time we started making plans.
That is why we were hanging out with Charlie, in Fort Meyer’s Beach, Florida.
We made a couple of cocktails.
We grabbed a few beers.
We went out by the pool and we got over the sea-less-side-ness of the place.
And we thoroughly enjoyed our first night in Fort Meyers Beach.
Just my sweet Sven, my mom, my dad, Charlie and me.
We had beautiful weather that week.
Sven and my dad would head out each morning pulling their golf clubs along on the sidewalk behind them.
Mom and I would read our books, eat toasted English muffins under a quarter inch of melted peanut butter and drink strong, black coffee, next to the pool.
And then we’d fix ourselves a Bloody Mary.
And then we’d take the trolley downtown.
That is where we found gold.
I bought a necklace that has since been stolen and melted down for cash to buy drugs.
But, he said he was sorry.
My mom bought an ankle bracelet that detached itself from her ankle years later while she was in The Riviera Maya.
She is still waiting for an apology.
One afternoon Sven and my Dad met us after golf.
We had a couple of beers and burgers at a picnic table on a beach lined with shops.
While my dad twirled a vanilla ice cream cone in his mouth, he held out a brochure.
“We can take an air boat to Key West from here. It only takes four hours,” he says.
“What’s an airboat?”
“Well, Son of a Sailor!”
I could hardly sleep.
We had to get up real early the next morning.
As we began to depart from a small dock, we were lined up on the deck and were in awe of the sights.
We slowly made our way through the channel.
“Look! Dolphins,” a kid yelled.
“Where?” I said.
“Over there,” says my mom.
“Where?” I said.
“Over there,” says my dad.
“Where?” I said.
“Over there,” says Sven.
I never did see the damn things.
But it really didn’t matter.
Because we’d come to the end of the channel.
And then our boat turned into a flying ship.
You see, an airboat hovers above the water as it propels forward at warp speed.
It has something to do with turbo jets, or airplane engines or both.
The moment that engine roared I wished I’d worn something different.
But at the same time I was thankful I’d pulled a tank top over my head first.
Because the Kokopelli T-shirt that I’d cut into pretty much nothing, was instantly around my neck, flapping in my face.
And that is where it remained for four hours.
There was a spot by the engine where there was no wind.
It was perfect for a smoke.
A good place talk.
And you could say anything you ever wanted to say back there.
Because nobody would ever hear you.
We ventured inside a couple of times.
It was not easy.
Pulling open the sliding glass door was a feat in itself.
And when you stepped into the building, the difference was like sitting in an air conditioned plane and watching a movie with headsets on, versus riding out on the wing.
But we were not ones to pull levers and stare at apples, oranges and lemons whiz by while onboard a flying ship.
Not on such a gorgeous day.
And that would be the reason that when the boat pulled into Key West, we disembarked looking like One Flew Over a Cuckoo’s Nest.
We spent just that one afternoon in Key West.
A real short visit to a real cool place.
And then there we were, back in a line waiting to board the airboat, laughing at the wild heads of hair stepping off.
The storm, the engine failure and being huddled together on the floor inside the ship on our way back to Fort Meyer’s Beach that night, is a little fuzzy.
But, what I will always remember, is the four of us seated under the shade of a palm tree, around a white plastic table, on white plastic chairs, as tourists wandered past on a narrow sidewalk a few feet below, on that tropical afternoon, when my dad said,“This is the best grouper sandwich I’ve ever had.”