The Summer of 1990 was vastly approaching. I was 30 years old, becoming restless. Since graduating college, I’d been back in Los Angeles a half dozen years, had a cramped apartment and a trophy girl friend return from a failed romance.
The year before, distraught by her apathetic return, I totaled my four-wheel drive truck along with a traffic light and telephone pole at Roscoe and Coldwater Canyon. It was the result of an emotional phone call with her.
Actually, it occurred when the coil mounted cellphone fell to the floor board when slamming the handset at my failure. Reaching to pull it back in position, I faded right through the intersection into the street light and telephone pole, crushing the passenger side of the truck, sliding to a halt on the driver side like some movie stunt in front of a bus stop bench with three horrified patrons. (Should’ve seen their faces when I emerged top-side, passenger door like a submarine.)
As luck would have it, the next day after I tore this first generation mobile technology from the mangled truck, I swapped it for a large shoulder sling first generation portable cellphone and qualified for a promotion – a free flight for two to Hawaii.
Thus at year’s end I found myself on Maui with said former girlfriend, who had a miraculous change of heart. The weather dismal but it was a good time.
Now summer loomed. I received a letter from the hotel chain where we stayed on Maui. They offered a free week in a condo tower in Fort Lauderdale, Florida that August. Flights to Miami were tremendously inexpensive, I booked us for Florida.
My naiveté had no bounds. No one goes to Florida in August due to the oppressive, heat and humidity. Likewise, I found December is rainy season in Hawaii. Dumbass. And that girl was not in love with you. Romantic dumbass.
We hit Florida, walking out in a sauna. My eyeglasses fogged. Arriving in Fort Lauderdale I saw more Hassidic Jews on the beach than the Brooklyn D-Train platform at New Ultrecht. God they looked hot in those clothes.
A day after this scene, every day was necessary to journey out. One morning I decided “let’s go to Key West”. Under a blazing mid-morning sun, a couple ounces of psilocybin mushrooms and a joint in my pockets, we set out.
She wasn’t just a trophy girl because of her looks, she could bake and didn’t smoke or do drugs. At Key Largo I set the rental’s cruise control and enjoyed the Atlantic Ocean on my left, the Gulf of Mexico on my right, as we rolled down the highway surfing the bridges and Keys.
Keys are islands. I noticed each of various size, alternating speed limits. Roaring down Islamorada Key, I saw a sheriff cruiser in the brush. When he didn’t emerge I didn’t cancel the 65mph cruise control. Within a mile, a similar cruiser parked on the northbound lane, wiped around, he came after me.
Panicked I stabbed at my pocket for the mushrooms, swallowing them all along with the joint as a rotund Monroe County – as he repeatedly reminded me of the jurisdiction – sheriff emerged at my door. As he looked at my California license he asked “why the hurry, boy?”
Before answering, I noticed I’d given him my license with bleached blond hair and pulled it from his fingers, replacing it with a newer ID. “They let you have multiple IDs in California, boy?”, he asked. Quickly I said, “sure, don’t they here?”
He wrote me my ticket. We were off again on this never-ending drive. So weary by late afternoon, we stopped on Marathon Key for a beer, reconsidering the destination. Some local barflys insisted “ya’ll came this far, ya’ll might as well go to Key West”.
We walked out of that double-wide trailer posing as a bar, noticing it abutted Marathon’s airport. The propeller props whipped the air a convincing calm to my ear. The falling sun to the southwest – our destination, warmed by face and belly. I was digesting the psychedelics from the traffic stop.
By Key West I was a blaze in the late summer night. We bar hoped tourist trap to tee shirt shop, everything named Margaritaville it seemed.
We sat at some restaurant’s seaside balcony, a clawless lobster plated before me. The bastard was so rigid and coarse, his spiny shell ripping my left index finger open. I bleed over its vengeful corpse, as I forced down his tail.
We left Key West within the hour, starting the long, dark night drive back to Lauderdale. The radio station was oddly dated. I felt like I was driving in a 1952 Desoto as the radio played Buddy Holly, Bill Haley, the Platters and Cadillacs while my headlights spotted baby alligators, frogs and varmint darting ahead.
As Elvis ended “Teddy Boy”, suddenly the Star Spangled Banner played. The station signed off, not another could be found. Dead quiet. Mind blazing. Dark.
I had driven to the end of earth.
When I returned the rental car later, Hertz demanded I pay the speeding ticket – $125.00 or they wouldn’t allow me to return the car. Charges would apply. Almost late for the flight, the counter guy said, “we wouldn’t want you getting lost in this great big world without paying your ticket”.
I should’ve known nothing’s ever free.