Jeff and Sandi are two close friends who live in southeast Florida, and, though I have visited them there more than once, I hadn’t since 2007. The horribly long drive has discouraged me, and so has a busy schedule. But I have no school this summer, and since Sandi offered to come pick me up in Gainesville and drive me back, I couldn’t refuse the invitation.
I was in the process of painting our house, and I really wished to have a substantial portion of the work completed before I left town for several days. When Sandi arrived in town I was just finishing the front, and was the sweatiest man in America. I was sweatier still the next day on our six-hour drive, since the air conditioning in Sandi’s car is intermittent at best. It will blow frigid air for about four minutes, then quickly turn warm. Then it’s “windows down”. In normal city driving it’s tolerable, but at highway speeds the wind noise is deafening. Still, the conversation was good and made the long drive pass quickly, both coming and going. Kathleen came along, also, and she rode in the front seat on the way down, and I rode up front on the way back.
We arrived in Homestead late Monday afternoon. It was my first visit to their house, which they have lived in for over two years. It gave me a very comfortable feeling, and I especially liked the floorplan, which has the guest rooms and bath on one side of the house, and the master bedroom and bath on the other side. And, though it is a ranch-style home, it isn’t just one long rectangle. The swimming pool is a luxury. Sandi and Jeff were nice enough to lower their thermostat so that when we walked into their house we experienced an arctic blast, which I appreciated a great deal, especially each time we came in from the Sweltermobile, as I call her Explorer. Plus, in the hot months, I love the feeling of coming in to a cold house while I am wet from the pool. I cannot explain it, but I assume that I got the taste for it when I lived in a pool house as a kid.
Jeff came home shortly after our arrival, and we all went out to eat right away. I wasn’t hungry, since we had stopped in Orlando to have lunch with Brenna on our way down, and after I eat a meal I am full for hours and hours. But it was a pleasant Mexican restaurant in downtown Homestead that we went to, and I enjoyed just being there. We came home afterward and did some night swimming. There is a small stereo system out on Jeff and Sandi’s patio, so one might enjoy a tune whilst swimming. Their very well-behaved dog was not at all interested in getting in the water. Or barking, or jumping on anyone, or doing anything at all that I generally find annoying with dogs. She just liked standing around wherever we were, and being embraced bodily by Sandi at frequent intervals. I have been around this dog on several occasions (she formerly belonged to Sandi’s mother), and she’s really a first-rate animal.
Most nights during my visit we all sat in the den chatting and taking turns playing Grand Theft Auto. That’s one of few video games that is even fun to watch other people play, since each person’s turn feels like watching a movie. I don’t have any sort of video game system at home, so it’s a novelty when I get to play. We didn’t worry too much about playing the regular missions that further the game’s narrative. Rather, we preferred to amass stockpiles of weapons and then go on crime rampages in an effort to see just how many law enforcement agencies would attempt to apprehend us. Jeff also likes playing in “Vigilante” mode, which involves hunting down various enemy characters somewhere in the game, and that was particularly exciting to watch. We all spent a good deal of time in the comfy den, and were up past midnight every night.
Sandi must have been up well before me on Tuesday morning, because she was already out shopping for victuals for the boat trip we were going to take that day when I arose. After she returned and packed the cooler, and after Jeff got the boat trailer affixed to the Sweltermobile, we all hopped in and made our way to the marina. Only a few minutes’ drive south of their house and you find yourself in the hot, flat, agricultural belly of the Everglades. Long, straight roads run along canals that pierce deep into palm groves and banana farms. Being a week day, the marina was mostly deserted, and we didn’t have to wait at all to launch the boat. Sandi and Jeff have it down, so Kathleen and I didn’t even need to help; we just got on and got going. While we were idling toward open waters, we all applied sunscreen, and though I was methodical in my application thereof, I still felt nervous all afternoon, since the day was perfectly clear and the sun was exceptionally strong. Taking Jeff’s advice, I borrowed a long-sleeved shirt to wear. It seems counter-intuitive to wear long sleeves on a ninety-five-degree day, but it was a wise choice. I didn’t get sunburned anywhere. Kathleen, alas, was scorched, though I am sure I saw Sandi helping her apply sunscreen.
Biscayne Bay is long and wide, and the southern portion from whence we set out sits along the western edge of the national park, which is comprised of mangrove islands. Jeff had evidently had some engine work done on the boat, and was therefore expecting that we’d be able to cruise across the water at high speed. Something was wrong, however, and the engine didn’t want to run above about 3,500 RPM. Having never been on their boat I didn’t know any difference, but Jeff did, and he was frustrated. But he got it working right, and, as it turned out, speeding across the water was my favorite part of our boating experience. I’ve been on many different watercraft in my life, but aside from ferries and vaporetti and the like, they have been almost exclusively sailing boats. I hadn’t traveled at such speeds across open water. It was nice.
We selected a swimming spot in a natural channel between two small islands, dropped anchor and dove in. The water was extremely warm, and, thus, not particularly refreshing, but swimming was still fun. The current was strong there, so I tied a line for us to all hold on to so we wouldn’t have to work hard just to keep from floating away. I snorkeled a little, Jeff a lot. Climbing back into the boat was something that nobody had ever tried on that boat, but we all proved perfectly capable. I probably had the hardest time of anyone, since I opted for the pull-up method as opposed to the step-up method the others used. I just found the step-up method awkward to negotiate. Once back in the boat I was immediately bitten by a horse fly.
We spent several hours out on the water, and since everyone had had some food while at sea, nobody was dying when Jeff had to go off for a while to do some work once we returned home. But he was back a couple hours later, and we all headed to a pizza restaurant called the Big Cheese. They had taken Miriam and me there years ago, but I had forgotten how affordable it was. Jeff, Sandi, Kathleen and I all ate for thirty dollars and change. And Jeff got a huge calzone.
Wednesday we had a pretty lazy day. We didn’t leave the house until almost noon, and then it was to go to Cracker Barrel for lunch. I don’t recall doing anything for the rest of the day except swim in the pool. At night we went to Sonny’s where we had an unbelievably sassy waitress named Fallon. She was incredibly sarcastic, but Jeff found it a refreshing change of pace from the otherwise bland and snobby Miami servers. On our way out I held the door open for a policeman, and for a brief instant I worried that I might assault him. That’s how much Grand Theft Auto we had played. When we got back home I spent an hour or so monitoring an eBay auction (I won!) while the others played Tetris. While Jeff and I chatted about the array of awesome G.I. Joe action figures, vehicles, and playsets we each owned as a child–and how, as adults, we are entirely able to buy as many of these items as we’d like–we theorized that we were doing exactly what little kids assume adults are doing at any given moment: playing video games, shopping for toys, eating junk food, staying up late, etc.
Thursday was to be our last day, and we spent the first part of it heading down to Florida City to a place called Robert Is Here. It’s a roadside produce stand that also serves fruit shakes and smoothies. Sadly, vanilla didn’t appear to be an option, but they had numerous creative flavors besides. Next we headed down a long, straight two-lane road until we got nearly to Key Largo and ate lunch at a placed called Alabama Jack’s, which has great significance to Jeff and Sandi. I didn’t care for my food, but everyone else seemed quite satisfied, and, stuffed, we headed back home.
The last part of the day was spent packing and swapping photos. Both Kathleen and I experienced battery failure during the trip, so during our maritime adventures neither of us took photos. On the other hand, Kathleen took many more pictures at Robert Is Here, and I took many more during our sitting-around times at the house. Together, we all documented the fun pretty well.
We left close to six o’clock on Thursday afternoon. We made a last pit stop near their house to get some food. Sandi had a little card that entitled her to a summer’s worth of free Frostys at Wendy’s. She was generous enough to let me have it. It was refreshing. And hilariously small. While there was moderate traffic heading north, it wasn’t absurd. The first couple hours of the drive are entirely suburban, where the Turnpike–which we entered at Exit 2–runs along the western edge of Miami, Miramar, Hollywood, Ft. Lauderdale, Pompano Beach, Delray Beach, Boynton Beach, West Palm Beach, and so on, until turning to the west at Fort Pierce for the long, entirely agricultural stretch south Orlando. We saw a beautiful sunset somewhere near Okeechobee County. After darkness fell the air conditioning worked much better, and the drive was substantially quieter and more comfortable. Sandi and I talked at great length about drywall and her kitchen remodel, which, though only halfway done, looks wonderful. Kathleen enjoyed her iPod in the back seat. We made two stops: the first for food in St. Lucie County, the second for gas in Micanopy, only fifteen or so miles from home. We took Highway 441 for the last half-hour of the drive. It was a relief to be off the Interstate, and it felt wonderful to be home.
The whole trip, while short, was actually exactly what I had wanted it to be. There was almost no pressure to do more than we felt like doing at any one moment, and we had many opportunities to simply relax, swim, talk, and play video games. So, thank you to Jeff and Sandi for being such gracious hosts. Next time: night boat.