Saturday, March 30, 2013

Joys of the Florida Keys, Destination – Bridge

by Julie Marie Johnson

There is joy in being impulsive. Some people actually fear an encounter with a person like me. I make people nervous.

It was one of those dreadful Wisconsin winter days that yes, Mr. Buffett, makes me want to shoot holes in my freezer. I can only stand so much of canceled meetings and getting nowhere save those creepy ditches on the sides of the icy roads. There is nothing good to see from those ditches; no dolphins, no sharks, no rays…no pretty Midnight parrotfish. After a time, it’s all just too much for the soul— too much barren, too much white, too much lack of vitamin D in my blood, too damned cold! The only wildlife I’d seen lately was a dead possum, belly up, half buried in the snow.

It happened late in the afternoon that day, just after a long walk with my dogs. The icicles on my eyelashes had finally melted enough to allow me to be sitting at my desk finishing some tweaking on a writing project. I took a break from the tweaking to stare at the pile of gear I’d been wearing daily for the past few months. Oh man I get so sick of all that gear! It was piled high, there on the chair next to me, staring at me. On the pile there was polar fleece, the North Face jacket, my snotted up face warmer, the down mittens. My “good to twenty below” leggings and two pairs of wool socks were still on me but they were not working well enough. I typed a few more words, glanced away from the keyboard and my eyes settled on a plastic wrapper from the chemical boot warmers I’d been regularly having to stick into my huge, clunky winter boots. I guess that wrapper was what did it.

I was alone at that moment, and so to no one in particular I shouted “destination-bridge!”

After that, I bounded up the stairs to my bedroom, pulled out a suitcase and started ripping sundresses off hangers. I threw those into my little suitcase along with the following: swimsuit, snorkel and mask, wetsuit, beach towel, and a couple of good books. Then I ran down to the bathroom closet and grabbed the bottle of sunscreen from the shelf. I flipped open the top, lifted it to my nose, closed my eyes and breathed deeply. It was like drinking an energy drink, with the scent of the lotion quickly overpowering all rational thinking, while affirming that a “notion” should indeed become a happening.

So where was I going? Florida Keys! No question about that one. It is my favorite place in the world.
When was I going? Now.
How was I going to get there? Gas up my car and drive.
Who would I travel with? Me.
Do I have GPS? No.

It was the month of February in Wisconsin meaning that every Northern soul would either already be in Florida, or they’d be having the same thought as I was having. Twenty plus years of back and forth to the Keys helps me to fully understand why both flights and places of lodging down there tend to be all booked up during these months. So where would I stay? Who knew and who cared! To offset any potential issue there, I simply threw a tent, camp cot, sheets, a pillow a blanket onto the pile. Then I packed some snacks, grabbed my little suitcase and off I went.

I departed at dark, in a sixteen degree Fahrenheit blizzard with a howling wind. My wiper fluid jets froze up seven times before hitting Chicago. Things were not looking too promising. At various truck stops, roughly twenty -minute intervals apart, I went through the horrifying ritual of popping the hood, opening the washer fluid reservoir and cursing-using the worst words I could summon from college days. I’d have flung my windshield scraper to kingdom come, except I still needed it. In my head, I went through an entire monologue about why my dumb ancestors settled here, and a subsequent oration over why I clearly don’t belong living in these parts. Then I’d go into the building, get boiling hot water from the complimentary hot water dispenser, dump it onto the jets, test it out, dump some more, wait for thaw, test again, put everything away, and commence to driving. At truck stop number who knows what, on the advice of a kind trucker, I put rubbing alcohol into the frozen fluid and poured it onto the jets. Honestly, I no longer cared if it ruined the finish on the car or not. I just had to get to that bridge. It was all I could think of, like a focal object for the labor pains of my life. The alcohol worked.

Thirty- two hours later, I’d made it. I was there, at Destination Bridge, the old seven- mile bridge, the one heading out to Pigeon Key in Marathon, Florida. I exited my vehicle, true little trooper that she is, in a sundress and flip flops, coated with that incredible smell of sunscreen. I paused, feeling the warm sun melt my frozen blood, closed my eyes and breathed in that deliciously familiar salty smell of the ocean.

Do you want to know what happened after that?

I stepped onto that bridge and it was all okay, everything. Nothing mattered anymore, absolutely nothing.