Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Headin' South

I’d never used the alarm function on my Blackberry© before, and was surprised not only that I was able to set it correctly, but how gently it woke me up early on that morning of leaving. Still, getting dressed an hour before even the first bird cleared its throat is never easy. Yet I felt pleasantly alert as we packed the car and headed west for the hour’s drive to Long Island MacArthur airport.

South West Airlines were their usual efficient selves, and even the (now) accepted security checks were conducted with grace and humor as we stood in line like naughty school-children outside the head’s office, shoes in one hand and boarding passes in the other. An easy flight of a little over two and a half hours and we landed in Tampa International Airport in bright sunshine, yet unexpectedly cool air. The taxi driver was sullen, and clearly dependent on GPS navigation, yet did demonstrate a unique ability to negotiate service ramps, signed at 25 mph, at 60 mph. But at least he got us to the car, the old Lexus, which had been kindly loaned to us for the week.

Soon we were enjoying that old familiar drive south. First the weaving Interstate 275 which took us through St. Petersburg and over the Sunshine Skyway bridge, and then I-75, over the wide Manatee River, and on past Sarasota and Venice. I say “old familiar,” for what I was doing was rediscovering my love of this part of the Gulf Coast of Florida after many lack-luster, even disappointing visits – mainly since the death, over nine years ago, of my father-in-law David Kerr. He was the person who above all others instilled in me a deep appreciation of this part of the world, its fishing and way of life.

Seventy miles later, as we turned off the Interstate onto Jacaranda Boulevard I could still hear his voice telling me time and time again, visit after visit, that “We must slow right down here as it’s a speed trap!” Yet in all those years we never saw a police car. I wonder what he would have made of the huge new roundabout where the road crosses East Venice Avenue.

The beach house on Manasota Key was unchanged, but the icons of the old days were now missing. The days when David would retreat here from Tampa almost every weekend. In those days it was truly a home from home. The bar was ever stocked and there were always frankfurters and meatloaf in the freezer. Oh, and a tide table pinned to the kitchen cork-board. Vital information. Now it was still comfortable, but with the empty air of a vacation house.

Arriving here at the height of summer may seem crazy to some of my North Eastern friends who make noises about the heat and humidity, but their blinkered attitudes and myths have to be firmly ignored. (And ironically as I write these notes they are baking in intense temperatures as I enjoy a refreshing Gulf breeze.) Gulf Florida is spectacular at any time of the year if only the visitor is prepared to adapt, slow down to the speed of the locals, and relax. But so many simply don’t see beyond their entrenched perceptions. They simply don’t get it!

That first evening was the first of many opportunities to cook out on the new kettle grill. Now using these is always a pleasure, but stoking coals with the blue Gulf within sight doubles the pleasure. And I’m convinced that it also make the food taste even better!

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