Tuesday April 15
We’d been saying for years that we were overdue to go see the Graces again, we had to spend some time at John’s place in Florida sometime, we had to go visit Susan, and we had to see Sarah’s Aunt Marilew. This was the germ of a plan, but it had to wait for a few years while we did other things. Finally the right time rolled around to go do it in Spring 2014.
We didn’t want to go in Winter when every faint-hearted New Englander was down there, we didn’t want to go during Spring Training because it would be crowded and costly, we didn’t want to go during school vacation for various reasons, and we didn’t want to go too late in the year when it would be HOT. We also had to see the Everglades and drive out to Key West. And we wanted to have a good, relaxing time.
This list of requirements and people/places to see left lots of options for our jumping-off point, and Fort Lauderdale mid-week had the best fares by far (though it was Delta with a change in Atlanta) for the perfect week in April. We made reservations, called our friends to arrange our itinerary, scouted State Parks, hiking trails, and driving roads, and we were set sooner than we expected. One more thing: we booked a rental car and when I realized it would be just $30 more for a Mustang convertible for the week, we went for it … with a little assistance from Dave.
Woburn Cab showed up early for our 6AM departure and the handlebar-mustached driver got us to Logan with no problem. I was still in the last stages of recovering from a bad cold, so had no caffeine, hoping to sleep on the plane. The flight to Atlanta was fine and I got in a few winks, but the weather slowed us down and we landed in a rush with 20 minutes or so before our connecting flight took off. And it was in a different terminal! Several others on the plane were in the same boat, but the first class passengers didn’t want to stand aside and let us off the way the stewardesses requested. Everything went ok for us though: rushing to the airport shuttle train, taking the train in the correct direction, and then rushing and finally running down the concourse to our departure gate, finding out we’d been told the wrong gate, and then bustling over to the right one. A mother and young son who’d been on our plane were right behind us and we all made the flight, barely.
It was a much shorter hop to Fort Lauderdale from there than it had been from Boston to Atlanta, and by the time we got there we were starved, since we’d hoped to get lunch in Atlanta! We made a pact that we would stop at the first good restaurant we found in the airport and have beers and lunch until we were relaxed. But unfortunately, Fort Lauderdale International in 2014 is apparently in the throes of deciding how big and what kind of an airport it wants to be, and therefore is not succeeding at being any kind of airport. The only eating places were mobbed with lines of testy passengers with luggage stretching out of their entrances, and we regretfully decided to get the fuck out of there, get our car, and take our chances in the wide world.
We hadn’t said goodbye to the hassle yet though, as we still had to take the bus to the rental enclave, wait in line there, decline insurance etc., and then find and figure out how to operate our car. The white Mustang convertible with a black top we were assigned turned out to be named Sally (a name it didn’t really like), and we took some time to offer it carrots, stow all our stuff where we wanted it, set up the music player (we had brought CDs but were glad to find it had an MP3 jack), practice putting the top up and down (it took us a while to figure out how to lock it, but we did eventually), find out where the light switches and stuff were, and for me to change into sandals and a t-shirt because it was damn hot!
We ended up really liking the Mustang, especially after we settled into her a bit. The sound system was very good (though it had no tone control?!?), we’d had Fords before and so switches were in familiar places, the turning radius and the acceleration were great, the mileage wasn’t bad, and we really had plenty of room for our stuff, though we learned that the only way to access the back seat easily was to put the top down and lean in. We got a lot of admiring glances from chicks, kids, older guys, and just about everybody. The car did a few really cool things, like projecting silhouettes of the Mustang logo on the ground outside of the doors when you parked (lights in the mirrors), managing the roof/window interface automatically, and managing to look cool even when birds had splattered on the windshield. The visibility was dangerously bad when the top was up and the headlights were sunken and so couldn’t be cleaned, but those are minor complaints for a car we visited-but-did-not-live-in. We rode around with the top down for most of our trip, and when we put it up the air conditioning was fine. We liked Sally.
And speaking of temperature, they were having a “cold spell” during our time in Florida … as they apparently were throughout the country yet again that cold, cold Spring. It snowed up North while we were flying down there. But in Florida the cold spell just meant that the weather was exceptional as far as we were concerned, only rising above the low 80s on rare occasions and not blasting unmerciful sun-rays at us all day.
Oh jeez, we still weren’t ready to enjoy the moment though. We left the airport and after getting a bit twisted around we found ourselves on 95 North, with up to six lanes of solid traffic screaming up the interstate. Rain squalls started up and there were 10 or 12 of them, between moments of sunshine, as we made our way up 95. Lanes finally started to drop off and traffic finally started to clear about an hour up the coast, but this was a long hour. We left the Southeast version of megalopolis behind by the time we got to Jupiter, and the beauty finally started to pervade our senses. We stopped at a roadside rest area, fixed the roof for good, and read a sign about poisonous snakes … things were looking up!
We were heading for dinner with Susan and others that evening. We’d thought we might have time to stop at St. Sebastian River Preserve State Park on the way up to Susan’s in Barefoot Bay, but travel had been slow and the plans had changed. The current plan was to meet not only Susan, but also John, Walter, Louie, Lisa, and Amari at Ozzie’s Crab House in Palm Bay, and we verified this by phone as we passed the Vero Beach exit. We left the interstate behind at last about a half-hour after that, turning East on route 514 into a pleasant suburban/rural town. And then it wasn’t long before we exhaled our tension for good and inhaled the scent of the lovely Indian River not far from the Atlantic coast in Malabar, where we headed North on route 1 to Ozzie’s.
A Florida downpour started just before we got there, but there were only a few cars in the lot at the bar so we were able to park close and we dashed inside, where we made some friends instantly, and had a few drinks, naked chicken wings with hot sauce (this was the South where everything is breaded by default), and crab gumbo (real food finally!) while waiting for the crowd.
We hadn’t seen Susan for years and it was fantastic to see her, looking so good and enjoying herself so much. We gave her an old picture of Dave (sophomore year in HS) that had been waiting to get to her for a long time, and we all sat down at a big table in the back of the bar, got some great Sweetwater beers, and ordered conch chowder, tuna sashimi, blue crabs, onion rings, grouper filets, mussels, scallops, and all kinds of stuff. An excellent time was had by all over a long and happy dinner. We were already full of questions about the geography, fauna, and flora of Florida and John and Walter did a fine job of enlightening us.
We finally staggered out of there (actually, we hadn’t been drinking that much, mostly eating), and the rain had stopped and the night was cool, crisp, and beautiful. The guys all headed back South to their houses (John stayed at Walter’s), and we headed back to 95 and drove North another hour or so to a Hampton Inn right off the highway near Titusville. Parked the happy Mustang, got up to our familiar Hampton Inn room, and it wasn’t long before we went to bed after the long first day of what was going to be a great vacation.