Monday, February 25, 2013

A Long Way Home

The Long Way Home

Broken Glass On Memory Lane
Man, sometimes it just about kills me to ride my bicycle around this little beach resort that I once called home. They keep tearing down funky old buildings where we were known to drink and raise hell and act like pirates. There were fine old dilapidated turn-of-the-century houses, big places that had at one time been the homes of railroad officials and sea captains and rum runners; but they are all gone now; mostly, or converted into art shops or boutique saloons where the beer is priced high to keep out riff-raff like me. Jimmy Buffet music is everywhere. There are new hotels, painfully contrived to fit in with the original architecture, but why? They tore down all the original architecture. What they are trying to do is match the spirit, the ghost of the place they have just destroyed. It is a pattern started by Disney and it has become the sad blueprint for this my home.

Old Fart Syndrome
Maybe I sound bitter. I hope so. I just spent a drizzly Sunday morning pedaling around early (too early, I think), riding under these gray skies and looking at this restless gray late-winter ocean. Maybe I should try again later when the sun comes out. The sun will shine later and things might look better.

This is Old Fart Syndrome. Wanting everything to stay like it was in the good old days. I've lived here long enough, almost, to be an old-timer around here. But I have only been in this town for twenty-five years. I remember when I first came here, after being run out of Cocoa Beach during my first divorce. I fell in with a group of real locals, guys who had been born here. They would reminisce about when this was an undiscovered little surf town loaded with beach shacks on dirt roads, saloons with concrete floors where dogs were welcome and the policy was no shirt, no shoes, no problem. Acting from some inexplicable impulse, I park my bicycle in front of one familiar place that hasn't changed, much...

Shaky Ground
It's a pottery shop. I walk inside. No Jimmy Buffet music in here. Just cool jazz and world music. The good stuff. It takes a second for my eyes to adjust from the outside light. But there he is: back in the corner, glazing pots, same as always. It is his power spot. He has always been standing there, it seems. It is something I can count on..

“Hey, did you see what's going on over on Esther Street?” I ask. He looks over his half glasses in my direction. He never knows whether or not he is happy to see me.

“What's going on over on Esther?”

“They tore down the shack and there's a new house going up.”

“Our house?”

“I just went by there and the Sugar Shack is gone, man! They've already poured a new slab and everything. What the hell is happening to this town? There's a Hampton Inn on Flagler Avenue up where the Ghost House used to be. The Bamboo Saloon is a goddam wine tasting place or some kind of cigar emporium or something. Do you know they charge six dollars for a beer in there? Busch draft in those red plastic cups used to be a quarter each there at happy hour, and you could keep the cup!”

“They tore down the Sugar Shack?”

“Cromwell! Wake up! They're fucking Disneyfying our town! We've got to do something!”

“Calm down. I am doing something. I'm selling this place.” He dips a pot into the glaze bucket, twisting his wrist in that certain way that puts a wave of color across a bowl or a cup in a distinct pattern that is all his own. I was the contractor that built this shop when we first met those twenty-five years ago. A quarter of a century. Is that a long time? Seems like just a few days ago.

“You're selling the pottery shop?” I feel as though someone just stuck a pin in me and let all the air out. This was...I start for the little refrigerator to grab a beer. But no, that has changed, too. Cromwell quit drinking three years ago and joined that cult that spends more time talking about not drinking than we used to spend guzzling beer together. Almost.

“I had the building appraised and the business and the shop are worth enough that I'll never have to work again. I'll just set up a wheel and a kiln at the house and do the art shows.”

“You're selling the shop?”

“Time goes by, brother. When I sold the Shack and the spec house I made a pretty good chunk. If I sell this place I'm good. No more daily gig. Just making pots and traveling the circuit.” He picks up a fruit bowl and dips it into the glaze bucket. I hear a long, sweet trumpet note on the stereo. Miles. It's Miles. Kind of Blue. This cool old hippie potter and I were partners in that Sugar Shack/spec house deal. After my second divorce I sold my half to Cromwell. I sold it for chump change but the divorce had left me a little lost and forlorn and the open road was calling. Cromwell, on the other hand, held on and when the real estate bubble was bubbling, sold the property at a huge profit. A pretty good chunk, as he calls it.

“Both of us were supposed to sell out when we turned fifty and buy that boat and sail the islands. Then you got all sober on me. Fuck, man, I'm fifty-seven and you're...holy crap! You'll turn sixty this year!”

“Time goes by, brother.”

“I need a beer.”

He looks at me again over those half glasses. When he strikes that pose, he no longer is a cool old hippie potter. When he looks over those glasses like that he is a high school principle, or a judge, maybe, about to hand out a stern lecture. Sober. Sober as a judge...

“You need to slow down and start thinking about what you're gonna do when you can't swing that hammer anymore. You don't have a single cent put back, do you?”

See what I mean? The big brother I never had. But all the same...

“Why would I need to put anything back? You stole enough for both of us. We were gonna cruise the islands and my retirement plan was to die young and in bed, with a couple floosies at my side to see me off. Remember?”

“Things change, Blix.”

“Yeah, Crom, I know all about change. People change, too,” I said. I was having about enough of this predictable trip down memory lane. Things never go quite right when I step into this place, which is why I only go in about once a year, these days. I used to come in here every day. “Listen, man", I hear myself saying,  "things just worked out the way they worked out. No hard feelings.”  Yeah, right.

“Ok, Blix.”

“See ya later, bro,” I say, trying to keep a cheerful note in my voice. I was faking it. I wasn't cheerful at all.


Man. Going outside, I grab hold of my trusty bicycle. I stand there for a moment. I'm not exactly catching my breath, but I might as well be. Across the street is the little apartment I lived in when I first moved to this town one scattering of memories ago. One scattering of memories, a scattered family, one aging pirate who remembers forty as a time of youth...

My old apartment is on the second floor of a funky weather-beaten frame house fifty yards from the beach. It is an artist's studio or gift shop or something now. Cromwell used to throw pebbles at my window to let me know it was time to put down my pen and go out and drink some beers. Nobody had cell phones yet. Who needed cell phones? I knew what it meant when a couple little pebbles hit the window next to my writing table. It meant evening was upon us and the fun was about to begin.

Nothing Lasts Forever
I climb into the saddle and hit a few hard strokes to catch up with traffic. I cruise past unfamiliar storefronts. The cars parked along the street are all the same; they all look alike, whatever these new cars are. They all look like toys, or some kind of mutant seed pods. Cross over? I think these are called cross-overs; these cars. What the hell, man. Is it time to cross over? Time to cross the bar? That's a laugh. I can still swing a hammer just fine. All I need is a new old beach town. It won't be in Florida though. Even Key West is Disneyfied now and no longer worth the effort. I don't know if I am a dinosaur or a lost pirate or what...I need to kick Jimmy Buffet's ass.

The day started drizzly and it seems to be darkening. Evening is a long way off.  At least I hope so.  I can smell the rain coming and it is still early and I am seven miles from the Whispering Pines Trailer Park and a long way from home. Baja? Maybe. I'm broke but I know where I can get some beer. Maybe some rum, too. I ain't dead yet.

It is a long way home but I'll get there just fine. Rain? Hah! I'm a cyclist.

Whispering Pines Trailer Park and Riff-Raff Refuge


  1. Really, really powerful stuff, TJ. Nobody ruminates like you, my friend. And nobody ruminates on a horn like Miles, either.

    Best regards, amigo!

    1. Kind of Blue has long been the soundtrack for my life, Brian.

      Thanks, buddy!


  2. Outstanding TJ.

    57 ain't old for a tree man. Keep the wheels turning and the pen moving across the paper and you will undoubtedly find your way home. Thanks for the story.



    1. Matt! It ain't so much that I'm feeling old, it just seems like all my rowdy friends have settled down. I checked out your website: Really good stuff! I've added you to my List of Worthy Boogers. Keep it up!

  3. When the "old fart" bile rises in your throat....just swallow it back down because the world is changing with or without you. Anyway, it really does not matter one way or another what a town changes into. As long as you don't go along. The joint I used to enjoy many beers in, is now an animal feed store with rich, texas bitches buying feed for the deer and elk so they visit their house. So many things wrong with that...but it really does not affect me so I let it go.
    Good post, but ignore the paragraph above. Last thing you need is advice from me! And certainly no, school principal judgement from this corner of BS.
    Keep the rubber turning!

    1. No worries, Coach, I take advice wherever I can get it. The sun has been slacking off lately and all this grayness has permeated my mood.

      From saloon to feed store seems to be a reversal of the usual pattern.

      Thanks, as always, Jim!


  4. Any day with a bike ride is a good day brother, keep pedaling and swingin' that hammer. Didn't Andy Dufresne end up in Baja??


    1. Better Baja than the other place. I read about riding Baja and it just sounds cool. Hot, but cool. And on the east side you can take a ferry over to the mainland. Adventure. Fat Bike adventure, I think.


    2. speaking of FAT bike adventure check this out- can't afford one but I sure do like the places they are going with the Sandman

  5. TJ,

    That's what happens in a time when the rate of change just keeps accelerating. People in their 40's take a look around and see the whole world that they've known has changed. Us guys on the other side of 50 see it even more - I cringe when I imagine how folks in their 70's see the world today.

    And you're in Florida too - a land that has been rebuilt in the image that it WANTS to have, and has left any sense of authenticity behind. I just did a little map project (aerial view of their home) for some people in Cape Coral, Florida. They live in a subdivision with a canal up to the back of the house and road to the front. Zoom out and see that they're but one of 1000 such lots in that area - and there are more just up the coast. Living like that would make me feel like an amoeba in a petri dish. Maybe that's one of the reasons I've always preferred the mountains to the beach - less of a movement to rebuild the mountains into a perfect revenue-generating artificiality.

    And if you think it's been grey in Florida lately, you should check out the weather forecast for up here in NE Ohio. I'm about going nuts up here, with the weather just going out of it's way to ruin every opportunity to enjoy the outdoors. I've got cabin fever so bad I feel like a drop of water dancing in a skillet.

    Keep on riding - it's good for the soul.

    Steve Z

    1. Cape Coral sucks. There is a really cool old boat yard down in St. James City, but that's about the only redeeming factor of the area. I did a Longhorn Steakhouse over there several years ago and the only fun I had was when me and Coyote got to see the Fabulous Thunderbirds in some show bar.

      Even creepier (we've talked about this, I think) are the giant subdivisions that didn't get built. Just empty streets and light poles and fire hydrants and weeds.

      Whatever. The sun is out today, it is abrisk 68 degrees and I'm smiling again. Smiling in the sunshine. That's how I got these wrinkles around my eyes.


  6. Ride like a cyclist. Play like a pirate. Forever.
    Yer Pal

    PS: Kind of Blue is on my all time top five list. On vinyl.

  7. It is a miraculous piece of work, isn't it brother? The first time I heard it played I was in my late teens and in those days Garrard turntables were the standard, until the first time I experienced Bang & Olufsen. A big piece of my heart wishes I had stayed still and listened instead of blasting around causing trouble...but not really.

    I have long suspected that a weekend at your place would result in some fantastic mellow magic. I already figured you had a system that would make me weep. And a collection that would do the same. Someday.


    1. Yes. Someday. We shall spin a bit of vinyl together.

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