This is the first of several stories in a series,
WRONG TURNS WRITE LIFE
Spring break can look wildly different through the lens of a 21-year-old versus a 40-some-year-old.
Let’s call the 21-year-old’s adventure, Down the Road.
“Pull off here; I have to take care of something,” Jimmy said.
“Already? We just left!” I complained.
This was my first spring stateside in three years. Having officially started our road trip, I just found out my driving partner had to test to get his driver’s license back. Between the written exam and the driving exam, I asked how he did.
“I think I got a hundred percent this time,” he smiled as an officer came out to meet him. “Let me have your keys.”
I had a small sports car, Mazda RX 7, packed to the gills.
“What’s all this?” the officer asked, somewhat surprised as she opened the passenger door.
“When I blow this popsicle stand, we’re Florida-bound!” Jimmy said with his signature grin and enthusiasm.
She shook her head as if to say, NOW, I’ve seen it all!
Winding through the mountains of West Virginia on the Interstate proved difficult. It was dark, the fog was especially thick, and Jimmy was sleeping. I almost turned into the dividing wall numerous times as my mind played tricks on me. My eyes followed the reflecting strips with such monotony that they danced in my head. After a close call, I woke Jimmy to have a co-pilot.
We switched driving duties at every fill-up. The gas tank was nearly empty, and we hadn’t seen signs of a gas station in a quarter tank or so. We were desperate, so we decided that the next time we saw a sign, we’d follow it no matter where it took us, as long as it eventually led us to gasoline.
We ended up miles from the highway, navigating the hilly terrain deep into no man’s land until we finally spotted a glow on the edge of the rural road. It was a run-down place with nothing – and I mean nothing – else around. We pulled in, pumped the gas, and went inside together to add munchies to our purchase. It was very late at night. So, we were surprised to see several guys hanging out.
As we walked past two of them sitting on top of a floor cooler, I noticed their filthy bare feet. Nobody said anything to us except the guy behind the counter, and even that exchange was minimal. His accent was so thick when he spoke that I couldn’t understand him. We could feel all eyes on us, perhaps even some whispering. It was uncomfortable, to say the least. And it became obvious how easily we could disappear, and nobody would ever know what became of us.
When we plopped back into our car seats, Jimmy said, “Get the hell out of here!”
I didn’t notice until later that I drove two consecutive shifts. It may have been an honest mistake, but my co-pilot’s nickname was “The Shyster!”
Somewhere in Florida, Jimmy woke me up. I squinted; the sun was so bright. He pointed my attention to the car, keeping pace next to us on the highway. I quickly ran my fingers through my hair, trying to get rid of my “window head.” When we looked right, we got an eye-full from the car full of girls pacing us.
About an hour later, we were still full of energy, traveling at our cruising speed, well over the speed limit. A police car flew up on us like we were in a school zone. Jimmy pulled to the slow lane thinking we were busted, but the cop car blasted past us, trailed by several other cop cars.
“What the hell, Jim!” I yelled in dismay.
Jimmy was in hot pursuit of the police convoy, traveling in the three-digit range.
“Oh, they’ve got bigger fish to fry, so I’m taking advantage of our police escort,” Jimmy said with a grin.
Soon, we found out why. It was a horrific sight. A van of spring breakers must have lost control and rolled for nearly a quarter mile, based on the carnage strewn alongside the highway. Jimmy slowed down considerably after that.
We stayed with one of my old Army buddies on the Atlantic coast and hit the beach. One day, we drove to Ft. Lauderdale but spent most of the day at an outdoor bar with a roof. It was raining steadily. That didn’t dampen our time. At least that’s what I gathered from the other partiers pointing video cameras our way – until “naked man” on a balcony across the street stole the show.
Before scooting up the coast to Daytona, Jimmy spent an evening “working” for a friend of my Army buddy. The friend repossessed cars, and Jimmy was invited to help him. Jimmy had the time of his life.
We rolled into Daytona wondering if we had enough money left for a room and if any rooms were still available. If not, we decided we could live out of the car for a few days. A hotel on the beach advertised Playboy Bunnies and MTV as their guests. We were amazed that a room had recently become available. We snatched it, no questions asked.
We ran into friends from home, so I’ll skip some of the other shenanigans we got into, but the start of our last night was worth a mention once our friends from home were gone. We left the outside concert at our hotel and retreated to an indoor club. Sitting at a long bar, we were an island unto ourselves. Partying was going on all around, but not where we perched. Our little pocket of paradise disappeared quickly when a bunch of guys surrounded us. They seemed intent on squeezing us out to claim the bar as their own.
Jimmy nodded my attention toward one of the guys and said in a star-struck voice, “I think that’s Tone Loc!”
“You know, the guy that sings Wild Thing,” Jimmy explained. “This must be his entourage.”
Tone Loc may have been a one-hit wonder, but he was riding a full wave of fame at this time.
I clanked my beer glass against Jim’s and loudly broke into song, “WILD THING! YOU MAKE MY HEART SING. YOU MAKE EVERYTHING …”
Jimmy tried to shut me up, insisting I was singing the wrong “Wild Thing,” but the entourage finished “…GROOVY.”
Fast forward over 20 years. We’ll call this tale Spring Break for Old Dudes.
Spring break means different things to different people in different stages of life. For me, as a middle-aged man, married with two young children, it meant a long weekend getaway for Easter break with family and friends.
Every January, my friend Matt and I get our families together for a three-night stay in a nice large cabin with a hot tub somewhere in Ohio. But for whatever reasons, January drifted into February and then March. So, we decided that since both of our wives were teachers, we’d book a place over their spring break. That way, the wives and kids all had time off. Perfect, right?
When we arrived, it was not what we had expected. First lesson; don’t trust what you see online. It was a mini cabin in the woods, located on a cul-de-sac road and nearby a lake. The surrounding cabins were bursting at the seams with college kids on SPRING BREAK! That is every cabin but ours and, as I would later learn, one somewhere across the street.
Matt was unusually quiet as we drank some beer and fired up the grill. Bon Jovi’s music was bouncing off the trees all around us. I guess that’s what the “kids” considered classic rock these days. The only good thing was that these small cabins somehow had thick enough walls, soundproof enough, to block out the noise from all-night partying next door. Fortunately, there was a vacant, tree-filled lot separating us. We decided to brave the night and express our disappointment to management at the main lodge in the morning since it was already getting late and the kids were ready for sleep. Our kids that is!
Stepping out back, Matt and I drank beer a little faster than we had in a long time. That’s when “Mr. Buff” appeared. Buff had a chiseled …everything. I tried to stick out my chest but realized it was left behind in Germany when I was in the Army years ago. Either that or the good life had grown my stomach.
Anyway, Mr. Buff said, “We were talking over there and decided, ya know what? Let’s give these old dudes our cell phone number, so we’ll know if they need us to pump down the volume.”
I was puzzled and looked around for these old dudes. It was like a truck hit me when I realized Buff was referring to us! He was so nice, though, in that fake, but believing he was sincere, kind of way.
I kept having visions of us being in the middle of one of those insurance commercials – “LIFE! It Comes At You Fast!”
All things inside the cabin were quiet – proof that miracles do exist.
The next day, we did some sightseeing, ate lunch at a nice place, and then someone suggested we go antiquing.
Although I wanted to, something inside me screamed, “Noooo!”
So after we spent two hours in the antique mall, we went to the lodge, swam, played games, and had a fine time. On the way out, we stopped at the front desk and said we hoped there would be patrols to keep the college kids at bay but that there were no complaints at this time.
We drove back to “cul-de-sac Ft. Lauderdale” to see nearly every rooftop shingled with girls in bikinis and guys with no shirts. Below, a wiffleball game was going on at the end of the cul-de-sac. Our kids asked if they could play too. Yeah right.
At dusk, I had to take some trash to a nearby dumpster. There were raccoons. Yippee! So, I got the kids, walked back, and showed them “wildlife.” After the little scavengers entertained us, it grew darker, so we headed back to the cabin.
Fortunately, only I saw the streaking from afar. At least this night, the party was at the cabin across the street instead of next door. Things were definitely getting wilder.
In the morning, we decided we’d had enough. After packing the van, I had to make another walk to the dumpster. On my way back, I was startled to see a family of four emerge from a cabin kitty-corner from ours and next door to last night’s party.
Here’s their story:
“In the middle of the night, my worst fear came true,” said kitty-corner dad. “Someone was banging on the back door yelling, let me in. I yelled back; You better get out of here; this isn’t your cabin, now go away. To which the drunk on the other side pleaded, ‘Come on dude, stop mess’n with my head and just let me in.’ This repeated a few times before the stranger at the door fell silent.”
And he remained snuggled up to the door until Kitty Corner Dad rousted him this morning.
And so, it goes.
I could tell us “Old Dudes” had a new story to tell.
By Frank Rocco Satullo, The OhioTraveler, Your Tour Guide to Fun