Friday, February 29, 2008

Call Me, the Accidental Tourist

Visiting places, and being away from home has always been a complete thrill for me. Whether I'm on a commuter train heading toward a weekend in Chicago, or heading off to an island vacation in Norther Florida the excitement is something I can almost roll around in my hand - the feel is such a heady joy and that my friend comes from the chance to discover new places and people!

On the same subject, you need to know that I don't simply hop a train or a plane...trips are few, but they're always trips of a life time! For me me exploring new places is a gift that when opened becomes the best there ever was.

This year I got to travel to a place that was totally foreign to this Midwesterner. From the clear, crisp air of fall here in Michigan I landed in a hot, muggy place of enchantment with more history, beautiful beaches and strange creature foreign to most of my part of the world. In October I went to visit my youngest son on an island in North Florida. I hadn't seen him for well over a year and was excited about seeing where he lived and spending time in his part of the world.

The plane touched down in Jacksonville to a day that was rainy, hot and more than a bit humid. What kind of a vacation was this?? As I looked out over a group of strange faces I saw my son with the warmest smile and I knew it didn't matter - it was going to be great. But I also had a sneaky suspicion it held some real surprises too. We grabbed the luggage and walked toward the entrance and it is then I saw his car. Though old it really was well kept up. I reached down to close the window - nothing happened. I immediately looked at my son, "What's with the window?" I asked in my calmest voice. He smiled, "Oh, the car was such a great deal that I thought I'll just get new window motors with the next paycheck!"

We drove from the airport with a warm rain pelting the car and I felt the warmth on my arm. I suddenly did something that I hadn't done since I was a kid, I leaned out the window and let the rain run down my face. I felt right then that this was going to be the beginning of quite an adventure - how else would it start but with a warm rain and a wonderfully less than perfect car.

We took the highway around the city and as we came closer to the island I saw the signs for our exit. Thankfully my hotel was just a few miles down the road and after dropping the bags in my room we climbed back in his car to go get the compact car I had rented for the week.

We pulled into the rental agency and went inside only to find that the car I had rented hadn't been returned yet. "Come back in an hour." we were told, "It should be back by then." We climbed back in the car and since it was dinner time headed off to the beach and to the restaurant where my son worked to get a meal.

We pulled in on the hard sand of the parking lot and walked up the steps of a lovely old restaurant right on the Atlantic Ocean. I was tired and so hungry and at that moment the place seemed to posses the charm of an old friend with it's old Florida colors and some wonderfully tasty smells. Lovely old wood floors seemed to move in a permanant wave mimicking the nearby ocean, and the friendly faces of my son's fellow workers soon created a cozy atmosphere and a great place to really land after my flight. We sat over bowls of fish chowder and buckets of boiled shrimp and talked into the evening and watched the rain looking out at the beach and surf.

Afterward we headed back to the rental place to get the car only to pull in to an empty parking lot - save one lone car, a PT Cruiser. Where was my compact? After what seemed an eternity of being on the phone, the agent found out that the car was still not available. "How about the PT?" he asked grasping at straws. "It is a four cylinder and will be good on gas." We soon agreed on the details and suddenly I found myself behind the wheel of a car that made me feel like I'd driven into the world of Gidget and the Big Kahauna. Okay, So I know that dates me but it really felt like after all that had happened that I'd stepped into some movie in 50s California. Though it sure wasn't California, and I certainly wasn't Gidget! Something felt totally funky - and totally right. I suddenly felt a real sense of freedom and I loved it! And with that feeling was a zany sense of just what this vacation might have in store.

From that moment on this vacation world unfolded in a totally grand way, and nothing happened as I'd planned, but it happened more like the unfolding of a really special dream. We spent hours talking on beaches and in parks along the rivers and estuaries. As we walked the cement-hard sand I felt a real adventure coming on - that is if I could let go and enjoy whatever came my way. Things were bound to occur that I hadn't planned and I needed to grab everything the mistakes and foibles that came and enjoy the days.

A that moment I gave in to a sense of child-like wonder that sometimes washes over you when though disconcerting and unpredictable, the events happening were so right. What ever was to come my way that week would become experiences to remember and savor like that fine meal that had begun my own personal adventure.

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