These nights are long. The black dog is sniffing around the door. Each morning when I wake I can see his footprints outside in the snow. It’s going to be a long winter.
These are the days of listlessness. The days when we turn to the Interwebz in search of company, and sunshine, spending our days looking at sunny destinations and planning spring breaks and summer vacations. Not even steaming hot cups of dark coffee can seem to move the needle on my ambition meter.
I think we all need a break; a long, warm, peaceful rest under a palm tree to rejuvenate the soul. Come along with me, and I will spin you a story of soft sea breezes, and bright sunshine.
Her name was Lola. She was a showgirl. No wait, that’s a different story…
It was the late winter of 1991, and I was working in Nekoosa Wisconsin, suffering from the worst case of SAD that I have ever had in my life. I had fallen heavily for a checkout girl at the IGA, and was entertaining dreams of quitting my job to hike the Appalachian Trail with her from Georgia to Maine. I had never hiked more than 5 miles in my life, but because of her stunning blue eyes I was prepared to carry a backpack over a thousand miles just to be with her. But that is the story of Yellowstone Sue, and I have already written that ballad. (Link to The Ballad of Yellowstone Sue)
This is the story of what became of me when I stopped my sniveling, and shouldered my responsibility instead of a backpack. The call had come in from my old District Manager in Birmingham that he needed someone to run a stoker grate rebuild at a paper mill in Mobile. My new District Manager in Chicago didn’t think too much of me, so he had no problem putting me on the plane to get rid of me for a few weeks. As for me, the thought of heading back into the Deep South seemed like a punishment. Not only would it bring an end to my relationship with Yellowstone Sue, but it would also put me back in the heart of darkness. A place I had spent most of the past year trying to escape.
I was 23 years old, and about as “Yankee” as could be. I spoke with the rapid fire Western New York cadence that cuts the ends off of words to get them out quicker. I think the folks in Alabama needed stop motion photography to understand me. I can’t count the number of times my directions to the boilermakers and ironworkers, were met with a blank stare, and a laconic “You want to do whaaaaaaat, with whaaaaaaaat?”. Going back down south was about the worst possible assignment they could have given me, but my choice was either get on the plane, or find a new job. I got on the plane.
My days in Mobile were interminable, but they were nothing compared to the length of the nights. There was precious little to do, and unlike Wisconsin where state law requires there to be a bar every ¼ mile, there was absolutely no night life to entertain me. My evenings were spent eating alone in a restaurant, and reading or watching TV in my hotel room, as I drank whatever lousy beer I could find in the local store. Back then they had both kinds of beer in Mobile. Bud, and Bud Light.
To my surprise, I managed to get along just fine without an interpreter at the paper mill. The guys worked at a snail’s pace, but they did their job well, and seemed to genuinely appreciate the fact that I showed up each morning with two boxes of Krispy Krème donuts for them. However, the nights were killing me. Sitting in a motel room feeling sorry for yourself, and drinking cheap beer is no way to get out of seasonal affected disorder. So when the weekend rolled around, I made a break. I decided that I needed to see the ocean so I packed up my rental car and crossed Mobile Bay, looking for a road to the sea.
When I reached the Eastern shore of the bay, I turned right, and began to make my way toward the sea. It was a beautiful unseasonably warm day, and I took my time exploring with the windows open, and music playing. I drove through the sleepy oak shaded town of Daphne, on the shore of the bay, and began to feel the weight lifting from my shoulders. On through Magnolia Springs I drove, feeling the fresh salt breeze on my face, and blinking up at the clear blue sky.
I arrived in the resort town of Gulf Shores, with its seafood restaurants and little tourist shops, and found a road along the coast. I drove away from the resort hotels and condos crammed shoulder to shoulder on the beach, until the road ended. I parked the car, and started walking over the dunes to the shore. Then I turned along the shoreline and walked until I could see nothing but sand, sea oats, and rolling waves. I waded into the water, but my fear of getting pulled into the deep kept me from getting too far out. Then I spread out my blanket, in a little sheltered spot on the dune side, and just watched the waves.
They rolled in, one after the other, as waves have been known to do, and I sat and emptied my head. No thoughts of Sue, no thoughts of work, no thoughts of what the hell I was going to do with my life, just the cry of gulls, and the sound of the surf. I spent the day there on that beach, alone except for the sand pipers running along the surf, thumbing through my copy of Leaves of Grass, and allowing myself to feel free.
I had been running from freedom ever since I left New York behind, and trying so hard to force my life to happen. It was on that beach that things began to click into place; nothing mattered, none of it mattered, it was just me and the sea. I stopped resisting and let the waves of life wash over, and pull me out into whatever deep water they chose. Motionless, in body and mind, I realized for the first time that I could float.
The places that the waves led me are sprinkled throughout this blog. By the time I came ashore in Minnesota, I had floated through 42 states and countless wondrous places. We have built a house, and a life now, and are busy raising our own children. I wouldn’t wish any of it away. Still, on cold mornings like this I can’t help but to look forward to the day, when Mrs. 20 Prospect and I can raise our anchor together, and start floating once more.