Spring2007

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A Tale of Travel

Forty-Eight Hours from Estero

By Joeseph McCahill

Today is the first day of eight for me living here on Estero Boulevard in Fort Meyers Beach, Fla. War is imminent. I care, I really do, but this morning was the first time in my twenty-one years that I have ever been on a plane, and only the second time I have been out of the Midwest (a misguided, younger version of myself once went on a 14 hour bus ride to a religious camp in North Carolina where aside from having a fun time eating southern food and dancing, I was inundated with the true bizarreness of camp counselors and those types who are easily excited by games of checkers and group ice-breaking experiences). It is St. Patrick’s Day. I am here with my year-younger brother, my grandmother, and my uncle who stays with her back home. It is nice down here, and I cannot wait to change this late winter paleness into a good, southern, spring break tan. My life is new for a little over a week, and I refuse to let policies that I have been intently following for so long, ruin my shot at an escape.

My uncle wants us to go shopping for enough food to last a week; I want beer and girls. I believe we are going to accomplish both of these tasks. We run down to the grocery store across Estero from the condo we are staying at with old people, and start a long shop. When my grandfather, Papa was alive I always ate well. He was the best grocery shopper in our town, and my uncle is taking his place. My uncle tells me that we will go up every aisle and pick something out. His picks are frugal but fattening. Two shopping carts filled with fish, burritos, pizza, meat, vegetables, beer, snacks, bread, and condiments end up being a little over one-hundred dollars. The fun starts now. The condo that my grandma is renting overlooks the beach that leads to the Gulf of Mexico on the Florida coast. It is beautiful. I have never tasted salt water, and I love it. People have told me not to drink it, but I do it anyway. It reminds me of my fascination with smelling gasoline. My brother Marty and I are drinking beer on the beach, in cans with little cozies that make the beer stay cold, and prevent sand from sticking all over the condensation on the aluminum. I see some girls my age. They are beautiful; they are prospects for us. They are our mission indeed. The sun is out, and I can’t believe how happy I am.

After taking a dip and enjoying the scenery, my grandma calls us from way back near the condo and reminds us that there is a St. Patrick’s party that the tenants are throwing in a few minutes. We go back to the condo, dry up, shower, and retreat to a small central lobby for a potluck dinner and some truly hilarious Irish songs sung by a group that has a median age of sixty-five. It is wholesome; it is still the daytime. These people are oblivious to the news conference. I am trying to be too.

The potluck is over, and the real world returns, but I am already shutting it out. I have opened another beer, and Peter Jennings comes on and tells the ABC viewers that the president will address the nation tonight. I decide to stick around for a little while. I care. In the speech, Bush tells the world, Hussein, and his sons that he has forty-eight hours to leave Iraq. He offers instructions for the Iraqi military to allow the peaceful advance of coalition troops to eliminate weapons of mass destruction. I doubt this will be peaceful. I have a friend in Kuwait city. He has not talked with me since January, and I do not know what detail he is on, but he is a marine, and he is there. I can not begin to wonder what he must be feeling right now, but I know that when I last saw him, he seemed like he aged ten years since high school. I, on the other hand, think I have aged about six months. The war talk has dampened my spirits.

It’s St. Patrick’s Day, and the world is nearing major conflict. I am going out anyway. I know that my college friends back home in Chicago are probably going to be protesting again when war begins. I don’t know that they can do that much, but I know for sure that I can do nothing now. More accurately, I do not want to.

Estero is the main road on Fort Myers Beach. There are only a few bridges that connect out to this lagoon, and the peninsula is extremely thin. As the airport taxi service drove us here this afternoon, I was able to see almost everything that will be in walking distance of where we are staying. There are a lot of little shops, t-shirt stores, Fifties Diners, 7-11s, hotels, other restaurants, and bars. You can either walk down Estero to get to all of these places, or walk down the beach, and see stars that my astronomy teacher has told me you will never see near Chicago during the winter. Marty and I are walking down the beach and hearing all the sounds from the hotels, bars, and restaurants. We can see through a lot of beach entryways to Estero, and know that it is packed. I can’t taste Lake Michigan now. The beach side is peaceful. It probably has to be that way, or all of the elderly residents and vacationers who have been coming here since the 1950s probably would have moved to somewhere that is. I wonder with all of the turning to sea, if there is a high rate of neck problems among the already brittle in this town. It does not really matter.

We cut across the beach after passing a hotel that seems a little too loud. There may be some combustion here tonight on Estero. All of the carnivals that I reluctantly knew were just beyond my reach, might be here tonight. We walk into a bar and Marty slips in fine with a lot of overconfidence, and an older brother’s driver’s license. We continue to drink and prowl. In Scent of a Woman, I recall Al Pacino’s character says to Charlie, “the day we stop looking, is the day we die.” Well we are alive and we plan on doing more than just looking.

There are a lot of young girls here. It is not a completely out of control spring break destination, but some people want to think it is. This causes a juxtaposition of body shots, ridiculous karaoke, yelling, and also older people off of work, uncomfortable with the invasion on their relaxing spot. Marty will not be helping comfort their night. Neither will I. We head straight for the bar and get a pitcher. It will not be our last. We plan to take pleasure in our freedom and anonymity. We stalk the bar and try to find some girls without men. We want to at least make some contact early and then retreat to let them ponder. Ideally we won’t need to retreat.

The first group includes a karaoke singer. The song is Baby Got Back—horrible. It seems like a good idea to approach. We confront the rendition with enthusiasm. Our talk leads to laughter. Marty is always good at getting the attention of girls at bars. There are four girls, one has a glass eye and it is creepy, one is obviously with what appears to be a harmless boyfriend, and the other two are without superficial obstructions (cute and without boyfriends, that is). We make sure to be including girlfriend and glass-eyed girl, but are obviously taking more of an interest in our real targets. I am not sure if I like either, but I like the success. We came here to meet and have fun with strangers, and we are already doing so. Over the next three hours we all drink more, and Marty and I essentially are paired up with the two cute, single girls. Mine is tall and brown-haired. Marty’s is shorter and blonde. We take a lot of liberties with our jokes. The girls are from Iowa, which adds some fuel. We are in control of the conversation, and suggest going to another bar. I honestly do not know each of their names, but the blonde is Abbey, and the brunette is Kate or Kat. One of the girls, the brunette—my cute one—explains that she is only twenty, and that her ID may not work at another place, but Marty convinces her of certain success. We can’t really lose at this point. They are eating up every line. We have no doubts of our triumph.

Quickly we make our way back out to Estero, and move to a louder, dance club bar. The licenses work again, and I am drunk. Soon I realize that Marty is dancing dirty and making out with the blonde. I also realize that the brunette wants to do the same with me. Furthermore, the couple is gone, and the glass eye is either gone or in the bathroom. I gather that she doesn’t like it here. I don’t dance well. I try to make an attempt at it though, and Kat from Iowa likes it for some reason. She seems drunk too. I don’t really know how we got here, or why we left the other bar, but Marty comes over and announces that we are going to Abbey and Kat’s hotel to swim. Glass eye is certainly gone by now.

Their hotel is called the Bel Air; it is another two miles down Estero in the wrong direction from the condo. These girls are traveling with lunatics. They explain that the couple we saw earlier is married. The one I thought was a girlfriend is 18 and the harmless boyfriend is 29. He paid for the five of them to come here from Iowa with money that he makes on a porn website. The girls we are with smoke some pot in their hotel room while Marty and I drink some of their beers. I find myself in the pool in boxer shorts alone with the Kat. She is all over me. I am not sure where my brother went. I find myself declining her advances feebly. The porn husband guy reemerges from his absence, naked, chasing his “wife” into the pool. I don’t want to be here. I try to swim laps as if actually following athletic pool code will inform them of my displeasure. Marty comes back from wherever wearing what I think are Abbey’s soccer shorts and does a cannonball. His presence and carefree sensibility ease my mind a little bit, but I am really tired. The married couple disappears again, and the four of us decide to go to the beach.

On the gulf Marty is still living it up. He and Abbey wade out about a hundred feet. Kat and I sit on the edge of the tide’s reach on the beach. The sky and stars are undeniably beautiful. I need to sleep. Kat talks about politics, and George Bush, and how he does not know what he is doing. I talk about some family things that usually impress strangers. She proceeds to discuss nonsensical 9/11 conspiracy theories that confirm her status as a lunatic. I talk drunk and slowly. I try to explain something about a constellation I notice. This is not turning out how I thought. Kat thinks I am hitting on her again. She rests her sand-toes on my thigh. I am disgusted. I still need sleep. She talks about love at first sight and how she knows it sometimes. I pray she isn’t talking about me. Finally Marty comes close enough to the shore for me to get his attention and let him know we should be going. He is excited. I am pretty excited also, but just to sleep. We estimate that it is three miles to the condo. It is 4:30 AM. My Grandma hopefully will be sleeping when we get home.

The walk is long and drunken. I somehow misjudged the distance—it is five miles. A war will begin before I fly back home, and I am terrified.

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