Monday, August 9, 2010

Old Friend

The Florida sun was pouring down too much brightness, but I disliked wearing dark glasses so I just squinted my eyes for a better view of the highway on which my middle-aged car was dutifully rolling its middle-aged wheels.

I was on my way from Orlando down to Tampa Bay. The country here was flat, dotted with small lakes looking pretty but probably infested with alligators. Strange life here where those big reptiles might come crawling on your driveway anytime.

Was it any less strange that I should now be crossing this pancake-flat, sun-drenched country to visit this old friend with whom I had shared my early youth in a misty mountain town half the world and more than two decades away? Memories rushed back, and the road seemed less than a road and more like a bridge over a chasm of time with a face from the past waiting for me on the other side.

The Tampa skyline was visible now, looking pretty much like any other mid-sized city skyline, with just a few tall buildings clustering in the center the way big shots gathering among themselves, separated from lesser people. I drove past downtown towards a bridge crossing the bay. Near the beginning of the bridge I saw a sign urging motorists to make sure there was enough gas in their tanks. It must be a very long bridge indeed.

I drove over the immense sparkling blue water and felt my spirit lifted. I always have a soft spot for the sea, feeling much more alive when I'm close to it. On the far side of the bay was St. Petersburg with less traffic, more modest buildings, and a whiff of small-town atmosphere.

Definitely provincial, I thought when exiting the highway onto one of the narrow streets laid out in checkerboard. The houses looked somewhat dilapidated, the yards not well trimmed and the trees encumbered with dry twigs and dead leaves. They must have been dainty once, and like a bunch of tired old housewives had let themselves go at some point.

I parked in a gravelled driveway, next to a gaunt palm tree with droopy fronds half-heartedly waving in the lazy breeze. The house was painted in white and turquoise, in good taste but with overgrown weed lining the walls. Some bright flowers were in full bloom, lending a certain cheeriness to the place which would have felt neglected otherwise.

The door opened before I rang the bell, and I smiled into the eyes of a fellow I had known throughout my callow years.

Pelicans in St. Petersburg