I’m accustomed to beach people, having spent two years as one in Charleston, South Carolina. Yet, nothing quite prepares you for the people of Florida.
I went to Longboat Key once when I was a kid—ten years old. I surely did not have the keen observational skills I do now. Now, when I set foot on Longboat, I could people-watch for hours, days, weeks. I’d love to, in fact, because five days of vacation was not enough.
My Aunt Susie—best buddy, maid of honor at my wedding, blood relative—called me months ago and said, “You’re coming to Florida with me. I’ll pay for half your plane ticket.” How could I say no? Last week, we were together for five glorious days of sunshine, booze, and island fun.
Longboat Key is a swanky little town on the Gulf Coast, population 6800. When you’re not seeing mansions, you’re seeing beach condos. And I mean literally, our condo was right on the freakin’ beach. We woke up every morning to blue water, green grass, and pink bougainvillea. We woke up smelling the sea—and my decaf coffee.
Usually, we took a bike ride first thing. We visited the old part of Longboat, where wild peacocks roam the streets. Then, it was to the beach, where the sun was hot but the water was cold. No matter. I still dove in … a couple times. I can’t not swim in the ocean when the ocean is right in front of me.
On the beach, I met Heidi. She’s famous. Everyone knows her. She’s this older lady (upper-sixties, if I had to guess) who still wears bikinis. She has bright, blond hair and over-tanned skin the color of milk chocolate. She walks the beach of Longboat every day at approximately 3 PM, and one day, I even had the honor of joining her for drinks.
Off the beach, Susie and I ate too much food and one night, drank too much beer. There’s this place near Longboat (in Bradenton) called The Drift Inn. The Drift Inn, like Heidi, is famous in our family, because it’s where my Papa Schwind used to buy liquor (and probably sneak a pint or two). It is the penultimate beach dive bar. You can even smoke INSIDE. When I walked in, some guy turned to me, said “What the <bleep>?” and asked if I was lost. It’s that kind of place.
Susie and I made friends quickly, as we often do, loud, obnoxious characters that we are. By the end of the night, we were practically “regulars.” I even connected with a mother-son pair who’d spent time in Belize on Ambergris Caye. They want to meet Jake and me there next time we go. I mean, if this is not dive bar behavior, what is?
My vacation to Longboat Key was not physically healthy. Almost all the skin on my face has been transformed to possibly pre-cancerous freckles. Due to my consumption of gluten and booze, I probably put on five pounds. My hair is a frizzy mess. Yet, emotionally, Longboat was just what I needed. I needed a week of doing absolutely nothing—worrying about nothing. Blessed, blessed beach town; I miss you already, but I’m glad to be home with my hubbie and my pups. Now, I just need to find a way to bring the beach lifestyle to Phoenix …