I'm not a Florida beach guy. Not anymore.
Salt water once ran in my veins. The sun freckled my skin on a daily basis. All summer long, I lived in my baggies and toughened my feet by walking barefoot on scalding asphalt on my way to the beach's hard-packed sand. My car wore surf racks and patches of rust. By the time I graduated from high school, it was almost ready for the scrap heap, although a neighbor forked over $100 so he could turn it into a dune buggy.
Nights and evenings, we worked so we could surf during the day. I was a busboy at a combination Kentucky Fried Chicken joint and a pancake house. We busboys spent a lot of time flirting with the waitresses, trying to get them into our cars for an after-work beachside rendezvous. When that didn't work, we'd drive down to the Daytona pier and see if any tourist girls were interested in canoodling with busboys. We lonely guys often ended up parked on the beach (you could drive on it back then) talking about our plans for the future.
I had plans. I didn't know what they were, but I had them. Life was waiting for me and I had no desire to remain a beach boy or, worse, a beach bum. The world was tough on me and I did return to the beach after being booted out of college. I surfed and worked, waited for the Army to pluck me from the waves and send me to Vietnam. But the call never came and I had to figure out the next steps. Traveled, returned to school, worked, returned to the beach again although spent less and less time actually on the beach. Guess I always thought it was something to grow out of.
My brother Dan found that the beach was something you could grow into. He surfed until he was almost 60, until leukemia claimed him late last year. His 50- and 60-something buddies all surfed. They formed a church called the Salty Church that is a block from the beach.
Meanwhile, I made my home in the Rocky Mountain West and only rarely looked back. Until recently. When retirement raised its head. Now I'm spending time at funerals and weddings of my loved ones in The Sunshine State. It's not the place I left in 1978. Scads more people, traffic, developments. I was surprised during my recent trip that you can still walk with your best girl on the beach -- and be the only two out there. It has to be windy and 45 degrees, but it can be done.
But as I said in a previous post, the beach is nice but I can't see basing a retirement on that one thing alone. I can't surf until I get my knees fixed and/or replaced. I don't fish, like some of the codgers I came across on my beach walks. My Celtic skin won't tolerate sunbathing. I don't own a boat.
The warm weather is nice. Lots of cultural offerings. My family members are there, as are old friends. I care deeply about my old Florida schools -- they shaped me.
Spend a few decades in a place and you change. I've lived in Wyoming since 1991, with two years off in the mid-90s to work in D.C. As it turns out, I still have salt water in my veins. That's because all humans have salt water in our veins, even those of us who live in the Land of the Ancient Seas. Millions of years ago, my little lot in Cheyenne was underwater. If I excavated my entire backyard instead of just my small garden plot, I would find fossils of sea creatures. When the wind blows from the south, I smell the salt air. It could be from the nearest saltwater patch in the Gulf of Mexico. More likely, it's the moisture by storms. Or it could be my imagination.
Most of the time, the wind brings the scent of the dry prairie or of snow from Gulf of Alaska storms. The landscape reveals no waves, unless I use my imagination and wonder what it would be like to surf a wave as high as the nearest sandstone bluff.
I have to admit that I am more of this place than of the place where I did my growing up. I am no longer a beach guy unless you count the fact that I have walked "the beaches of Cheyenne" that Garth Brooks sings about. No longer the beach boy but a beach cowboy.