"White Sands of the Keys"
The sun warms his face as he rides South on the highway from Miami, down to the southernmost tip of Florida.....Key West. Just 90 miles more and he'll be there! The sound of his bike puts him into a trance, he's on a mission now.....and nothing will get in his way. It's been many years since he had a road trip like this. Hell, he's never had a road trip...like this, on a Triumph motorcycle. The sulfa smell fills his nostrils as he gets closer to his destination. There's always that smell you have to contend with while in Florida....little patches here and there, but it's worth it. It all disappears when you see that coast....when you cross that last bridge into Key West, and the surf comes into focus. Your troubles seem to fade away with each mile. No worries about work, traffic, road rage idiots, etc....It's just you, the road, and your thoughts. His hands cramp occasionally from gripping the handle bars but he doesn't care. He's on his own time now, and does what he wants....and when he wants. Everyone else seems to be busy with life, worrying about their credit scores, their bills, their next car payment, or how much is this trip going to cost me?......Not him, not anymore. In 1997 he survived a bout with Hodgkin's Disease, a second scare in January 2009 with his Thyroid, from the radiation treatments in 97. In May of 2009 he survived a surprise Heart Attack while living in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. He had only been in town for 5 days! Yes, he's had "close" calls too many times for one man. Yes, he still has ALL of those same issues, but he doesn't let it get to him like he used too. He lives differently now, his priorities have changed over the last few years. He lives one day at a time......"The bills will be there tomorrow, so don't worry about them today", he says. Life will pass you by if you let it.
The sun is lower in the sky now, it's rays coming through the afternoon clouds....the breeze coming out of the East. His worries are far behind him now, back in Atlanta. For now, he's at peace, he's looking forward to the next few days of relaxation before climbing back on his bike, and heading north. He reaches the final miles in the early evening hours. The local crab and beer shacks are full of people, having fun and enjoying the easy life in the Keys. He pulls up to a local motel, grabs a room and showers the Florida road grime off quickly. The hot shower feels good on his seasoned body after the long ride from Georgia. His face is already showing tan lines, his arms the same. Tomorrow, he'll worry about his farmer's tan....right now he just wants a well deserved drink.
He puts a clean pair of jeans on, his trusty boots, and a crisp white button down, then crosses the street to Jimmy's Joint, a small bar that looks fun....his kinda place! He positions himself at the rear of the bar, facing the door....It's a military thing....he always has a plan when and if the unexpected should happen.
"Always know your surroundings", was what his flight Sargent would tell him before maneuvers. He served as a medic in the USAF, and later a Combat Medic in the USA. Though he never saw war, he trained for it, and he trained hard. After leaving the USAF in 97, he missed the men and women he served with, the great doctors and nurses that together with he and his fellow techs, saved many lives when he worked as an E.R Shift leader. Those times are long gone, but the memories will live on forever......He tried to get back into the Air Guard, but there were no positions at Dobbins. As it turned out, he was contacted by an Army recruiter the next day, so without question, he joined the USA Guard that September day in 2000. His unit was a great unit, at first a tank unit, then in 2003 they changed over to an Armored Hummer Unit, teams were four man teams, with a 50 Cal on each Hummer. As the head medic, he made sure his men were medically ready to fight, he kept the records straight, and made sure each crew had a "CPR" certified soldier in case things got bad. They trained hard at Fort Stewart each year, like the real thing. Mock casualty training with "war scenario's", tank blasts, 50 Cal firings, everything you could imagine. The heat was unbearable and many soldiers tried to beat it without drinking....Not a good idea in his book. He chewed out his soldiers if he found them not drinking enough. It was a serious problem if a soldier was not able to perform his duties. The whole team was affected if that happened. One day, a soldier went into heat exhaustion so he quickly put 2 large bore IV's in him, and had other soldiers squeeze the bags to get the fluid in his body quicker. They soaked towels in water, and covered his body with them, lowering his temperature to safe levels....The young soldier was confused, a sign of heat exhaustion, but the efforts of his fellow men probably saved his life. The soldier found his Medic afterward and thanked him for what he had done. He was the humbled kind of man....He gave the others the credit, and never mentioned it again. That kid was only 20 years old and he (medic) sits here in Key West and wonders what ever happened to his men, now that the war has been going on for years. He knows some have probably sacrificed their ALL for the unit he was in. Those were some great guys, and he would've died for any one of them if he had ever had to go over to the sandbox. Things happen for a reason he always said....Now, he's out of the military, but his mind goes back there more often than he would like. Those were some of the best years of his life, and some hard times as well. He divorced his wife of 9 years in 1993, and he didn't see his son as much as he wanted too back then, but times have changed, and his son and him have an amazing relationship now. His son carry's on the tradition of serving too. He is his own man as well, with a wife and child now.
"Can I get you somethin' hun?" asks the waitress....Her skin bronzed by the sun, her eyes blue as the sky. "Yes maam, could I get a Jack and Coke please", he says shyishly. "Yes maam, hmm....a gentleman in these parts!! I'll be right back kind sir."
"A Beautiful Sunrise"
He sits and watches as the local's go about their business, slowly sipping his Jack and Coke. He can tell the vacationers easily....burnt faces, arms, legs.....Brand new Key West hats slanted to the side....honeymooners, young 20 types, new to drinking by the obvious drunkenness. The bartender listens to the local beach bum....the nightly routine. Younger ladies are eying him now, smiling if he looks their way. He's twice their age, so he stays away from them.....He could get into trouble quickly if he really wanted too. He's not looking for any trouble though, so he lays low for now. He has another drink, and calls it a night. It's been a long day......the bed will feel good.
He heads back to the room after paying his tab, and tells the waitress "thank you" for her kindness. He quickly readies for bed, and slides in under the sheet. The bed is soft, and the mattress conforms to his body as his head hits the pillow. He has left the window open slightly to listen to the surf hitting the beach across the way. His eyes feel like lead, as they close slowly.....His sleep is peaceful and quiet......He has no worries.
The morning sun shines through the sheer drapes, as the breeze blows them softly each few seconds. The salt air brings him to life, as he sits up and stretches his relaxed bones. He takes a deep breath, and readies himself for the day ahead. He showers, and does his morning routine....brushing his teeth, taking his heart and thyroid pills, vitamins to stay healthy, etc. His attire today....shorts, T shirt, and flip flops, the Key west attire. He heads down the street to get a quick breakfast of egg whites, coffee, and toast. That will start his day off in a good way. He finishes up and crosses the street, towards the beach. It's early still, and the beach is not busy....Only the snowbirds, and some young kids are out this morning, picking up shells, watching the sand crabs scurry back into their holes. The sea birds quickly run in front of the water's edge, picking up the bugs before the water gets to them. Seagulls and Pelicans fly overhead, watching for the schools of bait fish to surface in the shallow surf. When seen, they turn into Japanese dive bombers, like they're on their suicide runs at Pearl Harbor.....hitting the water with enough force to kill the fish with their long pointed beaks or to scoop the fish into their bills.....The circle of life in the sea world.....it's there for a reason.
The Florida breeze warms his skin as he picks a spot out on the beach, back off of the surf, but close enough to feel the spray when the big waves come in. The beach is getting busier now, soon it will be full of kids running up and down to the water's edge, families sharing good times, and old couples, revisiting their youth. He takes a towel that he brought from the motel and spreads it out over the sand. He kicks his flip flops off, and lays them on the edge of the towel to hold it in place if the breeze kicks up. His swim shorts are above his knees, his pale legs needing sun in the worst way......He strolls down to the water and slowly lowers himself into the white froth, feeling the soothing salts of the ocean on his tired and worn body. His bull riding days are gone, but the sore bones will be with him until he leaves this earth. The ocean calms his muscles, his bones, his mind......For a moment, he has no pain, and no worries. He is.....ABOVE GROUND.
He plops down on the towel, the white sand all over him now.....He doesn't seem to mind though, the suns rays are drying him quickly. He covers himself in SPF 30, and puts his rented umbrella up to give him some shade. He feels the burn of summer on his legs and knows the feeling too well. He puts a second coat of sunscreen on, he doesn't want to battle anymore cancer like he did in 97. He pops the top on his Corona, takes a much needed sip and gives a silent toast to the ones that "Gave Their All", for him and all other Americans in the past, and present wars. He thinks of his buddies that he served with, the docs, the nurses, and all the patients that he worked with to get them through their sickness or surgery.
.........Kids are running in the surf now, frolicking like little pups in a sprinkler head that's on full blast. He thinks of his son, and of the times when he would run with the neighbor's kids, into the sprinkler. Those were good days, times to remember, and times to never forget. His son now serves as he did....In the USAF. He's turned into one hell of a man these days.....A husband, father, and a friend.....He is blessed to be his father, and so very proud of who and what he has become.
Something blocks the sun now......The clouds are moving in for the usual afternoon storm. He heads back to Jimmy's Joint to try the Shrimp Po Boy that the waitress told him about the night before.....He feels the sunburn on his legs, arms, and back now.....The 30 SPF didn't do the job he expected....It's all good though, he'll push through the upcoming pain, as he ALWAYS has before. He settles in for the night, after having his Jack and Coke and Po Boy. Tomorrow he leaves for home......He wants to stay but life goes on right?
As he turns in, he thanks the Lord for another beautiful day on this earth. He prays for his family and friends, his son that's serving, and for the future and what it will bring. The moon is full tonight and brightens the room as his eyes slowly close for another night of peaceful dreams.
As he leaves the room the next morning, the sun is halfway up on the sea's horizon. The cool morning air puts chill bumps down his arms, but he knows once the sun's up all the way, it'll burn the coolness off and bring with it the hot, blazing burn.....He has a wicking shirt on for the ride home. With his jeans, boots, and his bike jacket on, he straddles the Triumph and starts it up. The rumble courses through his veins and he knows it's going to be a great day for riding. He makes one more pass down the main road, turns and looks one last time at the beach and surf, then throttles up and heads North.
Many hours later, he turns off of Highway 10, onto 75N, and sets his mind on Atlanta. The ride home will be long, but it's times like this when a man does his best thinking......Nothing else to do out there on a bike....Well, there is, but they'd probably arrest most of us......Enjoy your road trips friends....You never know when they'll end. Stay strong......Jeff