Notes from Thanksgiving vacation, 2007:
For most of our visit to South Florida last week, the sun was pleasantly intense, with temperatures in the low to mid 80s. We enjoyed hours in the water, ocean and pool, and our 18-month-old son took to the H2O like he was born with gills. I stopped at a Target in Aventura to check out the inflatable float devices and pool toys that would help our boy enjoy the water. I did not see anything in sporting goods or toys, so I found a red-shirted store employee and asked.
She looked at me like I had asked her for the pornography aisle. She leaned close, put her right index finger to her lips and in a mock hushed tone, said conspiratorially, “Ssshhhhh, don’t tell anyone, but it’s winter. We don’t sell that stuff now.”
“Winter?” I said, hoping I was dealing with someone who would respond to logic. “It’s 84 degrees. Every pool and beach in Miami-Dade County is open. I did not think it was that much of a stretch to think you’d sell pool toys year-round.”
“Once the holiday stuff hits the aisles, the summer stuff is gone,” she said. “We’re in winter now.”
“No, where I’m from, where it’s 24 degrees right now, that’s winter,” I said. “Very few people are jumping in
Lake Erie today. It’s 84 degrees here. Does Target think no one swims during the holidays, even if it’s 84 degrees?”
“Why don’t you buy an inflatable yard reindeer and float on that?” she said.
Ocean’s 5 a.m.
Our son sleeps through most nights, but usually wakes up at 5 a.m., so for the entire week, as my wife and I took turns getting up at sonrise, we took his breakfast on the balcony so everyone else could sleep. The view from my brother’s home looks from an 11-story vantage point to the Intracoastal Waterway and beyond to the ocean, where a magnificent red-orange sunrise would greet each day. The horizon of sun and water meld and swirl like a hyper-hued painting, as if the universe is gathering the strength to spin at least one more time.
Even with the toddler clanging around, grinding Cheerios and bananas into everything, the sight was as peaceful and serene as anything one could imagine. A sunrise over the ocean really is the promise of a new day, and for those few moments, none of life’s pressures and worries seem to matter.
As much as I complain about the lack of civility infiltrating Northwest Ohio driving habits, a week in Miami, driving an in-law’s pristine Cadillac, is a reminder that, compared to the sudden U-turns, right turns from three lanes to the left, disregard for traffic signals and high-speed pursuits that constitute the South Florida driving experience, our road warriors are a bunch of curtseying Miss Manners. Driving in Miami is like being transported into a video game where getting to one’s destination is a secondary consideration to surviving and causing as much damage as possible. My brother was once pulled over in Miami for suspicious driving because a police officer saw him use a turn signal and let someone merge in front of him. True story.
Women in Miami
God bless our local women, who this time of year have to dress like Eskimos, but South Florida women are all about the skin, God bless them. To twist a joke told by Arnold Schwarzenegger, the Thanksgiving turkey had the only natural breast I saw all week.
I lived in South Florida for a couple of years, and I learned great respect for the ocean. I used to arrive from work and within 15 minutes be walking on sand into the Atlantic, swimming in the late afternoon sun until the day’s challenges had been washed away. I never ventured more than 50 yards out, but that opened a universe of room to ride the salty waves and let the sound of the churning water cleanse the echoes of humanity from my ears.
Then, one day, as I floated and swam, something, I do not know what, bumped into me with enough force to move me several inches against the tide. I felt whatever it was scrape against me, smooth but rough at the same time. If an Olympic judge had been there to time my exit from the water, a gold medal might hang on my wall at home. For the next few swims after that, I was much more aware of how small I was in the ocean, and how much life was swimming unseen around me. A subsequent stingray sighting, jellyfish invasion and the discovery of some hellish Clive Barker nightmare washed up on the beach ended my aquatic innocence and drove me to the chlorinated world of the building’s pool.
Last weekend, we took our son to the Dania Pier beach where my wife and I were married, to let him walk on the sand and soak his feet in the ocean. But the tide had delivered scores of dying jellyfish and Portuguese man-of-war with long, poisonous tendril, so he was only able to explore a small area. Still, it was an overwhelming moment, watching the waves and reliving the happy morning of our marriage. It was enough to help me forget the hidden dangers in the water, the fins and teeth and spikes and stingers that keep us humble in the ocean. There are rays and eels and sharks and sea lice and jellyfish.
And somewhere, out there on the waves, maybe even an inflatable yard reindeer.
Michael S. Miller is editor in chief of Toledo Free Press. Contact him at email@example.com.