Enjoying a glass of 4 PM champagne after landing at a wind-beaten beach bum bar full of sandy cracks, all-state auto plates, and live, maybe authentic Cuban guitar. Of course the first thing we do after landing is head straight for the shack-studded cocktail beaches – in this case, Siesta Key. There are happy hour specials all day and anybody can have a couple and stumble right up and shake the Gulf’s hand, say how do you do. We’re shaking lots of old hands, making fast friends with people from all over the USA. Make that two glasses of champagne, staying cool. Hey, we’re on vacation. I notice the single South Dakota license plate in a corner. It’s keyed with the word “fags.” Sounds like South Dakota. Are people actually “from” Siesta Key? Not even the palm trees are from here, a rusty townie dame is blurting at us. She smashes a menthol cig with her can of Bud, getting up. They all floated here in coconuts from who-the-hell-knows where.
Townie Lady shuffles away, and is replaced promptly by the plop down of Townie Drunk. Nichole shakes our hand, how do you do. Nichole introduces herself as the local expert of this particular beach joint, being from Michigan and all. She’s here on a break from work, like everyone else within a mile radius. It’s not the hot vacation season yet, when all the young shirtless guys will shoulder out the quivering age of Nichole and her milieu. But she’s got a cottage down by Treasure Island and enough party supplies for a week. My best Michigan bud is gay, she says. Be proud of who you are, come hang out with us tonight. Stay a day. Nichole points out her gay friend, and I’m really not going to look now. Evading, we’re asking questions. Nichole is an HR professional. Her friend’s a real estate agent. Over there, Larry, he’s a manager at Kum & Go, you know. Been there for 7 years, has 6 people under him. The bar makes a gentle roar now. It’s packed full of all these coconuts who rolled from an airport terminal and just unloaded on the beach. They’re all taking pictures of their license plates, bending far over the rail to get a better view of the setting Gulf sun, wandering off in the direction of Blue, which exists only in Florida. Nichole the Townie Drunk isn’t taking pictures, though. No, she’s lifting her shirt to bounce her chest for us, and she’s squeezing real close. We’re about ready to lose it after that. We have to order a 6 PM glass of champagne.
Pulling handfuls of obliterated bivalves from the tide bed, many photos of a diving red sun are taken. Siesta Key, striped with its white sand beaches, boasts the best coastlines in the USA, but you have to be careful walking its pearled margins. Not deep to the blind-yourself glass veneer are charred bits of driftwood fires, broken beer bottles and crushed cans of Bud looking to slice un-flip-flopped tourist feet. Three days after Nichole coconut-rolled back to the cottage, our taxi driver back to Tampa airport recites local lore, weaving along the bay. This time of year, all the manatees push and shove, huddled around the power plant’s balmy discharge, and the bay is a crowded aquarium of the extended Southeast sea cow population. An orphan cripple dolphin has a new prosthesis, a new life and a new name somewhere close, inspiring hope and laughter in the bay.