by bj max

I sneak a peek in my rear view mirror at the four motorcycles stretched out for a quarter-mile behind me. Actually, all I can make out now are their headlights because darkness has closed in on southwest Florida. Five miles ahead, the white-hot tentacles of an electrical storm stab at downtown Sarasota. The storm is not very wide but it’s packing a concentrated punch as it steamrolls over the city. Buck, riding directly behind me, dials in his trick GPS weather overlay and informs me that the storm appears to be moving offshore.

I glance at my GPS and note that a gradual turn to the right is creeping into view as well. That combination should put the storm safely over the Gulf before we arrive if we time it just right. I back off the throttle to allow the tempest to move out of our path but with traffic bearing down on us at seventy mph, we can’t back off much. We hold at sixty-five and keep our fingers crossed.

We began this trip six days earlier and the southeast looked pretty gloomy that first day what with flooding and storms, unusual conditions for this time of year. But we had hotel reservations all along our route and cancellations implied penalties so we geared up in the cold damp hours before dawn and hit the trail. Daylight’s arrival brought more storms and heavy rains but we refused to let them dampen our spirit. Our philosophy for dealing with thunderstorms was borrowed from Winston Churchill to wit; if you’re going through hell, keep going.

Our first night on the road was in Dothan, Alabama, peanut capital of the world, some 430 miles from Memphis. We had ridden under threatening skies since Tupelo but had not seen another drop of rain until we reached the Dothan city limits. That’s when the gods decided to have a little fun and chased us down the street with the front edge of a squall line nipping at our heels. But we managed to beat the downpour by a hair, zooming in under the awning of our motel in the nick of time.

The next morning dawned with bright sunshine and brilliant blue skies. We couldn’t believe our luck. The weather terrorist predicted rain all week but some sort of climatological phenomenon rolled through during the night and pushed everything off to the northeast, sparing us and flooding the folks back home. We dropped south out of Dothan to the Gulf Coast, hooked a left and headed for the sunshine state.

While checking in at our motel in Ocala, I discovered I had left my drivers license back at the hotel in Dothan. No problem. I can swing by and pick it up on the way home. But being without a license or photo ID in Florida was a concern and it began to eat at me. First gloomy weather;, now this. Wonder what else is gonna’ happen?

Well I didn’t have to wonder long. My blood pressure, having been elevated by the loss of my driver’s license was in for another boost when I discovered that other than the initial one-day supply, I had left all my heart meds back in Memphis. This is not good and my mood began to darken, making sleep that night impossible. My vivid imagination ran amok generating all sorts of menacing scenarios like credit card fraud, identity theft and heart attacks. As I paced the floor in the dark, Sugar Booger woke up, understood my distress and in her quiet, unruffled way she suggested that I call and cancel my credit card, then have our granddaughter FedEx the meds to our hotel in Key West. Now why didn’t I think of that? I did as she suggested, then slept like a zombie.

The next morning we hit the road around eight, followed the Interstate as long as we could stand it, then jumped back on a two lane at Fort Myers. At a gas stop in Immokalee, Sugar Booger decided to call home and check in with the kids while I gassed the bike. But she couldn’t find her phone. “Probably packed away in the trailer,” I said as I handed her mine. But on arrival at our hotel in Everglades City we searched every piece of luggage but no luck. Her cell phone was officially lost.

Later that night, I lay in bed once again, staring at the ceiling. Something in the back of my mind kept nagging at me. It was like a dark cloud hovering overhead that you knew was gonna’ dump on you, you just didn’t know when. Then it hit me. Sugar Booger’s phone. What if some guy finds it, calls his Mama in Hawaii and runs up our phone bill or what if a Russian agent stumbles across it, calls the KGB and the CIA traces the number back to us. Why we might be shot as spies or worse, our AARP cards seized. So once again I’m on the phone in the middle of the night, this time with AT&T.

The next day, the weather continued picture-perfect while back home there were storms, floods, mudslides and gloom. We couldn’t believe our luck. We spent the day touring the Everglades from airboats with plenty of alligators to keep us company. And the delicious food served up at the Back Country Café kept us fat and happy. But unknown to us at the time, this quaint little eatery would later punch a hole, literally, in our fun in the sun.

Our next stop was Key West. It was the middle of hurricane season and we had the place virtually to ourselves. No crowds, no lines and no hurricanes either. Just clear blue skies and a balmy ocean breeze, exactly what one would expect in the tropics. My goal in Key West was to have a beer at Sloppy Joes, Earnest Hemingway’s favorite watering hole and I did just that, knocking back a single local brew that was pretty good. I was hoping that Pappy’s ghost might inspire me but as you can see by the quality of this story, it didn’t happen.

All good things must come to an end and before we knew it we were rolling north again with Key West quickly fading to a few photographs and fond memories. Near Miami, we picked up the Tamiami Trail and by lunch, we were back in the neighborhood of Everglades City and we just couldn’t pass up the chance to sample the Back Country Cafe’s home cooked vittles one more time. It proved to be an interesting decision.

After a fine meal that included some very good iced tea, we saddled up and just as we pulled out of the parking lot Buck announced over the two-way that he had a warning light from his onboard TPI system signaling a possible breach of his rear tire’s integrity or, in layman’s terms, he had a flat. So we pulled in at a nearby gas station, checked it out and sure enough, he had picked up a 10/32 aircraft-grade titanium screw, probably off an airboat. We plugged the tire then limped to Naples, some forty miles distant where a new Dunlop was mounted to the tune of $456.00. Think they didn’t see us coming? Beware the Honda dealer in Naples.

All this ate up about three hours and set us up for our close encounter with the electrical storm in Sarasota. But backing off the throttle did the trick, letting the storm drift off shore, keeping us just out of harms way and we rolled into our motel, dry as a bone.

On the way home, we stopped off in Dothan and picked up my drivers license. Later I passed on my old telephone to Sugar Booger and treated myself to a new iPhone as compensation for all the grief I had suffered. And no, Sugar Booger didn’t mind the hand-me-down phone. She’s become accustomed to my generous donations of second-hand technology.


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