Thursday, May 27, 2004


This time I'm on the campus of Florida State University. In the student union building. I'm 300 miles from my next stop in Brandon, Florida just outside of St. Petersburg, the city in which my mother died. I'm going to surprise old friends from my undergraduate days at the University of Dayton, back in the early 60's. They don't know I'm coming. We haven't exchanged any communication for about five years. For all I know they no longer live at that address. Last time I saw them they were living in Iowa and that time I also just showed up on their doorstep, and they took me in. They are wonderful people. They quit being Democrats over the abortion issue. I'm anxious to see how they feel about Bush and his war machine mess. I know they won't like that. What a mess for them. They may be like my father-in-law and vote for nobody, now that Bush has made an ass of himself. I think I'll modify the line from Streetcar Named Desire and say, "I've always been dependent on the kindness of strange friends," when they answer the door. Or I may just say, "What're we doing for Memorial Day Weekend?"


Yes, I said "swat team". Last night, shortly after I checked into my motel room, the clerk called my room and told me to come down to the desk. I was on the third floor, the cheap rate. The clerk informed me he had to change my room because it was needed for a very special purpose. I was alread stripped down to my shorts and the room was cooling down rapidly. Begrudgingly, I put on my clothes and went down to see what was up. Once there, a young man with walky talky told me they were about to do a takedown of four young men in the room next to mine. One of them was a multiple homocide suspect. So I had a ringside seat to watch about 20 officers arrest and take away four young men. Rifles, pistols-the whole deal. To make things more interesting, just as four officers were ascending the stairs, the four guys exited the room and started down the stairs. I felt pretty tense. The man on the "talker" informed the ascending officers that the men were coming down to them. The arrest went off smoothly after that. Two young men tried to run, but they had to run the whole length of the building on the exposed third floor. Officers came from everywhere and pointed rifles and pistols at the young men who quickly lay down to be cuffed. Frankly, it made me sad to see four more young men in so much trouble. They didn't have a chance, outnumbered and, like myself, in a strange city. I don't know why, but I don't think of the victims. I don't act that way out of cruelty, you know, but I just always identify with the criminal as victim. I always think of Pacino's Dog Day Afternoon when it comes to criminals, small time, confused, and desperate.


First off, in New Orleans I went hunting for Fitzgerald's, a fish house on Lake Ponchetraine [sp] where I'd sometimes eat when I worked for Brown and Root on the West Bank. What I liked about it was it's down home look, yet the people who came there to eat would be dressed in anything from dungarees to evening gowns. I had my first and only Lobster Thermodore [sp] there. Fitzgerald's was still in the phone book but no one answered the phone. I went down to West End Park to look for it, couldn't find it. It was always hard to find, so I asked some guys on the beach where the old place was. The biggest one said, "Some of it's over there," he gestured, "and some's out there in the lake," another gesture, "and some's that way." A head gesture. "It blew away in a hurricane some years back."

And the whole coast of Mississippi is transformed. Casinos everywhere, gaudy, interesting. A few quieter white sand beaches still to the west of the casinolands, but the Old South is gone.

Mobile, Alabama where I worked and married my second time was unrecognizable. I couldn't even find the road on which I lived out west of Mobile, on a shady lane. Like every city, the suburbanization has begun. Downtown, I could at least recognize Government Street and the overarching oaks that make the street a green tunnel. The underwater tunnel out of the city to the east is still there.

By the time I entered Florida on I-10 I was pretty depressed and thinking of going home. Why all this waste of my time to see nothing I remembered? I've traveled more than 4000 miles now, and I'm just shooting from place to place on four lanes, and I didn't plan well enough to give myself enough time to rest beside the road and do things. Plu, my budget is cramped. I think I may leave Nantucket out of the return loop and go straight from Key West to Dayton, Ohio.


As I checked out of my motel this morning, the new desk clerk and I fell into conversation about the precious night and the fact that I was right next door to the suspects. We discussed the changing Mississippi coast, and she said that she and her husband often went to those casinos to play around. We discussed growth and etcetera, then she mentioned she was from Ohio, from Navarre [sp] and, of course, I was born and raised in Dayton, Ohio. I didn't know of Navarre. She said she was somehow connected through relatives to the Amish communities up there, then another customer came up and that was the end of our conversation.


Driving makes me dazed and confused. These entries are difficult to write. I can't focus, even after a night of sleep. I miss my little routine back home, the espresso at the Spike or the Coffee House, journal entries, writing letters to the editor, reading my books, my friends, my wife, making dinner for my wife, the dog, the gardening and lawn cutting, our little house. Yep? I'm ruin't as a travelin' man. The man on the go is done gone and I'm a happily married man. Still, I press on. We'll see what happens next. What if David and Monica no longer live in Brandon Florida and have returned to Xenia Ohio where they were born and were childhood sweethearts?

My biggest puzzlement over the whole Gulf Coast part? Why was Fitzgerald's still in the phone book and why didn't someone answer the phone?

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