October 16, 2010

The other half

Downtown Sarasota. I found a parking space at Island Park and we headed for
O’Leary’s, a favorite spot on the bay, a waterfront bistro with picnic tables and
live music. Pat ordered a grouper sandwich, I went for fried shrimp. White wine
for all. There was a grouper scandal a few years ago. So popular is the
delectable Gulf aquatic chameleon that fake grouper, everything from tilapia to
pollock, was being passed off as the real thing in restaurants all over Florida.
Eventually the State Attorney General’s office, following a St. Petersburg Times
expose', began randomly testing grouper sandwich DNA. A lot of restaurants,
who blamed their suppliers, got snagged in the Groupergate net. Authenticity
has since dramatically risen, along with grouper sandwich prices. If you’re paying
$10. or more for one, there's a good chance it's grouper. At one of our favorite
seafood spots we noticed an offering, on the post-Groupergate menu: 
“grouper-like sandwich.”

I offered Pat a curly fry.
“What is this?” she said, “an onion ring?”
“No, it’s a curly fry.”
She sampled a bite. “Mm,” she said, noncommittally.

We headed for Lido beach. I found a parking space close to my haunt. I bought 
some Mike’s Hard Lemonade at the concession stand. The friendly young man 
behind the counter informed me that he couldn’t sell me an unopened
bottle to take away. So I asked for it in a cup over ice, which I could take away.
Which was fine. Seems the county prefers that visitors begin drinking as quickly 
as possible. Which was fine.

We hiked to my spot, a relatively remote section of the beach, nestled between
some dunes, just south of the gay zone. But no sooner had we set up camp
than a quartet of noisy and well-fed young women began posing for pictures just
feet away from our little hideaway, on a section of the beach otherwise empty in
both directions. What compels people? You’ll park in a remote slot of a parking 
lot, not another vehicle around, and return to find somebody parked inches 
away from your car door, no other vehicles around. Cars, apparently, are 
mammalian litter mates that cannot nap alone. Pat was more gracious than I. 
She even agreed to take a picture of the group. Then they were on their way, 
satisfied that we had been properly disabused of any claims to privacy.

We headed straight for the water. The temperature was exquisite - probably 
somewhere in the seventies, and there was some surf. “It’s been ages since I’ve 
been in the ocean,” Pat said with a laugh. After splashing, and floating, and 
paddling around for a while, we returned to the umbrella to find that the wind 
had dumped our lemonade. Must have been a county wind.

We lay around for the rest of the afternoon, reminiscing, updating, speculating. 
was both shocked and grimly fascinated to learn about the odd paths taken by 
some of the tribe at the apartment, the ones who’d had establishment jobs, 
uptrending careers, families and connections. While Pat and I, the outliers and 
shiftless rebels, survived and stabilized. One never knows. Two of those 
neighbors, erstwhile friends of us both, who have managed to maintain a 
tenuous grasp on their respective apartments, one of which had been my home 
for ten years, have taken to ordering pizza and having it delivered to their van, 
parked outside the building, and enigmatically eating it there.

I wanted to show Pat Siesta Key before sunset. We packed up and drifted back, 
along the shore, to the truck. Siesta Key is on my short list for post-lottery win 
places to live. I could probably move there tomorrow if they gave a prize for the 
most tickets purchased without a single winning number. I’ve been up there with 
my bike, my scooter, with little more than a camera. There isn’t much there, 
really. A great beach, a village, a few inns. Parks and resorts. And endless 
residential back streets and cul-de-sacs tucked away in lush tropical settings. We 
drove around the back streets. Oohed and aahed. We fantasized and schemed. 
We made plans to buy winning lottery tickets. But mostly we simply enjoyed the 
remains of the day in each other’s company.