I just got back from seven, blissful days in Florida. It’s going to take me a minute to re-acclimate to autumn temperatures and, well, the real world. I predict it will be at least Thursday before I stop wandering out onto my porch in a tank top, expecting an ocean view instead of the dying hostas and caladium in my front yard.
Truth be told, I hope I’m still surprised that my Highlands bungalow isn’t, in fact, oceanfront property all the way into December. I want this beach high to last until spring because I hate, hate, HATE the cold. I feel like Louisville got gypped out of summer, what with all the cool snaps and dang rain, so this trip sort of helped me to reclaim the final fragments of a season that ended too soon in my hometown.
And speaking of trips and vacations, the two are not mutually exclusive in my book. A vacation out of town is a time to reflect, rejuvenate, overeat without remorse, soak up your surroundings and basically sit on your ass. A trip, on the other hand, is an excursion with an agenda, guided tours, scheduled stops and a frenetic pace. You go on a trip to Rome; you vacation at the beach.
I will take said beach vacation over a hectic, sight-sucking, er, seeing, trip any day of the week.
And holy shit, I needed this last one. I didn’t realize quite how much until my toes hit the sand. It had been two years since I took a whole week off to completely disengage from work, child/animal caretaking and my usual (self-imposed) productivity mandate. And it had been five long, desolate years since my last trip to the Gulf Coast. I love the ocean so much that I would marry it if that were logistically possibly, so I am truly ashamed of my long absence.
Last Sunday when we arrived in Bonita Springs, I thought for a fleeting moment that I had forgotten how to unwind, but that notion passed with a quickness. All it took was about 30 minutes of sensory immersion — the amalgamation of pungent, salt air, thunderous, frothy waves and supple, white sand tripped my internal, master breaker and shut all systems down. To demonstrate just how profoundly this flipped switch affected me — I did not make a single list all week, not even for the grocery.
See, I am not a go-with-the-flow person in my daily life. I am organized, regimented and disciplined. I am not so regimented that I have a meltdown when plans gets derailed. I just make a different plan. But there is always some kind of plan.
In Florida, I became The Dude, minus only weed and bowling shoes.
What’s really funny about all of this is that my fabulous traveling companion, Heidi, is more laid back than me in her regular life, but she ended up taking charge on our vacation. And I was happy to let her.
See, it was her parents who allowed us to use their lovely condo — as well as their car while they were on their own trip to the West Coast — so it made sense for Heidi to deal with all the arrangements. She did the driving when we went out, and every time I turned around at the abode, she was loading the dishwasher. I cleaned up what little mess I made, but by and large, I did virtually nothing productive all week.
It. Fucking. Rocked.
Going back to Heidi and me being complete opposites, doesn’t this sound like the start of a bad joke: “A hippie, vegan minimalist and a self-indulgent, carnivore capitalist go to the beach?” As different as we are, and despite the weird role reversal we experienced, as fellow voyagers, we turned out to be the ideal match. We truly had THE best time, from start to finish.
Heidi and I have known each other for a few years, but we’ve only recently become close friends, and we had never traveled together. We both knew this beach jaunt was going to be a litmus test for our friendship.
At the airport, it was immediately evident what polar opposites we are by the size of our suitcases. Heidi carried the teeniest one I have ever seen, and I brought a monster that pushed the limits of acceptable luggage requirements. It actually weighed more than it was supposed to, but the check-in agent gave me a pass.
Oh, and on our first day in Florida, you should have seen us at the grocery store. There was virtually nothing in my cart she could eat, and nothing in hers that I would eat.
I am a chair-in-the-surf, waves-washing-over-me, fuck-suncreen-give-me-tanning-oil sunbather. Heidi is an alabaster-skinned, SPF-45-wearing, book-in-her-lap beach napper. She also likes to take walks on the beach, while I prefer to move as little as possible, stirring in my chair only to prevent total muscle atrophy.
But for all our differences, we also have a lot in common. We are both single moms. We are both petite and feisty, at five feet tall. We’re both creative — she is a singer-songwriter and music teacher, and I make my living as a writer. We both have crazy ex-husbands. We love live music and window shopping. We share a disdain for unnecessary assholetry, and we neither one drink alcohol anymore.
We both also were very clear about what we wanted from this vacation — relaxation. We had a few things we wanted to do (shop, get a massage, go to a movie), but neither one of us wanted to be locked into any kind of agenda. We checked the weather to see which days called for rain (so we didn’t piss away a sunny day in a movie theater), and we called ahead to book massages and a sunset cruise, but other than that, we were all about fluidity.
We spent a lot of time together and thoroughly enjoyed each others' company. But we also had plenty of quiet, alone time. Because we are independent, emotionally healthy women, we each got to do what the hell we wanted to do, and nobody’s feelings got hurt. We also both abide by a certain set of tools for living that teach us to ask for what we need, and accept the other person for who and where they are. We did not share a single harsh word all week. At least not directed toward each other. *Snicker*
On that note, I think it’s fair to say that our vacation was perfect, but everything did not go perfectly. Our condo did not have air conditioning until Thursday. It was apparently a building-wide problem, and there was a waiting list for service. But the nights were cool, and we were out and about during daylight hours, so we weren’t too uncomfortable. The temps didn’t hit 90 until the day our A/C was fixed, so it worked out just fine in the end.
There was also some construction going on two floors directly above us, which was a little annoying but not the end of the world. After Heidi went upstairs and gently admonished the contractors for not only sawing tile all day but also yelling orders at each other, the yelling stopped, and we got used to the sound of the wet saw.
Vegan Heidi placated my desire for Gulf shrimp — because it is mandatory for me to eat seafood while in Florida — by going to a fish place that offered plenty of vegetable sides so she could eat and not just watch me stuff my face. But our server was a jerk, and the place turned out to be only a step above Hungry Pelican in terms of quality. Boo.
The ensuing day trip to Naples for shopping and a sunset cruise more than made up for this trivial disappointment. We also giggled about that bitchy waitress all night, which turned into a sort of sisterly bonding experience. So again, silver linings and rainbows prevailed.
Really, though, the entire week was a big honkin’ rainbow of awesomeness. We shared our gratitude every day — vocally and loudly — about just how off-the-chain lucky we were to be able to see and do everything we got to see and do. For two single moms, just getting to sleep until 9:30 with nobody to take care of for a week is a STELLAR vacation. For realz.
Other highlights included meeting some interesting characters with heavy New York accents, happening upon costumed revelers during Pirate Fest Weekend at Fort Myers Beach, patio dining and yummy dessert — an organic smoothie (her) and a gourmet cupcake (me).
Our last full day at the beach was quintessential Florida. I spent nearly six hours getting sloshed by waves and cooked by the sun. Heidi was in and out all day, alternating between the beach and the pool. We passed each other a couple of times, commenting on how flawless the weather — and pretty much our entire week — had been.
That evening, we walked out to watch our last sunset on the ocean together. I cannot remember the last time I felt such joy … just to be. To my surprise and delight, that feeling appears to have come home with me. I’m going to hold onto it for as long as I can, even if that means I have to figuratively put it in a chokehold and wrestle it to the ground.
Today, I am back to making to-do lists and planning my workload, household chores and life. Yes, the productivity breakers are switched back to the “on” position.
But, for a while at least, thanks to Florida, Heidi (and her parents), I can close my eyes and be right back in the surf, all systems down for a mini-recharge at home. And for that, I am extremely grateful.
The lesson in all of this is I don’t need to wait so long in between vacations, right?
Hmm, I bet Florida is lovely in April.
About Amy Higgs
A former newspaper columnist, Amy takes her random, slice-of-life stories to the web. After nine years, she's still just saying.