Performer: Joni Mitchell & The Band
Songwriter: Joni Mitchell
Original Release: Hejira
Definitive Version: The Last Waltz, 1978
So, in March 2009, when Laurie and I took our second consecutive spring-break vacation … (That’s a good transition, don’t you think, considering that in the previous episode those characters were in somewhat dire straits?)
As I mentioned, we spent a week on Anna Maria Island, which, of course, technically is an island and not an isthmus on Florida’s Gulf Coast. It was my first trip to Florida since 1998, and I was looking forward to a week of doing even less than we had the year before in Mexico.
We wasted no time in getting to the beach, and Laurie wasted no time in getting terrible sunburn on her feet, to the point where it hurt her to walk the rest of the vacation.
That was too bad, because one of my favorite things there, as it had been when I was a kid in New Smyrna Beach, Fla., was hiking the beach and looking for shells or whatever else I might find. Like in New Smyrna, I got up early, while Laurie slept and it still was a bit overcast and windy, and hiked for awhile.
There weren’t a lot of shells—you have to get up early to beat the beachcombers in search of profits as well as keepsakes—but I pocketed a few things that were cool. I delighted in the crash of the surf and the quirkiness of the sandpipers, scurrying down to the ocean to dig up tiny shellfish only to scurry away even faster as the next wave flowed in precariously close. Then I spent the rest of the morning working on a baseball statistical formula I conjured on the flight down.
After Laurie got up and we had lunch, we’d spend the rest of the day at the beach. The awesomely named Blue Water Beach Club, which had white cement owls along the roof to keep away the seagulls, was situated so about 50 yards out from the shore was a sandbar. You had to swim out so the water was almost over your head—fighting through surf the final few feet—to reach the sandbar.
But after you got there, the water was shin high and bigger waves—three- or four-footers—would hit. I spent a lot of time diving into them just like I had in Hawaii 25 years before as Laurie soaked up the sun—a towel covering her well-done feet.
That was pretty much our day every day, in addition to finding tiny lizards in the walkway from our room. One day the morning rain lasted a bit longer than usual, so we went to the retail area on the island where I got a sweet white-and-purple palm-tree aloha shirt.
At night, we went to dinner at one beachfront place after another. There, it was all about the fresh seafood and rum-based fruit drinks. We tried to sit outside as much as possible, but it frequently was just a bit too chilly for it. We got turned on to conch fritters at the Beach House and had a brief scare when my wallet went missing at the Sandbar. (It was back at the hotel room.)
But the best place was the aptly named Rod and Reel Pier on the leeward side of the island. It was a shanty at the end of a 100-yard pier that you could fish off (and the restaurant would cook your catch if you wanted). The first time we went, it was a two-hour wait, so we went elsewhere, promising to come back earlier next time—and on a weekday night.
When we went back, we sat on the covered porch that also had clear plastic up, so they could keep in the heat generated by portable heaters. The picnic tables were covered in red-checked vinyl. There wasn’t a hint of pretension anywhere; what there was was excellent grouper. It was the best place on the island.
Although it was no Mexico, Laurie and I agreed that our Florida vacation had been another excellent adventure. It was funny: After more than a decade of not going anywhere on vacation that involved a beach, I found that warm-weather beachfront destinations weren’t so bad after all.
Unfortunately, until further notice, Florida was our last spring-break getaway. It’s too bad. As I look outside at another gray-brown Chicago March day, I feel the pull of the south calling me. Like they say at Wrigley Field: Wait till next year.