I initially titled this post:
There And Back Again: In Which I Leave Calgary at 6 AM One Tuesday Morning, Fly To Miami And Return To Calgary 30 Hours Later Carrying Little or No Luggage and Committing No Felonies That I Know Of, In Case You Were Wondering
But I shortened it.
This whole business started back in 1993, when I was a Family Doctor in Emo, Ontario. We Emo-ites had our choice of two largish newspapers: The Winnipeg Free Press and The Thunder Bay Chronicle-Journal. I liked the Free Press, as it carried Dave Barry’s hilarious weekly humor column, entitled: Dave Barry. Here’s a link to one of his oldies, published around the time I was in Emo: Tarts Afire. Mr. Barry is a man who unquestionably knows how to have a good time with everyday household objects including small appliances. For this, I commend him.
I was doing a bit of humor writing back then, and eventually sent Dave some material. In the fullness of time, he was kind enough to send me a postcard, which I keep in a temperature- and humidity-controlled vault, next to my cigars.
After twenty-two years, it’s not that legible, but if you peer at it closely, you still can’t read it. Maybe it’s due to the special lamination process I put it through-the same process used to preserve priceless documents like the original edition of the Kama Sutra, and Santa’s pilot’s license. Anyway, it says:
They don’t actually let you near patients do they?
Dave Barry MD.
We now fast forward to June 2015 when I started writing these columns. I sent a few of them to Dave earlier this year, and once again he kindly sent me another postcard:
Inexplicably, in late August I was seized by a powerful urge to shake Dave’s hand before I died (or before he did). And as fate would decree, it turned out that he was still alive, and was about to embark on a tour to promote his new book: “Best. State. Ever. A Florida Man Defends His Homeland”. (I feel like maybe that last period should have gone inside the quotation marks but I’ll leave it alone for now.)
The first stop on the tour was Tuesday, Sept 6 at the stately (and old) Coral Gables Congregational Church, coincidentally located in Coral Gables, a city just south of Downtown Miami.
Next thing you know it’s 4 AM, Tuesday September 6, 2016 (a banner day!) and I’m headed to the Calgary airport to catch a plane to Dallas or maybe it’s Houston, followed by another flight from there to Miami.
4:00 AM I leave my house.
6:00 AM: U.S. Customs, Calgary International Airport. The Customs Officer looks askance at me, as I have no luggage, and I’m basically making an assault run to Miami. But he actually knows who Dave Barry is. We become friends.
5:00 PM: I land in Miami. (I came through either Dallas, or Houston; I forget which.) I check into my hotel room, which is conveniently located on the airport departure level. Well, the front desk is, anyway. The book-signing begins at 7:30 PM, so I have lots of time. I pace around my hotel room for a while, then grab a bite to eat.
6:00 PM: I hail a cab. The driver seems uncertain about the current location of Coral Gables let alone the church. I start to squirm. He mutters something which sounds like “Lajeune”. I wonder if that’s his wife’s name, a French epithet, the name of a street, or what. He appears to set out on a northerly vector, but soon we turn south. I stop squirming. It starts to rain.
6:15 PM: We are still heading south. I notice that we are on Le Jeune Rd. I take comfort in this. Then the driver asks me how much farther it is to the church. I gently remind him that his part in this is to know where he’s going and my part is to pay him for this knowledge. I suggest he call his dispatcher. I whip out my smart phone to look at a map. He whips out a small object which appears to have waxed string spooling out from it and stretching back north the way we’ve come. It’s raining harder now.
6:30 PM: I reach the conclusion we should have hung a right about 4 blocks ago. My driver has come to the same conclusion after a lengthy conversation with his dispatcher, via what I now realize is a tin-can phone. We turn around and head north. He apologizes and explains that he never comes to the airport, and does all his driving over at the beach. That being the case, I’m tempted to ask him what in the heck he was doing picking up fares at the airport instead of the beach, but I refrain.
6:30-6:45 PM: We are heading the right way but are encountering a lot of complicated traffic circles. I’m squirming again, and it’s still raining.
6:46 PM: I point out the church to the driver, as he is about to go past it. A bunch of people are filing in a door at the side of the building. I take encouragement from this. By the time I pay the driver and exit the cab, they have all disappeared. Undaunted, I press on around the building, ignoring numerous paper signs bearing arrows on them. Above the arrows, the words “Books and Books” are printed. Books and Books is the bookstore sponsoring the event. I know this but have somehow blocked it out of my conscious mind.
6:51 PM: I find myself in an open courtyard within the confines of the church. It’s still raining. I still have oodles of time. I see a guy on the opposite side of the courtyard, pacing around and having a smoke. I go up to him and ask him where the event is. He points me to a door leading back into one side of the courtyard. He seems to have a bit of a hunted look in his eye.
6:52 PM: I find myself outside a small room, after navigating many twists and turns. I go in the room. People are drinking coffee and eating cookies at a side table. A cheerful woman with a nametag shakes my hand and says her name is Sandy. Or maybe it’s Phyllis. I tell her my name. I look around. The room seems very small. In a quavery voice, I say to cheerful Sandy/Phyllis, “Is this the Dave Barry event?” She cheerfully informs me that actually, it’s an AA meeting. My heart leaps! This could only have happened to me if I’m close enough to the man himself, to feel the reality-warping effect of the Barryon Rays he emits. I leave the small room.
6:53-6:55 PM: I make my way back the way I came, this time paying much more attention to those signs I saw on the way in. I follow a rivulet of people who have three things in common: they’re older than I; they all have way better tans then I do; they look rich. I gaze furtively at my battered Converse sneakers, which coincidentally happen to be on my feet, and press on.
6:59 PM: Oh Happy Day! I am in line to pick up my pre-ordered copy of: Best.State.Ever.
7:00 PM: I am seated next to the centre aisle, in the church itself. I squirm a bit more. I find out that the people beside me have relatives in Northern Alberta.
7:30 PM: Dave appears and starts talking. Alleleuia indeed!
The theme of the talk was all the weird stuff that happens in Florida, through no fault of native Floridians, and actually due to so many weird people moving to Florida every day. Dave got off to a good start, regaling us with the story of a woman who crashed her car in March 2010 whilst en route to the Keys to visit her boyfriend, accompanied by, of all people, her ex-husband. Surprisingly, she ran (!) into trouble because she was attempting to spruce up her “personal area”, as Dave put it, by giving it a trim.
Where are all the self-driving cars when you need one?
Anyway, it’s all here: Woman crashes car while shaving bikini area
Dave then went on to talk about some of Florida’s old-time tourist attractions starting with a sort of Grecian Sponge Temple named Spongeorama. (Spongeorama is a Greek outburst which means: there are a shit-ton of different kinds of sponges in here!) He then moved on to walk us through the Weeki Watchee Springs Mermaid Show. I actually went there when I was three years old, and I still remember the place; I would recognize that manatee anywhere. In the poster below and right, the manatee is in the centre of the group.
Dave was just starting into telling us about his stay in The Villages of Geriatric Line-Dancing , when I interrupted him and asked him a question:
ME: “Dave, did all this take place before, or after, the invention of the cordless electric razor?”
The room went quiet, and I think he sort of squinted at me with a puzzled expression.
ME AGAIN: “You know, per your anecdote about the woman who had to tend to her personal area, as you put it, whilst driving.”
DAVE: “Ohhh. Are you still stuck on that?”
ME: “Yeah, I just can’t seem to move past it.”
DAVE: “I can’t wait to find out what you’re thinking about Spongeorama.”
That exchange drew lots of laughs. What can I say? I wanted him to remember me. I didn’t come all the way to Miami just to lay up. And I don’t even golf. (But I love that movie Tin Cup, starring Elias Koteas and Nia Vardalos. Or maybe it was Kevin Costner and Rene Russo. I forget.)
All too soon, the talk was over, and we were in line to get our books signed, shake Dave’s hand, and get on with our lives. When it was my turn, I told him “I’m the guy who flew 3000 miles down here from Calgary, in Canada, for this.”
“Cal-gah-ree huh,” he said, seeming a tad bemused. I think I was probably about the 300th person in the line, so I can’t blame him for being slightly shell-shocked at that point in the evening. I forget what we else we said. Maybe something about the 1994 postcard. But we laughed, shook hands, and a nice woman ahead of me took some pictures. Dave is wearing the blue shirt, and I am wearing Converse (not shown). Those are his glasses.
9:30 PM: I have the good sense to walk one block to a famous Miami fixture, The Biltmore Hotel Miami Coral Gables, to hail a cab. The driver confides to me in a conspiratorial tone that most cabbies don’t know their way around the city.
9:30-9:49 PM: I ponder this new piece of information during my short ride back to the hotel.
9:50 PM: I arrive back at the hotel. Eventually I go to bed.
6:00 AM Wednesday: I’m on a plane and headed for Calgary, via Dallas, or maybe Houston. I can’t remember. It’s been an eventful 30 hours, with lots of take-offs and landings, just to get a book signed.
12:30 PM Wednesday: I’m back in Calgary and back on my treadmill. Nobody even knew I was gone.
Well, that’s one more thing off my bucket list and one more thing on my reading list.