I’ve been hesitant to write about this incident because it is somewhat incriminating. It is however, another good example of how not to achieve your dream.
It was January of 1983 and I had been dreaming of a tropical paradise. I hate winter, even in Texas, so I’ve often come up with hare-brained schemes of how to escape it. This was one of those dreams I didn’t plan so well, during a period of my life when I was prone to do really stupid things. I wanted to go to a Caribbean island and live on the beach, and the closest islands appeared to be the Bahamas. I had a vague idea that I could maybe get a job on a cruise ship in Miami, then hop off wherever I wanted. I had just discovered the virtues of hitchhiking and thought I could get to Miami that way. I think I had about $200.
The trip out was easy and fun because my friend James decided to be my first “ride”, all the way to Miami. We had some caffeine pills and some joints that we measured out to the milepost to make it there. We took turns driving and sleeping, and made the trip from Victoria, Texas (near Houston) to Miami and beyond in one shot. We wanted to check out Key West and drove that long series of ocean bridges for hours. Finally we gave up and turned around, staying the night in Key Largo, where we did some snorkeling the next day. It was pretty nice and we even saw some barracuda. Then we headed north to Fort Lauderdale, hung out at the beach awhile, then I was shocked to discover that James wasn’t going to take me back to Miami, so I was left to hitch it from there. I got a good ride or two, but I can’t remember exactly how I ended up on the beach. It was a warm night and the beach was deserted, so I rolled out my sleeping bag under a lifeguard stand and slept pretty well.
The next morning I enjoyed walking the streets of Miami Beach: colorful buildings, palm trees, and lots of old folk doddering around. It was a little tiring walking the bridge to the mainland, and no one gave me a ride, but I could see where the cruise ships were docked and headed in that direction. I was finally standing dockside and looking up at these huge white behemoths when it hit my addled brain— this isn’t the place you get hired to work on a cruise ship. There wasn’t an office building in sight. I probably should have contacted the corporate office weeks before and applied somewhere else, perhaps even Houston. That part of the dream went up in smoke.
I can’t remember how I found Chalk’s Airline, maybe I asked a passerby or looked them up in the Yellow Pages (I was really fuzzy brained at the time.) They had regular flights to Nassau for around $50 I think, it was just a two-engine prop plane carrying a dozen passengers. It was a sea plane and fun taking off and landing with the pontoons. Considering my poorly made plans, I was somewhat astonished to have actually made it to the Bahamas—Paradise Island. Customs was right there where we landed and we all filed into the little government building and faced the dark-skinned officials with the wonderful Bahamian accents. I looked like crap—skinny, long-haired, unshaven, red-eyed, carrying a duffel bag. “How much money do you hahve?” was the first question, which threw me for a loop. “$120? At what ahddress will you be staying?” !!!! I definitely hadn’t thought this out. “We don’t sleep on the beaches here, it is too dangerous.” I was confused now, I assumed I could just stay until my money ran out and then, well….I really hadn’t planned very well. “We will lahnd you for one day, a car will take you to lodgings you can afford and pick you up theah tomorrow and bring you bahck heah. You must leave heah tomorrow.”
Well, it turned out to be a pretty nice house, though all I did was spend the evening on the second-floor veranda with three black guys—two locals and a visiting Bahamian-American. “We don’t pass joints here, everyone smokes their own.” So I had to buy a small bag of powerful, gummy ganja and got blown away as we chatted about cross-cultural stuff (I guess.) At one point a beautiful Bahamian-American girl stopped by and said she would see me later, and I actually half-believed her. The next day I just had enough time to wander down to a small restaurant for a delicious conch lunch. I took a few photos of the neighborhood and was intrigued at how the workmen would stand around listening to a jambox while watching one guy do all the digging. Years later I learned that this is the way road construction diggers work everywhere if they have to do it by hand. The big government car showed up as promised and I was politely kicked out of paradise.
Of course the night I had to spend in Miami had to be when one of those freak cold fronts reached Southern Florida. I couldn’t get a ride after dark, so I ended up at a toll booth in the middle of nowhere. Thank God they had a clean bathroom where I could nap for an hour, then stand out by the side of the road for an hour—spent the whole night like that and felt lucky not to have been hassled by anyone. At dawn I finally got picked up, and the driver was so kind I decided he must be an angel.
Perhaps angels are beings from another dimension that inhabit or influence the actions of a willing human host. That’s how I felt about Daniel. I was extremely grateful for the ride to Cocoa Beach after such a long, cold night, but Daniel extended his charity far beyond anything I could hope for. He said he was like me a long time ago, when a man picked him up and gave him a job. I think he was a drug dealer actually, but he wasn’t trying to hire me or sell me anything. What he did was take me to the bus station, then bought me a ticket to Houston for $200. Nice guy. Or maybe you would call him a “good fellah,” but I thought he was an angel. I slept the entire trip back, stepping off to use the restroom and get a bite to eat. Somewhere along the way I found the $80 that I thought had been stolen from me back at Nassau. I probably had hidden it when I was really stoned, then forgot where I had hidden it.
When I got home I had a lot to think about, regarding close calls, guardian angels, and my own foolishness.