Moving On: Florida (AKA The Broken Wand)

Disney 1The morning after Meghan’s graduation I awoke to rhythmic pounding shaking stucco off the walls. I was back now, living inside of The Vacationer, forced out of my one-bedroom thanks to summer rental tolls. Beams of sunlight pierced the room at jagged angles, reflecting hard against a clock that blinked at 12 p.m. forever. I staggered limp across the hallway, took a piss inside the bathroom. I drank cold water from the faucet, felt that pounding, “BOOM-BOOM-BOOM.”

I put on jeans and grabbed a T-shirt. I wandered barefoot down the hall.

“Fire Inspector,” a man in uniform informed me. “I need to know if you’ve been living on these premises.”

My next-door neighbor stood along the sidewalk, leaning his chin against a broom.

“On these premises?” I asked the Inspector.

“On these grounds,” he fired back.

A pair of firemen filed past me, threw bright lights along the hall.

“No extinguisher,” the first one shouted. “Goddamn death trap,” the second one confirmed.

The inspector pulled his clipboard, slapped a sticker on the door.

“WARNING,” the neon sticker bellowed. “This property’s been inspected and conditions have been found which are unsafe and unsanitary and which are in violation of the NEW JERSEY HOUSING CODE. It shall be unlawful for this property to be occupied until repairs required by the NEW JERSEY HOUSING CODE as being necessary to again render this property as fit for human habitation have been made in a satisfactory manner and approved in writing by the DIRECTOR OF THE OFFICES OF CODE.”

The Inspector took my name down, wrote “dark hair” across a form.

He tipped his cap and said, “I’m sorry,” called his men and closed the door.

***

Meghan and I arrived in Orlando the following morning, having slept outside a rest stop on the northern tip of Georgia. The ride was long and uneventful, punctuated by us pirouetting around what couldn’t be ignored. I did a decent job of driving stick, so long as we were settled into fifth along the highway. It was the stops and starts that caused me fits, and those only occurred when we veered off toward the exits.

We were staying at the Ramada, three nights free of charge thanks to a Triple-A promotion. We checked in, then spent an hour by the pool. We drank cold beer and boiled pasta. We planned which parks we’d visit when. We sought out tips from local pamphlets. “Arrive a half-hour before opening,” one tourist guide informed us. “Bring along an empty bottle for filling up at public fountains … Enter to the left of any two-way queuesHit marquee attractions in the morning.” 

We were here now, the gilded kingdom, arriving on the same day the Orlando Magic clinched its first East Conference Title. The fledgling team was set to host the Houston Rockets, a haggard six seed, having defeated the Utah Jazz (a three seed), the Phoenix Suns (a two seed) and the San Antonio Spurs (a one seed) along the way. I sat watching local coverage of the match-up on TV. Meghan, on the other hand, slipped off to bed behind me. I followed suit a moment later, tracing my hand along the arc of Meghan’s waist. She eased my hand back, whispered, “Sorry,” then laid face-down and went to sleep.

***

I sat awake in bed that night, convinced that we had traveled all that way in vain. It was over now, pan-handle certain like the midday downpours throughout August. Meghan was doing little more than playing out her contract, showing up for every game despite the prospect of free agency. I kept my distance until Tuesday, at which point I slipped my fingers between Meghan’s inside the line for Thunder Mountain. Meghan demurred, concealing idle hands beneath crossed arms. “I don’t want to break up,” she elaborated, later on at the hotel, “but I need some space to figure out what’s going on inside my head.”

Space? What fucking space? I mean, here we were, a thousand miles from home, a thousand miles from Meghan’s prom and rabid talk about our age, a thousand miles from the Vacationer, now a storage shed for all I owned; a thousand miles from predawn meetings, watching sunrise on the beach; a thousand miles and slowly fading, disappearing, out of reach.

Tuesday evening we relocated to the Days Inn off I-192, having exhausted our free stay at the Ramada. I took late-night walks in nearby Old Town, where the ACs hummed like freezers, dripping coolant on the ground. The corner shops ran cold like igloos; a five-block stretch of pastel charm. The humid air ran thick with smolder, half-drunk lightning bugs suffocating on fumes.

Wednesday night we went to a piano bar out on Route 435, where we watched the Magic blow Game One while writing song requests on napkins. Friday morning we took one last ride out to Disney, where we purchased souvenirs without a trinket for each other. We set a course for home that afternoon, all but satisfied the week was over.

The Magic lost Game Two as we were entering Virginia, setting radio abuzz with talk of clean sweep back in Houston. I headed off toward an exit, hoping we could find someplace to eat. Only I failed to downshift properly, causing us to stall out in the street. We were trapped now, in an intersection, and Meghan screamed for me to “GO!” There was a truck approaching eastbound, and it was not approaching slow.

Day 825

(Moving On is a regular feature on IFB.)

©Copyright Bob Hill