What Does “Normal” Feel Like?

“If we couldn’t laugh, we’d all go insane.”- Jimmy Buffett

You know, I heard Carl Hiaasen speak last year, and he talked about finding things to write about. He said (and I’m paraphrasing) that life is strange enough on its own, and every time he comes up with an idea that he thinks is as bizarre as he can get, some idiot in South Florida tops him with a twisted variation of it.

My point? I wish I could make up the stuff that happens to me, but, alas, I cannot. My mind simply doesn’t have the ability to see anything funnier than my life. I mean funny “ha-ha”, although I could probably make a case for funny “strange” if pressed.

“Why” is a question I have ceased exploring. Things just happen to me. I don’t know why. I just know that, no matter what I do, things happen to me that simply do not happen to other people. Take last night, for example.

For those of you who do not worship at the altar of the golden tiki head, you may not know that Jimmy Buffett played the Ford Amphitheatre last night- it was the final concert in his “Party at the End of the World” tour. I have seen him several times, from seats on the lawn to a few rows back from the stage, and I know that there are too many low-class drunks on the lawn and too many high-class drunks in the orchestra pit, so if I want to see him, I try for seats somewhere in the middle, which ain’t always easy. Buffett sells out faster than Billy Joel and Phil Collins in the 80s and tickets cost more than Rolling Stones tickets (and Jimmy looks a LOT better than Mick, let me tell you. Someone please tell the Stones that it’s OK to get old.)

So the morning tickets went on sale, I waited for 10 am, fingers poised on my mouse pad. Even still, we got two tickets in the highest section of the amphitheatre, but there really aren’t any bad seats and what with the screens, it really doesn’t matter how close to the stage you sit. From that moment forward, I waited and had endless discussions about whether he would fly in to Whitted (don’t know), would he play much off the new album (one or two), was there any chance he would NOT play his LCD (lowest common denominator) songs that have made him famous but in no way represent the man’s genius (of course he played them, the drunk accountants in hula skirts- mostly male- would have rioted had he not)?

Suffice to say, I was not going to miss this concert. The man is one of the most gifted writers (fiction, non-fiction, songs…) of our time, and although he actually doesn’t sing as well as a lot of other musicians, his concerts are unbelievable. But not missing the concert turned out to be more work than I thought.

Here’s the timeline:

Monday morning: Tom discovers a coolant leak in his van. Not a big deal, but we opt to take my parent’s Horizon to Orlando for the day.

Tuesday morning: Tom has a slight problem with the slave cylinder in his van. He has ordered the part but the thinking at this point is that we will take the Horizon to Buffett.

Thursday: I get phone calls every 3 1/2 minutes from Tom asking if it’s time to go yet.

Thursday, 5:59 PM: I leave my house, pick up Tom in the trusty 1988 blue and rust Plymouth Horizon (only 63,000 miles, folks!), and we stop to get gas and check the fluid levels. The car occasionally leaks fluids like an old person in a nursing home -you’re never sure what’s gonna leak out, when it’s gonna come out, and whether or not it will be catastrophic- and since I really don’t drive it much (before last night, I had put gas in it twice since September) I want to make sure it will make it to the concert.

Thursday, 6:15 PM: I fill the tank (an action I will later regret) and notice there is no coolant in the tank. None. Nada. Zip. But it’s, what, 10 degrees out, so I know I probably haven’t damaged the engine. I fill it with water (it’s Florida, guys, the car will be OK) and we roll along our merry way. I am anxious to get there, grab a hot dog (I am starving) and find our seats (if you recall, I had an issue with lost tickets and I am marginally concerned that someone else will have gotten in with them).

Now, I know that some of you are thinking that my putting water in the radiator is the crux of the story. Nah, that would have been too easy.

Thursday, 6:17 PM: Nervous about the radiator- why was there no coolant?- I steer onto the interstate, where we travel along at a pretty good clip- we are making EXCELLENT time- until we hit the Howard Frankland. As we stop and go and stop and go and stop and you get the idea, I notice that at one point the RPM’s spike sharply with no accompanying increase in speed. I file that bit of information under “things to worry about AFTER the concert”.

Thursday, 7:05 PM: Traffic clears as we take the I-4 exit.

Thursday, 7:06 PM: The car slips out of gear. I cannot get out of first. We downshift and shift back up and we seem OK, but we both know that ain’t a good sign. I change lanes to stay in the right lane in case this happens again. I have one goal at this point: GET TO THE CONCERT.

Thursday, 7:25 PM: I take exit 5 and a wave of relief washes over me. We have made it!

Thursday, 7:27 PM: Did I say we had made it? Hmmm. Not so much. The car slips out of gear again and nothing we do makes it want to go back in. Red light. Crap. I coast to the turn lane and use the last remaining power to get the car turned around and almost to a gas station. Tom and an off-duty police officer push the car to a Shell station on Orient road. The Amphitheatre is just up the road, one guy assures us. 1/4 mile, tops. I let the attendant know we will return for the car and we set off.

Thursday, 7:40 PM: I’m not sure how that guy defined “mile”, but by mile I think he meant “4 miles”, making the trek a full mile. I don’t mind the walk, but I just want to get to the damn concert before it starts. There are few sidewalks and one very enthusicastic guard dog behind a very low fence. I am very glad not to be walking this strip of land alone; I can actually hear the fiddle from Deliverance.

Thursday, 7:45 PM: We are on the fairgrounds. We walk through VIP parking, where they tell us to walk past the barns and make a right (I love Florida) to get to Buffett. We walk past the barns and a guy on a horse, and, voila, we are here. I pee, we get food, find our seats, and still wait a couple of minutes for the show to start.

Of course, after the show ends, we walk back to the car, buy two quarts of transmission fluid, realize the car doesn’t need any, return the fluid, and try starting the car. Amazingly, it goes into 1st gear, no problem. It won’t actually go into second gear, but hey, we’re moving. Even more amazing: the car did go into second gear (but never higher and I don’t think it stayed there). We only had to pull over once, shift into reverse and back, and we actually made it home. Granted, we basically drove home in first gear with the hazards on, but we made it. At one point I had my phone out to call Shelly and beg a ride, but it never came to pass. I appreciate her willingness to help, even though she has no clue she was, in my mind, so willing to help. I hypothetically owe ya one, Shel!

So now I just need to figure out how to get the car back to my parents and I guess get to work on my Thing. Sure, it has no top. Sure, the rust has make unblockable inroads. But I miss it, and it’s pretty clear no matter which car I drive, I will destroy. Might as well take one down that was already on its way.

You know what really ticks me off? I filled the damn gas tank. On the bright side, it didn’t lose any coolant last night.

I wish you guys could see the world through my eyes, I do. Last night was fantastic; you really have no idea. And as much as I didn’t want any of the car stuff to happen, that actually made the night even better. I don’t think anyone quite gets that. ‘S OK; I do.

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I write. I take pictures. I love my dog. I love Florida. My 2016 book, 'Backroads of Paradise' did really well for the publisher and now I feel a ridiculous amount of pressure to finish the second book.