Car Rides, Alligators, and Ocean
I should start out by saying that I have a lot of memories of our trip to Florida that I won't be talking about because they don't pertain to Brad. Sherri, Brad, and I went to Florida for mine and Sherri's tenth wedding anniversary and it was beautiful, probably the last beautiful time in our marriage. She was pregnant when we came home but we lost the baby almost as soon as we found out about it and....and this has nothing to do with Brad so we're moving on.
The car ride down to Naples went pretty smooth most of the way. I napped at the beginning and then made the majority of the drive overnight while the wife and kid were asleep. It's always better that way. We stopped in Tampa, Florida for breakfast and Brad ate like well Brad. Then Sherri took over the driving and I expected to grab another nap. I closed my eyes as she hit the interstate and listened to the sound of the automatic transmission not shifting out of first gear. What a way to start a vacation.
I freaked out a lot. Sherri freaked out a little. Brad, once we assured him that the vacation was going to happen still, didn't freak out at all. Seriously, we had to walk from the mechanic to the rental car place, drive all over Tampa to find open car dealerships on a Sunday, test drive stuff, do the paperwork, return the rental car, and hit the road again and this five year old boy was just as calm as can be like this was the way vacations always went. Of course, it wasn't thousands of dollars of his money that had been spent either.
We made it to Naples, though, and the next morning we hit the beach. I had wondered how Brad would react seeing the ocean for the first time. Who he be scared at the size of it? Would he be in awe of the natural wonders? Would he be distracted by the young women in bikinis like his father was? On first glimpse he didn't react any of those ways. He saw a giant swimming pool and was ready to dive right in. I had to physically restrain him while Sherri applied suntan lotion.
That first day we frollicked. There was water gun fights and seashell collecting and sneaky squeezes when Brad wasn't looking. Brad learned to navigate and love the waves. I've never spent so much time in the water myself. After the stress of the day before it was just what I needed, what we all needed, but I was also still pretty tired. I was ready to leave several times but I would look at Brad and his eyes would be pleading to stay and I would look to Sherri for support and see the same thing in her eyes and I did what any man would do in that situation. I sucked it up and did what my wife and kid wanted. We ate sandy sandwiches for lunch and would've skipped supper if it had been up to Brad. We were your typical first day in Florida tourists I guess; pruney and sunburnt and loving it.
My friend Pat, who was letting us use his condo, and Sherri's sister and her family wound up visiting us that week and we had fun with them. We shopped and dined and found a babysitter for Brad one night and drank but still we hit the beaches over and over. I got burnt out on the ocean and as more of a distraction than anything one day suggested we drive down Alligator Alley to, of course, see some alligators. When we first saw some Sherri was scared to even let Brad out of the car. When his uncle was throwing bread to fifteen or sixteen alligators at one time, though, there was no holding that boy back. We stood at the top of the bank and watched these scary creatures look so still and calm until it was time to snap those massive jaws with all those teeth at each other. For me it was an awe inspiring sight. Brad, well I believe that boy would've swam with those alligators if I would've let him. He's always had a short supply of fear.
We had taken two cars that day and I wanted to hike in the woods some. Brad, though, rode back with the rest of them to go to the beach again. That's how strong the lure of the ocean was for him. He turned down hiking with his dad. So I went hiking with my nephew, heard a frog that sounded like a pig, and ate with him at a Cuban restaurant and argued over who got the seat that was perfect for looking at the waitress's ass. The coolest thing my nephew and I did, though, was stop at a little roadside tourist trap that was an animal exhibit. My nephew got to hold snakes and a baby alligator, got to stand on the back of a ginormous turtle, and got to have various birds sit on his shoulders. Of course, later that night when I showed the pictures to Brad he wanted to go there and I promised him we would before we left Florida.
Our last full day in Florida Brad and I went back out to this tourist trap. Sometimes it's best just to let the pictures tell the story.
That evening, our last in Florida, we went to the pier in Naples. We walked the pier, excitedly ran back and forth for glimpses of dolphins, and watched a beautiful Florida sunset. Then we were leaving the beach for the last time or so we thought. Brad had other ideas. He wasn't in swimming trunks but he didn't care. He was in the ocean faster than I could grab him. So we spent our last evening in Florida swimming by moonlight for a few hours.
My friend Pat rode back with us the next day and him and Brad talked and talked and talked. They talked for a while about the Simpsons and Family Guy but even they two of them couldn't talk about television shows for more than a couple hours straight. So they ended up talking about science and politics and my friend was surprised at what Brad would talk about and listen to and try to understand at only five. He ended up telling everyone at work that my son was already smarter than me. That's my friends for you. When Brad finally fell asleep that car ride my friend said, "Great, now who's going to keep me up?" and promptly fell asleep himself. I'm glad I was driving.
Brad's most remembered quip from that ride was after I joked about driving them all into a tree. Brad said, "Wait a minute. That's okay for you guys. You're all old but I'm too young to die. I've got my whole life ahead of me." That's my son for you.