We Made Plans; God Laughed

We made plans, retirement plans. A friend once told me “we made plans, God laughed.” Another friend said “life is what happens while you’re making other plans.” My current response is more along the lines of “we made plans, and what the f#@$ was that?”

Anyhow, I mentioned in a previous blog that in 2018 my wife finally retired. She decided she wanted to be a ‘beach girl’, which meant moving to Florida. So we packed up and moved, stored or tossed forty-years-worth of stuff, sold our house in Virginia and moved to Florida. We made plans. Southern Virginia is a beautiful place, I loved the country life, and I wasn’t thrilled with the idea, but “happy wife, happy life.”

In the weeks before our retirement move, I did my due diligence research on Florida to learn a little of what I was getting into. I had already learned about flood insurance, wind insurance, shark-bite insurance, jelly-fish sting insurance, 3rd degree sunburn insurance and getting run over by a surfer insurance when we bought the condo (I might exaggerate a little for effect, but you get the idea). The realtor also mentioned that we might want to buy something made of cement block rather than wood (think “Three Little Pigs”), because insurance would be less and the place might not blow away come hurricane season. Good that we made plans. 

Then there’s the special attachment devices to keep the roof from blowing off. It seems some builders use aluminum cable to attach the roof to the ground. And the rust; living a couple of minutes from the ocean involves ocean spray, which rusts your pipes, metal fixtures, car, belt buckle, fillings, the metal plate in your head, artificial shoulder replacements, hip replacements, piercings. Yikes! Even rust can kill in Florida. (Again, I might possibly exaggerate just a little for effect, but you get the idea).

This is the point at which I asked my wife, “Dear, why are we moving to a place from which we will need to flee one or more times a year from August through October, during hurricane season? Where will we flee to? Are we going to die? Why don’t we just downsize and buy a condo in Southern Virginia, where we might not blow away?

We moved to the condo in St. Augustine, Florida in mid-July, 2019. I got first-hand experience with the hurricane thing when that August Hurricane Dorian chased us away (mandatory evacuation) to North Carolina. We were very lucky to find a rental on such short notice, and not-so-lucky to discover that we were not alone. The walls and floor of the rental house were infested with large, friendly ants. I think they were living there rent-free. 

I learned from this experience that one needs to keep your options open during hurricane season; make sure there are rentals available to flee to at a moment’s notice. As you can imagine, this is not an easy task. But, even a rabbit is smart enough to have a back door to escape danger, and I’m probably as smart as Bugs Bunny, on a good daySo, live on the coast of Florida and be ready to run away at a moment’s notice. Now I’m a migrant retiree, very confusing. But, we made plans.

During our brief escape to Asheville, North Carolina, we discovered that the indigenous North Carolinians are not appreciative of Floridians who use their fair city to flee from hurricanes. Apparently many Floridians have actually purchased property in Asheville, and property values and property taxes have been driven up considerably. 

While out shopping one fine Saturday afternoon, we had a couple of indigenous citizens point this out to us by yelling “Go home Florida scum”, having noticed our Florida license plates. I didn’t take offense. I’m over 65, and so confused from all our recent movements that I’m not sure where I live anyhow, Virginia, Florida or North Carolina. I’m pretty sure I’m not living in Alaska, because I haven’t seen any polar bears (one of the few dangerous things NOT found in Florida). But, we made plans. I also made a sign to place in our SUV window that says “JUST RENTING”.

We migrated back to Florida in October 2019, just in time for Halloween. That’s when I got my first real experience with another lethal feature of the great state of Florida. I asked one of our neighbors where the Halloweeners went in our area. She told me that the neighborhood across A1A from us was a large gated community that let the kids trick-or-treat there. Apparently it’s very popular. Later that same day I saw a news broadcast about a nine-foot alligator walking down one of the main streets of that same neighborhood. 

“So,” I asked my wife, “they let trick-or-treaters walk the streets of that neighborhood at night? No wonder that gator was nine-feet. I’m really glad our children grew up before we moved here.” She just shook her head and sighed.

So far, we made plans but our retirement had not turned out quite as planned. Desperate to have some fun, I suggested that we check out the local boat club. St. Augustine Beach is surrounded by the Intracoastal Waterway and the Atlantic Ocean, and there’s the St. John’s River nearby. My wife is not exactly a boat enthusiast, but she relented and I set up an appointment with the manager of the local boat club. 

He enthusiastically pointed out all the wonderful things about boating in the area. They had boats for fishing, tubing, water skiing and wake boarding on the Intracoastal and bigger boats if one wanted to venture out into the Atlantic. They had boats, boats, boats, available twenty-four hours a day. You could boat your brains out, assuming the summer sun didn’t fry them first. So we made plans, signed up for our first boating lesson.

We met with a bonafide captain, a gentleman who really knew his stuff, had been on the water all his life. He had worked for his father’s fishing charter company from the time he was a small child and moved on up from there. He knew bow from stern, sail boat from motor boat, yacht from dingy, all the important stuff. But, this captain was way too honest to be a good business man. His training was terrifying.

He started with a one-hour class on boating in Florida. He taught us about winds and tides, how to read the marker buoys, right-of-way, passing, all the rules of the road. It seems if you don’t get the tides just right you spend more time sitting in your boat on solid ground than floating. And the rescue fee for this requires that you take out a second mortgage on your house. Then he got to the recreation part. It seems there are many, many alligators and even sharks in the Intracoastal Waterway. I did not know that. 

I asked him how it was safe to pull one’s child in a tube or on water skiis (off of which they might fall), when such large predators roamed the waters in search of lunch. He assured us that there aren’t all that many shark bites in the Intracoastal. Regarding the large alligators, he pointed out that there’s a bounty on their heads, and so the smart alligators hide in the grasses along the shoreline during the day. So it’s safe to swim, tube, ski, etc. during the day. I started to point out that it only took one dumb alligator for junior to turn into lunch meat, but I held my tongue. I was not planning trolling the waters with my grandchildren anyhow.

During our lesson on navigation, he pointed out another ‘minor’ hazard of the Intracoastal. According to our fearless captain, there’s a lot of money in St. Augustine. The men who own that money often purchase fifty-foot yachts with massive engines to show off to their young new trophy wives. He described a scenario where one of these millionaires picked up his brand new yacht. 

The salesman hands the new owner a bottle of champagne, two fluted glasses and the keys to his new yacht. His instructions include, “Start the engine, push the throttle forward to go forward and backward to go backward. Enjoy your new yacht. Happy boating!” 

At which point, the new owner boards the boat with his young wife, gets loaded on the celebratory champagne and proceeds to fly up the Intracoastal, swamping boats the size we would have available to us at the boat club.” We withdrew our application from the boat club that very same day, and my wife just looked at me, shook her head and shrugged.

It was fortuitous that we decided not to join the boat club. In early November, I had a stomach bleed caused by a newly discovered drug side effect resulting from chronic use of a PPI (proton-pump inhibitors) for treatment of GERD (ironic, since I’m a pharmacologist). I lost forty percent of my blood, and was in the hospital three times over the course of November through January. During this close call with the Grim Reaper, he pointed out that this had nothing to do with Florida. I’m guessing my wife had suggested he mention this to me.

I was back on my feet end of February, 2020, having at least temporarily escaped the clutches of old Grim (I spent so much time with him I feel like we’re on a first-name basis). I am over sixty-five. So, there I was, healthy and frisky again, and wanting to have some fun. (Sound familiar?) 

I said to my wife, I said, “I have this Subaru WRX, really fun for driving on curvy roads in Virginia, but Dorothy we’re not in Virginia anymore. There’s a road called the Tail of the Alligator just on the other side of Florida, a three-hour drive, that is apparently the ONLY curvy road in the state. How about we pack an overnight bag, head out tomorrow morning. I’ll drive the curvy road, and we can stay in Ocala on the way back. Doesn’t that sound like fun?”

She shook her head, shrugged and agreed to accompany me on this great adventure. We set out on a Tuesday morning first week in March, drove the Tail of the Alligator, and stayed in Ocala on the way home. The curvy road was beautiful, with spectacular views of the Gulf of Mexico and gorgeous beach front homes along the way. 

A nice time was had by all, and we arrived home Wednesday night, turned on the TV and realized that we had traveled into the Twilight Zone, or another dimension, or the Outer Limits, or…well I was really confused. First Virginia, then Florida, then North Carolina, and now someplace with a lethal and highly infectious Coronavirus from China that the reporters on the news were calling a pandemic. It was apparently also not polite to actually say that the virus was from China.

Me to my wife. “I told you we shouldn’t have moved to Florida. Now look what happened. There’s a pandemic; that means worldwide, right? I’ll bet the thing started here in Florida; that’s why we’re not supposed to call it a Chinese virus. Isn’t Florida now the new epi-center for the virus? Probably came from some horrible wild animal, like a manatee or sea turtle.”

My wife just shook her head, shrugged and said, “No Dear. It has nothing to do with Florida. It’s apparently a virus that came from some research lab in Wuhan China. It does sound very serious though, often fatal to people in our age group. We need to get some masks, antiseptic wipes, hand sanitizer and lots of toilet paper and stock up on food. We shouldn’t go outside and mingle with people, to avoid infection.”

Me to my wife. “But, what about our trips? We planned a trip to Nova Scotia, and a cruise to the Bahamas.”

Wife to me. “Sounds like we won’t be traveling or cruising, unless you want to drown in your own mucous.”

“Not in Florida, I don’t.”

We made plans. We bought the necessary supplies and food and started our daily routine of living in the equivalent of a BL-4 infectious disease lab. This includes wearing masks, sanitizing our hands every time we even think about touching anything, trying not to breath outside, never eating in a restaurant or fast food again, etc. When we arrive home, on the few occasions when we venture out, we have a routine; wash hands, remove mask, wash hands, remove clothes and place in washing machine with soap, wash hands, get into the shower, wash hands, take shower, wash hands, get dressed and you guessed it…wash hands. 

We settled into a comfortable, albeit strange, life. We are in that sixty-five-year-old demographic where the government tells us “do not wander outside, do not go to restaurants, do not eat fast food, do not do anything, just stay home and stare at each other until you both go insane and murder each other. In fact, my wife and I have a suicide pact…she shoots me first, and then I shoot her. This was her idea, but I think it’s a good one, just so long as the gun is still loaded when she hands it to me. Good that we made plans.

We do have some excitement in our lives. My wife is always thrilled when I ask her out on our weekly date, actually bi-weekly dates. This involves driving each of our cars up and down A1A to keep the engines lubricated and the batteries charged. We would wander to the beach once in a while, but there is something about Florida residents that causes them to form large crowds on beaches and makes them immune to wearing masks…not good for those of us in that over 65 demographic. So we revel in our weekly drive up and down A1A and dream of some future time when we might stop for ice cream again.

One of the things we do a lot in quarantine is binge watch murder mysteries, especially British murder mysteries. It’s amazing to me all the ways you can kill a person, besides moving them to Florida. Only problem is that once in a while we stumble onto a news channel. Watching the news today is akin to committing suicide, raising your blood pressure to catastrophic levels. Come to think of it, you could kill someone by forcing them to watch the news for a couple of hours. That should do it.

There’s peaceful protests with twenty-somethings burning the country to the ground. Then there’s the upcoming election, where one of the presidential candidates is older than God and can’t string two coherent sentences together (he’ll fit right in with many of our septuagenarian and octogenarian Congressional leaders). And we’re apparently going to vote by mailing in our vote on sheets of toilet paper. Great, another election where I hold my nose and vote for the less pathetic of the two candidates. I’m a registered independent, so I get to criticize both sides:) Again, I blame it on Florida. If we hadn’t moved here and taken that trip to the Tail of the Alligator, none of this would have happened. But, we made plans.

I have found a solution to this problem. When my stomach turns sour from all the BS, I just put on my Oculus Quest headset and enter my virtual world. There’s no Covid, no protesters, no sharks, alligators, or rust; no Florida. There are zombies though, and the NRA would be proud of all the shooting games that I can play, using anything from a bow and arrow to a howitzer. Oh God! I just realized this year’s presidential campaign is going to be carried out virtually due to the Covid virus. There better not be any politicians in my virtual world. I prefer zombies.

So this brings us to the past couple of weeks of our retirement. Good thing we made plans. Tropical Storm Isiaias (try saying that three times quickly) came along first of August, in the middle of a pandemic. We dubbed it a ‘Covid-cane’. The local Florida health officials came on the air to assure us everything would be okay. They would be setting up shelters for evacuees, separate ones for those infected with Covid and those not infected. 

They told us we would be tested when we arrived at a particular shelter, and if we had Covid and arrived at a Covid-free shelter, we would have to let the wind blow us in the general direction of a Covid shelter. This is even more bizarre, because it’s my understanding that it takes a couple of days to get the results back. This didn’t really matter to my wife and I, because we are over 65. For that group, their words were something like “if you’re in the elderly demographic, just stay home, pray for the best, then bend over and kiss your ass goodbye.” Needless to say, we fled to North Carolina.

 Thanks to my wife, we made plans and had a place to rent again spur of the moment. The trip was an adventure. We hauled most of our belongings down a flight of stairs and loaded them into two cars, just in case the Wizard of Oz really did decide to visit St. Augustine and blow our condo away. The trip involved no peeing for 8 hours, no stopping for food, and wearing that infernal mask whenever we stopped to stretch our legs. My wife had been clever, and found a rental condo, second floor with an elevator. Yay! No hauling stuff upstairs. 

Imagine how thrilled we were when we arrived in North Carolina and realized that we could not use the “Covid-vator” to haul our stuff up to the second floor. Hadn’t thought that one through very well. So our sixty-five-plus year old legs, hearts and lungs got quite a work out hauling everything up two flights of stairs, after a full eight-hour-drive. Stupid Florida. Stupid North Carolina. Damn Covid. Stupid elevators.

Sorry, my tantrums almost over, and it’s time for our weekly date. North Carolina is special in one way. Here we have the beautiful Blue Ridge Parkway on which we can enjoy our biweekly dates, driving our cars to lubricate the engines and charge the batteries. Much better than A1A in Florida; no hurricanes, alligators, sharks, insane yachters or rust. But, apparently I was wrong, Covid isn’t just a Florida thing. It’s in North Carolina too. I guess I need to apologize to my wife. 

Y’all stay safe, enjoy what you can and remember, “this too shall pass”. And my advice, stay the hell out of FloridaJ I took the plunge, and God’s still laughing.

If you liked this blog post, you might also like my comedy murder mystery PLEASURIA: TAKE AS DIRECTED, available on Amazon at http://bit.ly/pleasuria The ebook is only $0.99.