Getting There

I arrived at Glenn’s house for the ride over to the Miami airport to meet Doug and continue over to The Bahamas. As I was loading my stuff into Glenn’s truck, he opened his pack to make sure he had his tickets and passport. That gave me the instant realization that I had left my passport sitting on the kitchen counter at home. There wasn’t time for me to go home and back to Glenn’s so I sent Glenn on his way to make sure at least one of us made the trip, while I drove back home to get my passport.

The drive from my house to the Miami airport takes approximately 3 hours if traffic cooperates. Hit a backup from a traffic accident, however, and it can take all day. Really, no exaggeration. I’ve never lived in a place that has so many major highway wrecks that shut down traffic for hours.

Getting out of town to the freeway went smoothly, and the freeway was so far pretty clear.  Then as my truck rounded a long bend in the freeway, I came face to face with a parking lot of red taillights. CRAP! I needed this 3 hour drive to Miami to be perfect or I would miss my flight. I couldn’t see anything blocking the road ahead, and figured this was another one of those rolling backups we get so often in southwest Florida during tourist season. A retiree gets in the left lane to pass another retiree, neither going much faster than 50 miles an hour, and neither willing to get out of the way.

I was desperate, so was looking around for cops so I could drive in the breakdown lane to bypass this mess when I saw flashing lights and the reason for the backup. The accident was on the other side of the freeway, so the delay on my side was due to rubberneckers.  Later I found out that a local sheriff transporting a prisoner had rolled his car off the freeway, so the number of emergency vehicles was greater than normal, and attracted a lot of attention from passing drivers. My pulse backed off from panic mode as traffic came back up to highway speed. I could still make the flight, but I was kicking myself for being in this situation. Little did I know that this was just the beginning of another adventure in pursuit of bonefish in The Bahamas.

An hour later I was halfway across Alligator Alley – the stretch of interstate that splits the Everglades and connects motorized traffic between east and west coasts of south Florida – the four cylinders of my small pickup burning white hot. Suddenly a flock of small birds appeared out of the river of grass and briefly clouded-over the freeway.  I instinctively ducked as black spots flew by the truck. Amazingly, not a single bird hit the truck. But my amazement and relief was short lived. Rising off the blacktop, a hawk was suspended in mid-air with its fresh kill in its talons.  The bird and I saw one another at the same time. It was too late for either of us to avoid a collision. In instinctively ducked again as the bird hit the windshield with a thump, sending a crack stretching the from side to side. A cloud of feathers whirlpooled in the truck’s wake. CRAP! I felt awful. And then I thought about it some more – the trip is doomed, my karma is so in a hole right now. I’ll never catch a bonefish on this trip.

Two and a half hours into the trip, I was on the Florida Turnpike, nearing the Miami airport. In the distance I could see a strong, dark plume of smoke. Hmm, I wonder if that’s a house fire? As I got closer, it looked more and more like the fire was on the Turnpike, and as I came over a rise I could see that it was. CRAP! AGAIN!  I waited for the inevitable backup, but traffic only slowed a bit and moved on.   A car was on fire on the other side of the Turnpike, which was choked with a backup that stretched for miles.

I cut off a tourist couple returning a rental car as I sped into the parking garage.  As I ran into the airport, and cut through lines to get through security, I kept expecting for someone from TSA to pull me aside, but I guess I looked more desperate than dangerous.  As I finally got to the gate, breathing heavily and dripping sweat, I discovered that the flight was delayed.  I was already worn out and the trip had barely started.

We sat at the airport for a couple hours. The flight was already an evening flight, and now it became a night flight. We didn’t have a phone number for the place we were staying to let them know we’d be late. And since it was the first time we’d been to this particular spot, we weren’t sure what to expect.

Now What?
We ended up getting to the settlement where we’d rented a small cottage at about 1am.  The entire place was asleep, and we didn’t know two important details – which was the place we had rented, and which house belonged to the person who rented to us.

Glenn found a piece of paper in his bag with the homeowner’s phone number on it, but though the three of us each had different cell phone carriers, none of us could get service. Strangely, in this settlement that had perhaps a dozen houses lining the narrow road, we found a payphone on the roadside. All of the parts were there, but no dial tone. Desperate, we put a couple Bahamian coins in the slot. It would’ve been too much to ask for the payphone to work, but it was worth a shot. The coins went just far enough to be out of sight before they got stuck.  I wondered how many hurricanes that phone had survived. I’m sure it worked for about a week after being installed, and not for a moment since.

There was no way the three of us could sleep in the rental car, and the bugs were just bad enough that we couldn’t sleep outside. We had to start knocking on doors. We knew the homeowner’s house was blue, but we had three blue houses to choose from. By now it was 1:30am, pitch dark, and we had to start knocking on doors. In southwest Florida, this might have gotten us shot, but The Bahamas seems so laid back.

When we were searching for a volunteer to start knocking, Doug and I took a step back when Glenn wasn’t looking, and he became the first man in line. It pays to be quick on your feet in these situations. And it’s easier to run like hell from a vantage point that’s a bit removed from the action. Glenn won’t fall for that one again.

Glenn had knocked on the door for about 5 minutes before we heard movement. An elderly  woman came to the window next to the door, but smartly didn’t open the door. Glenn told her through the partially opened window who we were looking for. But her voice was so soft that he couldn’t hear what she was saying. This is how the conversation went, repeated over and over:

Glenn: "Ma’am, we’re looking for George, who owns the house that he rents out to tourists. Our plane was late in arriving, and we don’t know where to go."
Woman: Muffled voice
Glenn: "Ma’am, I can’t understand what you’re saying."
Woman: Muffled voice.

I guess you had to be there, but it was hysterical. They must have repeated that sequence 10 times before Glenn gave up. A perfect slapstick moment.

Finally, we moved on to the next blue house.  By this point, Glenn was getting worn out, but Doug and I weren’t about to step in. Next house in line, same man up.  Glenn knocked, then pounded on the door. No sound came from the house. Nobody came to the door. Cars were in front of the house, so somebody had to be home. Hmmm.

As Glenn was working on the second house, the elderly woman shuffled onto her porch, then to the edge of the street. She was saying something to Doug but he couldn’t hear her. When he moved closer she bolted for her door. But when he stopped she came back out and came close enough that he heard what she said.

Woman: "Are you looking for the place that George rents?"
Doug: "Yes, we haven’t been here before and don’t know which place it is. "
Woman: "It’s that one across the street with the porchlight on."
Doug: "Thanks." And to me – "should we tell Glenn or just go over there and wait for him to find us?"

We were a bit skeptical about whether this was the right place, but it was 2am and we had to get some sleep. By now Doug and I were pretty brave, so we knocked on the door, heard no movement, and went inside. The place was empty, there were three beds. That was enough.

The next morning, George came over to see how we were doing. He had no knowledge of our rousting of the neighbors the night before, and said he never heard Glenn pounding on his door. Amazing. We never saw the elderly woman again. Glenn said something about hoping to see her so he could give her a pack of cookies or box of chocolates to apologize, but I can’t be sure. It came up while we were fishing.

We had more wrong turns and misadventure in the next few days, but that just became par for this trip. We had some great fishing, so the rest was just icing on the cake.