VERY early on the Saturday morning of Halloween weekend, Mr. Wonderful whispered from the other side of the king: “Val, it’s 4:30 — if we get up and leave now, we can make really good time. Are you awake?” I was then.
We quickly finished packing. I went to the kitchen to start the coffee maker. Mother of God! The clock read 2:45. It was the beginning of a long day.
Every fall at the end of October, senior citizens migrate from northern homes to their gated enclaves in Florida. Some drive, many fly, a few bounce down in the Amtrak Auto Train. Because we were only taking a three week vacay in the Sunshine State, we opted to join the stream of campers, vans and silver-grey Cadillac DeVilles driving south on I-95.
Our early start was propitious. We did make good time and passed the New York metropolitan area before the sun had risen. But the temperature in Maine that morning had been in the mid-40s, so we were sporting down jackets, wool scarves and black Merrills.
By the time we were admiring the cruise ships in Baltimore Harbor, and despite our very efficient air conditioning, perspiration was leaking out of every pore. When we stopped at the next service area, I noticed other similarly-dressed senior migrators stepping out of their Uggs and wool socks into flip flops.
We had made a reservation at a Hampton Inn in Fredericksburg, Virginia. Who knew we’d be driving under the porte-cochere at 3 PM, but we had gone as far as we could — physically and mentally. Plus, we knew there was a Carrabba's Italian Grill right next door and HAPPY HOUR started in less than two hours. Bring it on.
Mr. W had two G&Ts, I had two Scotches. Even though we had consumed breakfast at 4 AM, lunch at 9 AM and dinner at 1:30 PM, we were ravenous. Calamari appetizer! Fettuccini Alfredo! Pasta with White Clam Sauce! Garlic bread!
When our waitress Jackie brought the bill, Mr. W signed it and said, “Look at this cool pen. I’ve never seen one like it.” I suggested he pocket it. I mean, we had just spent a fortune on dinner and drinks, so why not. He looked at me like I was Bonnie browbeating a reformed Clyde.
“What’s the big deal?” I asked. So he slipped the pen in his pocket and we left … only to discover the next morning that we’d also left our Visa credit card in the faux leather bill folder.
Kudos to Carrabba’s. We called when it opened at 11, told the manager we were so entranced with the pen that we filched it and, by mistake, left our credit card. “No problem, I’ll cut it up, if that’s what you’d like.” It was, he did, guilt assuaged.
The signs began: 99 MILES TO PEDRO’S SOUTH OF THE BORDER!
If you’ve ever driven south on I-95, you know what sign(s) I’m referring to.
We arrived in Florida late that evening with puffy feet, bloated bellies from Doritos and Twizzlers, and guess what else: 80 degrees, palm fronds rustling in the tropical breeze, golf games and dear friends. Nice!