At the Holiday Inn pool, a place I am spending a lot of my time, I meet a woman. She is ordering lunch while I am at the Tiki bar ordering an iced tea. She comments on how hot it is and I agree. We get to talking and end up spending the afternoon together. She lives in Key Largo with her boyfriend who works for Ocean Divers as an instructor and she is a teacher in Miami. She commutes there every day to teach her class of fifth graders. She is originally from New York and she has that great accent. I finally ask her what her name is and it’s Carolyn. We get along great and at the end of the day we decide to spend more time together. She has just started her holidays from work and looking for stuff to do. She mentions that she is leaving for Key West, once her boyfriend is off work, to go see a friend and will be back tomorrow night. I mention that I had wanted to see Key West but don’t think I will make it down there. She offers to go with me one day before I leave. That would be fun and I tell her I would love it if she really wants to. She says she does.
Later in the afternoon we meet a guy at the pool named Peter. I have seen him there before. He is late 50’s and super tanned. We get to talking and it turns out he has been in Key Largo for two months. He travels around the states working at various nuclear power plants. He spends a lot of his time pool hopping around the islands down here and tells us that the Hilton has a great pool and a really nice beach with decent snorkeling. He invites us to join him there on Thursday so we agree to go.
Wednesday I am back at the Holiday Inn pool and meet a couple that I have seen there on several Saturday afternoons, a time that a lot of local people make use of the pool, it seems. Actually, the husband and I talked for a bit last Saturday. I found out that he and his wife live aboard a 45’ trawler. We talked a lot about retired life in the Keys and the sort of people that live here. Today I meet his wife and we have a long talk about the Keys and then my line of work. They are a very friendly couple and I really enjoy my afternoon.
I am starting to dislike the evenings.
Getting picked up at the pool and going back to the houseboat, I am so reminded of my childhood where I would be filled with dread walking home from school every day wondering what sort of mood my mother would be in when I walked through the door. The odd night, Jake will be in a bit of a better state of mind and that translates into him telling me more stories or at least quietly watching his sports and news instead of mouthing off at Nancy. But most nights he is in a foul mood and ranting at the smallest provocation. At one point tonight he tells Nancy “You amaze me. You’d be dangerous if you actually had a brain.” It is so hard to keep my mouth shut. He is in an especially foul mood these days as the situation with the houseboat sitting at the boatyard instead of back at the property, where it should have been by now, is causing a lot of tension. He feels like he is being held hostage by the owner of this place, and rightly so. It’s ridiculous that he won’t give Jake a price as to how much this is adding up. But to take it out on Nancy is mean. She is having just as hard a time with this situation as he is.
It’s Thursday and by the time I am up Nancy has left for the day. Jake drove her there in the truck and has brought it back. He needs it to do some work at the property today. He is still around though, watching the telly. I make something to eat and then go out back to read for a bit. After an hour or so it's just too hot outside so I go back inside to read in my room. After about an hour, Jake walks by my room, goes outside and gets in the truck and leaves. Doesn't say a word to me. Turns out he is gone all day and I am now stuck at the houseboat. His car is there and the keys are in it, as usual, but there is no way I am assuming that it is alright for me to just take it and go to the pool. I spend most of the day inside, where there is air conditioning, reading or watching the Hallmark channel. They keep showing a commercial for a movie that I did a couple of days calls on. It's working title was 'The Wedding Dance' and it's now called 'Come Dance at My Wedding'. I'd like to be able to catch that, if I can. It's on tomorrow night at 9.
It's Friday and on Wednesday I arranged to meet with Carolyn at the Tom Thumb gas station across the road. She said to call her in the morning. When she said that, I sort of hesitated as I don’t want to use my phone to make calls down here; it is far too expensive. But that would mean me having to ask Jake to use his phone and I am not crazy about the thought of it. I brush off the feeling thinking it’s stupid; he surely won’t mind me using his phone for a local call. By the time I am done cleaning up from breakfast it’s 9:30 and I am pretty much ready to go. I ask him if he would mind if I used his phone to make a local call. He just looks at me. So I say, “The woman I am spending the day with asked me to call her this morning, just to make sure.” “Didn’t you tell her you don’t have a phone?” he barks at me. I want to say 'No because I didn’t think it would be an issue to use yours for a two-minute local call'. But I don’t say that, saying instead “Never mind, I’ll just use my phone.” “Well, what did she say when you told her that?” he asks. “I didn’t. Don’t worry about it, I will use my phone.” I go get my phone and come back in the kitchen for my phone book and he holds out his phone. I thank him, take it and call her but get her voice mail so say that I am heading to the gas station and will see her there at 10 as we arranged.
I head over to meet her and after going inside to buy a bottle of water and use their bathroom, I wait on the side of the building that has some shade. Fortunately that is the side she will be driving in on. Ten o’ clock comes and goes and at ten-fifteen I pull out my phone. Looks like I am going to have to use it after all. She answers and says that she called the number I used earlier and left a voice mail saying that she got up late but she will be here in ten minutes. She pulls up before too long and when I get in she says she isn’t comfortable going to the Hilton, she wants to go to a place called The Islander instead. I say that I don’t mind going wherever she wants to go but we can’t just leave Peter waiting for us and then not show up. She shrugs like she doesn’t care. I insist that we go by and at least let him know that we are going to a different beach for the day so she heads over to the Hilton.
When we get there I walk down to the beach while she waits in the car. Once I walk through a breezeway to the back of the hotel, there’s a bark-mulch pathway running along the waterfront through palm trees and sea grape and there are hammocks strung up here and there. It’s gorgeous. The water is a lovely shade of blue-green and the sand of the man-made beach is white. There is rustling in the underbrush as I walk along and I see lizards and geckos as they scramble to hide. Up in the trees there are some very big spider webs and I hope that I don’t see any of the occupants. It’s a long way to the big open beach that Peter told me he would meet us at but I finally get there and spy him out in the water. He waves at me and I wave him in. When he walks out of the water and up to me he asks where Carolyn is and I tell him that she isn’t comfortable spending the day at this beach as she doesn’t think locals are welcome and she doesn’t want the embarrassment of being kicked out. He assures me that he comes there a lot and it isn’t ever a problem. I am not going to sit here and mediate so I tell him that, if he wants to, he can come back to the car with me and talk to Carolyn himself. So he does and she decides to try it out. We walk back to the beach together and get settled in some lounge chairs. We aren’t there 20 minutes and I can tell she is not enjoying it. Since we arrived it has really filled up and now it’s a very crowded beach and there are a lot of small children. She insists that The Islander is a much better place so we let Peter know that we are leaving and he has decided that he is leaving as well. He wants to go to a place called Holiday Isle which Carolyn says is a dive so we stick with our plan.
We drive the 30 minutes down to Islamorada, the next island in the chain, where The Islander is located. When we get there, I love the sign for the place, it looks like something right out of the 60’s. We pull off the highway and drive down the winding drive to a large dirt parking lot. We get out and the air outside of the car is hot, hot, HOT as we gather up our stuff from the back seat. We walk a few hundred yards past one-storey buildings of hotel rooms, to the large pool area. It’s gorgeous. The pool is large and meandering. There is a second, smaller pool up a few steps next to a Caribbean style bar and restaurant. The beach, man made again, is HUGE. It’s the typical hard-packed white sand but it has palm trees dotted all over it. There are wooden steps down to the ocean and the rocks have been cleared out of the water to create a large swimming area. Lounge chairs are scattered all over the beach as well as surrounding the pool. The place has the look of an all-inclusive resort and I love it and it is much nicer than the Hilton.
We pass a lovely, relaxing day there. We go up to the bar and split a huge Asian chicken salad for lunch. I haven’t had much salad since I left home and it tastes wonderful. It is far too hot to spend much time out of the water so we enjoy first the beach and the ocean and then move to the pool. At some point I ask Carolyn about what day she wants to go down to Key West. She doesn’t answer the question but makes a lot of comments about how it’s not all it’s cracked up to be and that I might be disappointed and more along those lines. I sense immediately that I am not going to be going with her, she has had a change of heart and doesn’t want to go. I am bummed but don’t say so.
There is a woman at the pool who looks so familiar and I realize that she is the image of Claire Foriani the actress from Meet Joe Black. She is gorgeous and there is something about her and the way she carries herself that makes me wonder if she might be an actress herself. She is with a few teen girls and a young boy who turns out to be her son. I can hardly take my eyes off of her, she is so beautiful.
Four o’clock rolls around far too fast and we gather up our things and head back to the car. Carolyn is as red as a lobster and I am so tanned it’s ridiculous. On the way back the bridge is open between the islands and we have to wait in a line of cars for about 15 minutes before it closes up and we can proceed across it. When we get to the boat yard Carolyn asks me if I want to join her and her boyfriend Alberto for drinks and dinner tonight. They are going to a place called The Pilot House. I say I would love to and so she says she will pick me up at 7. It will be nice to spend an evening somewhere new and I am looking forward to it.
When I get to the boat, the guys have painted the swim ladder up the back that we use to get on the boat with the same thick black paint that they have painted the bottom with. Fortunately they haven’t left yet and tell me that I will need to use the stepladder to get up on deck. I hate stepladders. They stand there waiting, it seems they want to see if I can climb up it and make it aboard ok. I am not about to climb up with them all watching me so I just stand there and they seem to get the hint and leave. The ladder is just leaning up against the boat so I jostle it a bit to make sure it isn’t going to topple when I get up on it. It seems solid so I climb up and gingerly step onto the boat. It wasn’t too hard to get up but I am not looking forward to having to go down it later.
After a refreshing shower and clean clothes and some makeup, Jake and Nancy come home and I tell them my plans. Nancy thinks that it’s great that I have made a friend and am going out for the evening. Jake tells me to get the gate card key out of the truck so that I can get back in later (the yard has a security fence and is gated once the staff leave for the day). I carefully climb onto the step ladder and get down to the ground without falling off. I really don’t like the ladder leaning up against the boat this way so I open it up and stand it on all four legs properly and then put the side of it up against the boat. That will be a lot easier to climb up when I get home later, in the dark. Carolyn picks me up at Tom Thumb’s again and we drive over to Ocean Divers, which is in the same building as Sharkey’s, to pick up Alberto. I met him the other day at the Holiday Inn when he came over to check up on her. I gather he is the jealous type because he had called her while we were sitting at the pool together and she mentioned to him that she had made a new friend, meaning me. He must have asked her if it was a guy because I heard her say, “No. It’s a lady. She is from Vancouver, Canada.” Not an hour later he just ‘happened’ to be in the area going for lunch and thought he would stop by to see her. She called him out on it, saying he came to check up on who she was with and he didn’t deny it. He is a big Italian guy and he too has the New York accent. He’d be perfect for a role on The Sopranos.
When we get to The Pilot House, I notice that the floor under the stools at the bar is plexi-glass so that you can see down into the water. There are lights under the water and it is very green and murky and I can’t see a single fish. There is live entertainment and it’s awful. Two guys, two guitars and amps, and not a shred of vocal talent between them. Ahh well, the view is gorgeous; right over the water, and the company is great. He orders fajitas, she orders nachos, and she invites me to pick at them with her as I have declared that I am not very hungry and so will just have something to drink. The heat is oppressive and I don’t have much appetite as a result. I ask him a lot of questions about his job as a diving instructor and he asks me a lot of questions about life in Canada, particularly about our health care. Universal health care is a political hot topic down here at the moment and he wants to know what I think of how it operates at home.
Throughout the evening a lot of people who know Carolyn and Alberto drop by the table for a chat. It seems everyone knows everyone down here. It’s the same when I go to The Big Chill with Jake and Nancy. At one point a guy that I met just the other day at the pool comes by. His name is Robbie and he has a deep southern accent that makes it really hard for me to understand him. He has just quit smoking and is encouraging Carolyn to quit as well. Alberto has gone to the restroom and he returns while the two of them are talking. Eventually Robbie takes his leave. Alberto turns to me and says, “Now that really bothers me. Did you see that?” I have no idea what he is talking about. “That guy that was just here. Now why did he wait until I left to go to the restroom before he comes over here to talk to Carolyn?” I hadn’t made that connection, I barely remember Alberto leaving. “That’s just not okay in my books. If you want to come over here and talk to my girl then have the decency to do it when I am here, you know?” So my hunch was right. Jealous type. Yikes. Other than that he’s a really nice guy and I enjoy my evening with them.
They drop me off at the boatyard gate and Carolyn tells me that she will see me at the Holiday Inn Pool tomorrow. As I walk through the yard to the houseboat I savour the warm night air. It reminds me of summer in the Okanagan and I love the memory. I had a voice mail message from Club Penguin, or Disney Online Studios - as they answer the phone, on my phone this morning and they want me to come in for an interview Tuesday the 23rd and I am excited about it. I wouldn’t mind living in Kelowna again, especially in the summertime. The idea of giving up the film industry is not an easy one, I love it so much. But if I have to then I can’t think of anywhere else I would rather work than Club Penguin (other than the bar on Anegada, that is). And summers in the Okanagan? Well, it's not the BVI but I wouldn't mind it.