Friday evening I drove out to the Beachhouse Restaurant on Anna Maria Island, to see a friend of mine in order to settle a score. The Tokars name, by now, has been shamed in many ways—but as far as I know, welching is not among them. I sat at the bar and waited for my friend to come over. Through the big windows behind the bar I could see storm clouds sliding slowly over the gulf. A different bartender came over first; I knew him. He asked me how was I doing, and I said, “I’ve got too much stuff in my pockets.”
[ . . . ]
Once my phone and cigarettes and lighter were all set out on the bar, I pulled 85 cents from my pocket and held it out to him. “And this is for you,” I said, “for nothing.” He laughed, and I ordered a Miller Lite. He brought it to me and when he went away again the 85 cents was still stacked there, neatly, on the edge of the bar. The bar was white and speckled like marble, though it was not marble. There was a couple sitting next to me: He was telling Her why the bar was so nice—knocking his knuckles on it and rubbing his palm flat atop the surface.
“It’s a terrazzo,” he said, and the woman looked down at the bar. Then he second guessed himself: He looked at her and said, “Or, what’s the stuff they use on floors?”
“Linoleum?”—I offered, and they both looked over at me, unimpressed.
He looked back down at the bar and rubbed it some more, investigating. He said, “No, it’s not linoleum.” And finally my friend the bartender came over. We shook hands. He refilled my beer, and I mentioned that I hadn’t been in since the remodeling was completed, and that the restaurant looked wonderful. My friend agreed that “The New BeachHouse” was excellent. I craned my neck and looked all around, to give the place a proper once-over—everything was new, and chic, and the design on the new ceiling gave the feeling of Star Wars light speed, which is good—and even now, as I type this, it is difficult to picture the tacky plastic seafood restaurant it used to be: where every summer my visiting relatives insisted I take them for a sunset dinner on the patio. The dinners were always good, and the times were fun, but now it was much better.
The man to my right was still rubbing and knocking the surface of the bar, making construction comments to his date. I asked my friend what was the bar made of? He said, “Terrazzo.” We both agreed it was a fine terrazzo. The man heard us, and also said it was fine.
I pulled my MacBook from my bag and set it on the bar, and opened it. My friend brought me another beer. An old woman appeared and asked me if the seat to my left was taken. I told her it wasn’t. She thanked me, and called the rest of her party over to sit at the bar. Then she said, “I don’t mean to barge in on you, but we just got here from California and Canada, and we need gin&tonics.”
“No need to apologize,” I said. “When it’s time for gin&tonics, well, that’s what time it is.”
She smiled. Then she handed a camera at me, and asked if I would be kind enough to take a picture of her and her old friends. I said sure, why not? After all, I am a photographer. I took one and it came out bad. I said, “Wait, we need to do one more,” and ended up taking 7 or 8 photos: I had them where I wanted them, so I made it last.
[ . . . ]
When it was over I told them to please tag me in the photos, so I could show my friends. The woman was confused. The youngest of the group, who looked about 63, shined though and said, “You’ll have to tell us your name, so we can tag you.”
“Angelo Rodriguez,” I said, and wrote the name down on a paper napkin, which I handed to the woman. She put it away in her pocketbook.
“And what brings you here,” she asked, “with all your equipment?”
“I’m a journalist,” I told her, “and a storm-chaser.” I pointed out the window, toward the gulf and the horizon. The storm clouds were now a violent black trench cascading out the sky, forming treacherous ledge of death and striking lightning and the thunderous not so distant future of peril reflected in her eyes.
“Is the storm going to be a bad one?”
“Yes,” I said, “that’s why I’m here. It’s going to be bad for weeks.”
Her eyes welled up and she looked away. Her two male friends became distraught. She turned back and took my forearm.
“How bad?” she asked.
[ . . . ]
I looked at her hand; it was frail, blue-veiny and pale. I told her that my editor was urging me to get out, before it hits, but I didn’t want to leave. “I want to see this thing up close,” I said. “I want to feel its power.”
The older of the two men growled. He clenched his fist and shouted, “Every time!” and smashed his big fist down hard on the bar. He slapped the bar. He barked, “Every time, Every– T i m e we come down here, it’s nothing but rain and misery, and storm clouds!”
[ . . . ]
“Storm Clouds! with l i t t l e bleeps of sunshine and happiness. It’s just like our real lives! If we wanted this garbage, we would stay home!”
And on this I agreed with him—but his behavior was unacceptable. Now the woman was crying, and the other man—the younger one—was nervously drinking his gin&tonic, and sliding the glass back and forth between his shaky hands on the terrazzo. Eventually it spilled, and he had to order a new one. When it came he stabbed his new lime with the little straw, and bits of pulp floated about the liquor. He turned to me and asked, “And where do you work?”
"I contribute to various publications," I said.
"And where will you be shopping this one?”
“SURFING Magazine. Or FacesOfDeath.com, but probably SURFING, assuming there is time to write.”
The man frowned. I went on, “If there isn’t time to write—which will likely be the case, if this storm gets real bad, and we have to evacuate—I’ll be able to unload a photo essay on Faces of Death, who always pay top dollar for shots of real live carnage.”
By now the woman was sobbing, hysterically—crying so hard she made herself erupt with fits of coughing and choking every thirty seconds. The angry man went off to the men’s room, where he was presumably still shouting and smashing his fists. The man I was chatting with called for another drink, and asked me if I really thought the storm would be so bad. I said I hoped it would be, because we haven’t had a good one here in years.
[ . . . ]
“But it all depends,” I went on. “Storms are fickle—They're saying this thing will come on shore, and when it does it will happen suddenly, with no warning at all, and there will be little or no time to escape. Of course, everyone isn't expected to survive these things. Experts are saying it could bring 10-feet of the ocean with it, and then we’re talking electrical fires ... the whole city could go up in flames. Think of Hurricane Katrina, but with 6-foot Bull Sharks swimming through the streets—that’s what we’re dealing with here: We’re looking at a local apocalypse.”
At this the woman collapsed on the bar. Her face hit the terrazzo noticeably hard, and she stayed there, whimpering. It was an ugly scene. The gin&tonic man leaned over her, so we could speak more intimately. He leaned back his way and tipped up his drink, and downed it with a forceful gulp. I looked at my friend the bartender and signaled for the check. The man leaned into me again, over the collapsed woman, and said, “Okay, I get the Faces of Death thing—But why the Hell would you try to sell a story like this to a magazine called SURFING?”
NEXT WEEK: WHY I WOULD TRY TO SELL A STORY LIKE THIS TO A MAGAZINE CALLED SURFING
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