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The Everglades Suck Us Up In One Hit

New Orleans to Everglades

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We left New Orleans w/ a small gas fund to push thru Mississippi & Alabama before needing to jug again.

Before dipping out, we’d been told of that Southern Hospitality, told we’d get thru thru these coastal states real quick, without issue, as long as we extended respect.

I can’t say I’m fluent w/ the South. I’ve spent time thru here & there, New Orleans, Atlanta, Savannah, but whether it’s rural or city, the Deep South doesn’t fuck around. We learned that in Arkansas last year, & regardless of what we’d been told, we didn’t intend to shake these dice more than needed. We aimed to make Miami in a night & day.

This year’s motif is dice

3am & I shook hands in Alabama. Sid’s head rolls slightly w/ smooth highway lullabies. She’s long passed out, & I’m sizzling my last bits of energy.

Now that I’m not compensating insecurities w/ caffeine & uppers, those sunrise drives are woken to rather than driven thru. I pulled off the interstate to a Pilot & parked in front of a sagging Denny’s.

Morning brought cliche-huge belly truckers & tourists w/ their backwards caps & mothers slapping their whining kids’ cheeks & muddy pickups w/ confederate flags blaring. We washed up in the bathrooms, smoked that morning cigarette to the end, & off we went.

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Kudzu lined the interstate we pulled off of for ice cream indulgence. Flea market signs dragged out curiosity.

More confederate flags & rebel yowls. Roast corn turned on spits. 50 cent jewelry bins. Knife dealers & hunting gear. Worn out electronics & toy bins overflowing with beanie babies & rubber ducks.

We didn’t become intimate w/ Alabama. We were quick passing thru the wooded belt buckle strapping together Mississippi & the Florida panhandle into the South Coast. We pushed Tallahassee & aimed to make Miami tonight.

Florida’s sky pushed back. Shoved hard w/ thick wet hands of rain clapping up thunderstorms & pelting the highways slick w/ truckers & cocky veers & that hard rain splattering the dark, blurring headlights, forcing us off the highway into an abandoned motel lot for the night.

The skies, soft w/ dew, cleared up come morning. We stretched in the thick air, shaking off the night to embrace oncoming humidity & sweat.

Miles ticked slow like staring at a clock. Not sure if it was the air or exhaustion. Night fell & so did returning rain. It would have been beautiful if we had stopped to run around naked in the highway, but that thought didn’t cross till now, in Oakland, outside a heep-stirring cafe.

We pulled off the interstate onto a dead highway & a different vulnerability manifested.

Predators.

An alligator with an open jaw stretched out across the entire opposing highway lane as its length flashed across our windshield & vanished behind us. “Holy shit,” is an understatement of dialogue for my reaction.

The last stretch towards Miami was giddy with anticipation for the Everglades.

“Stay off the Beach.”

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“Ya got any change?” “Sure,” I threw him a buck or so. I didn’t count it out. It was a small slice of our gas funds. “Need any drugs?” he asked. “Nawp, thanks. Stay safe tonight.”

We’d parked under an interstate loop, downtown looming like an economic colossus demanding worship from the sky. “Christ, this is the East Coast LA.”

Wikipedia lists Miami’s population at ~400,000. Neither of us had known the metro’s urban sprawl or what to expect other than televised cliches.

Downtown had yawned up all the day’s tan-lines, & only cops + bums wandered its corners.  We uninvited ourselves & made way over to South Beach. “Might as well explore these places while they’re dead. Screw driving thru this during the day.”

Christmas lights & club bass & no dancing. No one was there to dance. Passing eyes dragged by folks like coke dragging its comedown. An old Cuban thick w/ cigar watched thru the smoke. A couple kissing w/ lackluster ferocity. It felt like they were kissing in the way someone goes to the gym just to take a selfie there.

“The beach is closed.” I jumped as the spotlight hit us. The voice was loud & filtered thru a megaphone. A cop in a black SUV pulled up, “Beach doesn’t open till sunrise.” He resumed his path, watching the trails leading up to the water like a bored, black-leather lion looking for a lil more kick from its prey.

We walked by more cops & another couple dull w/ their night & some cats coughing & a general exhaustion that was starting to yank our ankles towards sleep. We found a swing set & sat down & laughed about something I can’t remember, it’s been so long since this happened. Over a month has passed. More cops pulled by. We remained swinging, now in silence, watching.

We drove photo-shopped streets & oven-baked homes to the Hialeah Walmart lot & burned out like snubbed blunts.

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Sid always wakes first. She does yoga or goes for a jog. “The air is thick w/ smog here. It hurts,” she says coming back to the car as I’m yawning awake over luke-warm coconut water. I want to be healthy, but the want hasn’t motivated itself too far past where I left off w/ many of habits. I still struggle w/ not consistently taking drugs or drinking, but I do two reps of 30 push-ups a day & “stretch” (loosest sense of the term) daily.

I’m not making a comparison between Sid & I in a “woe is me” hunt for validation. This is where we at. These are parts of who we are. We’re both still trying to grow, in & out of our relationship.

After I wriggled outta sleep like a comforting layer of dead skin I didn’t want to let go of, we went to a Cuban cafe tucked away in a small strip mall of independent businesses.

The waitress did not give a fuck about my inability to speak Spanish. This was her job. Her space. Sid did most of the talking while I focused on pronouncing my order correctly. The waitress could speak English. She transitioned between the two w/ ease, vernacular w/o issues, but this was her space. We were the one’s who needed to adapt.

I ordered a cafe con leche & we split a cubano. We did a # on it w/ hotsauce.

“She was fucking badass,” Sid said.

A homie hits me up on Facebook w/ a poem. “Whatcha been up to?” “I’m back living in Miami, getting my shit together.” “Yo! I just pulled in. Let’s kick it.” “I’m out in Colorado for the week with my girlfriend man.”

La Pequeña Habana

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We went to Habana Pequena & climbed like lizards over a tree gnarled with large roots jutting out of the median like great walls.

We wandered a Cuban museum/cafe w/ tables made of varnished paintings & the walls collaged w/ color & texture. Vibrant & energetic music played. “I’d live here,” Sid said. “Not Miami. This museum. I want to fold it up in my pocket & take it with us.”

We wandered a Cuban museum/cafe w/ tables made of varnished paintings & the walls collaged w/ color & texture. Vibrant & energetic music played. “I’d live here,” Sid said. “Not Miami. This museum. I want to fold it up in my pocket & take it with us.”

Little Haiti was painted up w/ empty buildings + dope graffiti. We went to Leela’s Restaurant for griot (deep-fried pork) and banane pesée (flattened, fried plantains) & ate on a quiet street outside a gated park, teasing us w/ grass & trees.

***

Intended open mics in Miami were dead. All of em. We were banking on the shows, but figured jugging would do us fine for the time being. A drama / improv group let us into the skeleton of an art house, telling us the open mic was run downstairs but “might not be active anymore.” It wasn’t. We rummaged beer & almonds outta their fridge, fucked in the bathroom, & ran off, monetarily frustrated, but laughing at the world thru the expense of others.

We shot out towards a Pilot to wake & jug in the morning. I parked behind the station, between the trucks & building, concealed w/ my beers & mess of a portfolio while Sid slept. We woke to an employee telling us to switch sides of the lot, that there’d been customer complaints.

Everglades suck us up like a hit from a bong

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Morning came & we checked fluid levels. I’m trying to remember the initial indications. What were they? Oil loss. I remember refilling it, noting to keep an eye on it. There’s something else lost in memory that troubles me, but it’s dusty & no amount of caffeine is digging up its corpse.

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“Monument Lake in Big Cypress is a good swimming hole you guys could use. Campsite has full hookups w/ showers, toilets, all that,” the Pilot manager said.

Down Tamiami Trail, we stop at an information station & ask for directions to the swimming lake. The old wrinkled white lady behind the desk looks at us, makes sure we’re serious, & laughs. “Don’t go swimming anywhere ’round here kids.” A security guard came out & affirmed her, laughing too. We felt naive, but happy to be.

At the lake we see why we can’t swim there. A 5-6 foot gator rests its body in the shallows. I start taking photos, using its tail as a leading line to its head resting in the waters, eye protruding like clumps of wet ash.

I reach too far & brush along its tail.

It writhes forward, like a scaled worm, & vanished into the water. I’m on the ground three or four feet back. I get giddy & giggle. “You’re an idiot,” Sid says.

We look up more information online. After the fact I learned they can run faster than a horse. Luckily, it wasn’t a 12 footer. That fella woulda ripped my pretty lil ignorant hands off, whether it was facing me or not.

On the other side of Monument Lake, the same gator swims from the center, a small dark glare of light moving towards us. It camps among the reeds, watching us. We’re a good 5-6 feet away. “We’re being hunted,” I said. “It’s waitin’ on us to come for a drink.”

“Don’t validate yourself as prey,” Sid said. “It’s waiting for us to cast bait in like the fishermen that come thru. It’s hungry & expects an easy meal.”

I fucked w/ nature. I threw a thick stick to left of the gator. It lept out of the water & splintered the branch w/ its serrated jaw.

 

It wasn’t a morbid fascination w/ death, or just a desire to tease. It was a “holy shit, this creature is in control.” A reminder we’re not on top. & an immature prod w/ the lil bit of power that I have as an individual human being one-on-one w/ this gator.

***

The Everglades look Jurassic. But I’d rather the photos speak here. They spread less rust on the experience.

The Everglades look Jurassic. But I’d rather the photos speak here. They spread less rust on the experience.

Further down Tamiami trail, the steering wheel seized. All dash lights shutter on & off. Turning the steering wheel is dragging dead-weight by long hair.

I pull us over into a gas station lot & immediately shut the car off. Not that the keys needed to be turned off–it was habit, even in crisis, to pull the keys out. Nothing was running. I wasn’t yet processing thanks we’d broken down here instead of deeper down Alligator Alley. White steam roared on up from under the hood.

[ emotions snatched the better of me & did not remember to take photos ]

The Tamiami trail had little traffic. We debated flying a sign for assistance. I called a NH homie. “You overheated man.” He instructed me to let the car cool & pour water thru the coolant system to diagnose the leak. “Keep an eye on the temp gauge while you do. Don’t overheat it again. You’d fuck up the engine. Is under the car dry? Push it somewhere dry so you can identify where the leak is.”

Louisiana mosquitoes can carry a body. Everglades mosquitoes can carry a house, long nose throttling a window, sucking up families like a blood-seeking vacuum cleaner. They snatched at our blood, taking revenge on my teasing their neighbor.

I called AAA & chain-smoked & walked circles nervous of blowing the headers or fucking up anything further, my limited experience w/ vehicles & tendency towards paranoia not helping. We filled water bottles & pushed the car forward. Before starting anything, a kind gator hunter/tour guide w/ a thick Deep South accent pulled up in a muddied white pick-up.

“What’s wrong with it?”

He chuckles, without malice, at our lil collection of water bottles we’d filled up to do the job. He pulls out a thing of coolant. “I had to do this for a while on my old truck, it’s filled w/ water.”

We poured water in the coolant reservoir & started the car, listening for the waterpump to do its job, watching it suck the water down & in & thru around the engine, eyeing that temp gauge w/ worried hunger. I ran over to refill the coolant container at the gas station while he poured smaller bottles w/ Sid, making sure as the water was sucked down that the reservoir was once again flooded full.

AAA shows up. The hunter & tow driver, another man, shoot the shit. That masculine sorta talk about cars, what’s potentially wrong, that institutionalized competitive nature. The dialogue was rough & full of social plowing.

We put the reservoir cap back on & Siouxsie Sioux bursts w/ white steam.

The kind hunter leaves & we’re towed to a closed shop in Naples, FL. We’re silently frustrated, not repressed, but trying to laugh frustrated. We’re trying to laugh that Sid had just invested 2200$ in Siouxsie a month prior & still owes $800. We’re trying to laugh that I have an upcoming show in San Francisco, the whole traveling bookstore, my laptop, & that we are conveniently located at the Southern tip of the United States.

“Don’t be sleeping outside here. Naples isn’t the place for traveling kids.”

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Naples wasn’t particularly exciting whilewaiting for the mechanics to diagnose & repair the issue. We used Couchsurfing to get around, trying to avoid being outside or wandering around too much w/ our backpacks. Too many millionaires manicuring the city’s aesthetic for anyone remotely dirty to manifest in their vision. The trash needs to be cared for. Locked up.

Well, I did think Sid was drowning & getting sucked out to sea at one point. That was an adrenaline rush & 911 call & Sid explaining that she had been sucked out to EMTs to avoid an insane bill on an unneeded call.

 

After that excitement, the mechanics call. “Cross-threaded radiator cap & a blown hose.”

We paid an obscene amount & dipped outta town, stoked at our fortune nothing serious blown.  We pulled into a Publix for food & a dexcool waterfall flooded out of the front end, crawling out from the under the car like a middle finger plowing its own river.

We called the mechanics & they towed us back. They diagnosed next day. They put coolant in the system & show us where the intake manifold gasket had blown. They hadn’t charged us for the tow or inspection, & that was greatly appreciated, especially since this repair was $800 & in the area of, “if you do it kid, you’re probably going to fuck something up & junk the engine,” – mechanics, NH homie, Courchsurfing hosts, everyone.

I want to wrap up our time in Naples. We found an old republican couple bored w/ their lives to the degree that I’m judgmental of their “make america great again” hats, but they were nice people. “Don’t be a dick, Jeremiah. What about intention?” “Good intentions isn’t a savior.”

 

The couple gave us lodging & called a shade-tree mechanic they trust, an old man w/ a sinewy voice that declares engine dead. I don’t trust this yet. They offer to store the car + my tools while we sort our shit out.

“Hey Brendan,” I said, calling the cat who’d sent me a poem in Miami, “think my partner & I could stay w/ you for a couple weeks sorting our shit out? We need to make some cash to fix the car & Naples isn’t the place to do it.”

 

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busking Wynwood

Outta Naples to Miami

The irony of going to a major city, especially Miami, for quick cash, doesn’t need to be pointed out, but the gathering of dice is important. & we needed some new rolls.

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Filed under: Books & Shovels

About the Author

Posted by

Oi ! I’m Jeremiah Walton. For the past ~3 years I’ve been bopping around the U.S. between hitchhiking + rubber tramping, running traveling bookstore Books & Shovels + indie publisher Nostrovia! Press. My focus is in-person distribution at open mics + features + busking. Word of mouth is a fulfilling & feels to be a more intimate promotional process. I’ve featured at the NYC Poetry Festival + San Francisco Lit Crawl + Snoetry Cleveland + Beast Crawl Oakland + This Lil Lit Fest + street corners across the country. There’s a handful of my books floating around the country, but most recently is “From Here Til Utopia” (Ghost City Press). Raccoons + coyotes are my companions. Hope you dig the poems, much love, thank you❤

2 Comments

  1. “We went to Habana Pequena & climbed like lizards over a tree gnarled with large roots jutting out of the median like great walls.”

    Just so you know…

    I climbed them too.

    ..

  2. Pingback: Sippin’ Alligator Wine (Miami pt.1) | Nostrovia! Tavern

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