It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way... -Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities
For those poor, misguided souls who actually read my monthly articles, you might recognize the above opening from an article – “A Tale of Two Cities” – that I did back in my more youthful days, i.e. February 2013. It was about Key West, a city that is really two cities at the same time. Well, while I was reluctant to rehash an old theme, in a number of ways the month of May was really two different months for me as well and that actually demonstrates why I love this job and this town so much.
On the one hand, it was the “best of times” in many ways. We ran a lot of trips: our mate and I made some good money; we had a lot of good repeat customer friends come back; met a lot of great new ones; and had no major mechanical problems on the boat – a fear you always have in “busy season.” Also, our mate, Jerry Pope, got married to a great gal, Susanna, on May 8 in a really nice beachfront setting at Fort Zach, with a great casual reception after at the Sunset Pier. Then, while he was gone on his honeymoon to the Turks and Caicos, his fill-in and I caught a white marlin, a relatively rare catch down here at any time. All great things.
Also on the “best of times” side of the ledger, I had a couple of great reunions with some people from my past that I hadn’t seen in years. As some of you know, before settling in Florida in 2002, I had lived in the Long Beach, CA, area. At the time I was leaving SoCal, I had a 28 foot Boston Whaler that I was debating about taking with me rather than selling. A “friend of a friend” type of acquaintance, Tom Mikloski, said he was interested in buying it and that made the process easy, so I sold it to him. Last I heard through friends, he had still owned the boat and it was still running, but I hadn’t seen or talked to him personally since 2002. So, guess who shows up behind my boat one day? Tom! He had to be in Florida on business, wanted to come to the Keys, learned that I was now here, and tracked me down.
Things like that just happen here. People come for a vacation and, because it’s such a small place and we have such a great “foot-traffic” spot, they just kind of stumble on to you. It was great catching up and having some beers with him over a couple of days and even cooler to learn what happened to my old boat. He decided to sell it recently; some buyer from Taiwan (of all places!) found it on the internet; he got a full-price, “no contingency” offer, and the old girl is now going to have a whole new life on the totally opposite side of the planet. How neat is that!
The other great reunion was with my old roommate from my first three years of college, Jim Bevilacqua, and two other classmates – Jim’s twin Lou and Rich O’Halloran. Jim’s a recently-retired anesthesiologist, and Lou and Rich are lawyers, Rich having also retired a while back. They were all originally from the Long Island area, but Jim subsequently relocated to Massachusetts. Hadn’t seen any of them in over 40 years. No real reason for that other than the real world and new lives taking over and our paths taking different busy roads. They had learned of my new life here through our college alumni network and decided to come down to celebrate Jim’s retirement, all three being avid sportsmen and fishermen in particular. I can’t tell you how great it felt to have those guys on my boat relaxing, having fun and catching fish. It was one of those classic “who’da thunk it” moments!! That made my whole month, if not year, right there.
On the other hand, May was the “worst of times” in some ways, too. The fishing in general was a big disappointment. May is usually our “slammer dolphin” month – big fish and lots of them. Twenty, thirty and forty pounders are the expectation almost every day but, this year, they just didn’t materialize.
Mainly, just lots of really tiny fish. That led to a lot of frustration and we had to say “I’m sorry” too many times to a lot of nice, disappointed customers. The weather was also a pain in the butt at times, with some real strong wind days. The customers don’t notice or mind that wind so much when they’re catching ”slammers” in it, but it isn’t so much fun when you’re just catching “micro” throwbacks or nothing at all. The weather also played havoc with me in another way, too. Because our slip is tucked into a little nook-type area at the very back end of Key West Bight water flow-wise, any “garbage” that comes into the bight on a strong east wind tends to settle there until the wind changes significantly. That is especially true for what we call “turtle grass” or “bay grass.” This May was the worst for that of all my ten years in this slip. Day after day with a solid mat of weed covering the slip. The main problem that caused was that small strands of grass were constantly being sucked up into the air-conditioning cooling system intake, especially when the parasail boat docked next to mine stirred the grass up by leaving and returning to the slip every hour on their trips. The grass would then clog the hose or the strainer up the line, causing me to have to repeatedly crawl into the engine room, often when the engines were still hot, to unclog it if I wanted to run the AC continuously. One of my least favorite tasks and there were days when I had to do it multiple times.
The other main thing on the “worst of times” side, especially for our mate Jerry, was the passing of a long-time iconic charter captain in Key West – Eddie Agin. He was a former Navy vet, a “gold gloves” boxer and, from everything I ever heard about him, just a great “stand-up” type of guy. Jerry worked four years for him when Eddie used to have his own boat called the OMB and took the news particularly hard, always having had only the nicest things to say about the guy. Our biz will definitely miss him. “Via con dios” my man!
So there you have the good and bad of my May. Hopefully, it was a one-time aberration and the rest of the year (and next May) will give us the great fishing we have come to expect. But, hey, as long as the world’s nicest people continue to live and visit here, the beers stay cold, the boat keeps running, and my old “ticker” does, too, it will always be the “best of times” here as far as I’m concerned. Thanks again to all of you who help make it that.
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