I'm trying to decipher the new health insurance. I'm trying to register for college classes and finding that each prerequisite comes with its own set of prerequisites. I'm squinting at massively complicated websites for the tiny 'contact us' number and then waiting on hold for hours, searching for high school records that do not exist from a high school that evaporated.
I'm putting my head on the table and yelling at the dog.
And so it was declared that a mini vacation was in order. We left on a Friday evening, leaving behind the coinsurance and the deductibles and the math placement tests.
A 5:30 post-work departure, driving south in darkness, watching as palm trees floated past the windows on 1-95. The two boys indulged in the sugar-high-madness of roadtrip glee as colorful bags of sour skittles and X-TREME sour patch kids accumulated on the floor of the car. This was followed by the predictable post-sugar crash, the restless sleep, and I took a very quiet 11:30-3:30am shift that took us all the way to Ocala, Florida.
The next day we found ourselves floating in Rainbow Springs, me and Erich and my boyfriend who magically does not appear in photos, looking for the gators we'd been promised. Finding none, we asked the incredibly bored ranger where to go for something to eat, and he told us, essentially, "Don't eat around here."
We found a local place called Swampies. It was on a swamp.
Don't eat there.
We parted ways the next afternoon, the boys and the dog heading back home, me pointed South to Naples.
A few days before, I'd texted my friend Kelle "I have this crazy idea..." And now here I was, rolling up to that familiar, chalked up driveway littered with tiny scooters and plastic cars. Kelle greeted me at the door holding a baby and choking on candy, grabbed her bag, and we were off to the races.
Post sunset, still light on the gulf:
What followed is exactly what you would expect from a visit to Naples: beer, limes, a piece of chocolate malted pie which I now want 100% of the time, sneaking into a hot tub late at night, a riotous trip to the grocery store for more beers, Kelle trying to hide her horror when I suggested a six pack of the non-refrigerated type. We had that giddy, anything-goes-into-the-cart, no subject is off limit, stay up as late as we want, sleep sideways in a giant bed feeling of vacation.
The morning brought us more beach, coffee, the promise of a little breakfast joint called Heavenly Biscuit:
Which proceeded to break our hungry, light and flaky craving hearts:
But we managed to find love again, with wild cats roaming.
Kelle took me to a white sand beach, and the sand felt as soft as pastry flour. The water was so clear and soft it almost had the properties of light, the horizon so clean and straight.
Between New England and the Northwest, I don't see much of these things.
When I wasn't swimming and gaping West, we sat on the shore and watched Dash crawl towards the water like a newly hatched sea turtle.
And the no-longer-ship flask came too, finally adding sunny Florida to its list of states visited. It's seen its fair share of Canadian rocks, Montana mountains, Dakota Badlands, the moody Puget Sound and the butterfly hills of North Carolina, but this was the first time it spilled whiskey on white sand and warm salt water.
And then it was afternoon, and we were sitting on the floor in her living room floor. Nella was pulling book after book from the shelf and then collapsing into my lap as Lainey drew stars and her favorite phrase - I love You!- on my legs in shimmery pen, and Dash was just crawling into whatever space he could find between the three of us and wiggling around. That house is a happy place.
Then goodbye, fifteen more hours in the car alone, watching the digits drop on the dashboard as the air grew cooler and palm trees turn into Spanish moss-draped oaks turn into the bare limbs of red maples. It was 28 degrees when I got home to Asheville, and I was grateful for it. I slept well in the cold, dry air, back at home in the bed I love so much.
And the next morning I picked up the phone, got back online, called the health insurance place, the office of registration, picked up where I left off.
Long drives to visit friends are always, always worth it. Especially when friends live here: