The Great Escape

As a kid, I spent a lot of time at Fishtail Marina visiting my Uncle J.T. during our frequent family trips to Ft. Myers, FL. Nowadays, anytime I return to Florida, I try to stop in and say hello to old friends. Last January, I ran into Sam Thompson (name changed to protect the guilty) who I first met when he worked as a ‘go-fer’ at the marina. I’d lost touch with Sam after Uncle J.T. died – hadn’t seen him since we both were 13 years old back in the late 70’s.

I stopped at the marina for lunch on a cool and rainy Saturday. I was relaxing at a corner table, eating a grouper sandwich, drinking a Yuengling and watching the NFL playoff games when in walked a modern day pirate. He had three days of stubble on his chin, wore a Fort Myers Miracle jersey over cut off jeans, and had the ugliest sunglasses I’d every seen propped on his head. He leaned on the bar, ordered a rum and glanced around the place. When his eyes reached my corner of the place, he did a double take… then a triple take.

The Fish House He stared at me, stabbed his finger in my direction and started over to my table. “It can’t be, can it? Is that you Danny Boy? It is! Danny Boy, you old son-of-a-bitch!” As I stood to greet him, he grabbed me in a bear hug. He smelled like rum and seawater. “I haven’t seen you since J.T. died – how the hell have you been?” He swung a chair around backward, ordered us another round and leaned in…. truly interested in what I had to say.

Sam and I had spent some fun times together all those years ago. When he wasn’t working at the marina, he’d come over to the condo my parents had rented and we’d go down to the beach to round up whoever we could find for a game of sand football. Afterwards, we’d hike down to the Ft Myers Beach Pier for a cold soda or an ice cream. I got drunk for the first time with Sam when he stole a bottle of his old man’s rum and brought it down to the beach one New Years Eve.

After filling in the blanks of my last 30 years, Sam started to tell me his story. He lived on his sailboat right there at the marina, worked when he needed the money and explored the world when he didn’t. As the waitress delivered his grilled cobia with mango salsa and another round of drinks, he propped his flip flop on the window sill and started to tell me his story.

“I met her one March when she was down in Daytona on Spring Break. I was 22 and had moved over there to manage a bar my buddy owned. Janet and I both believed we had found our ‘soul mate’. She asked me to move to Ohio and I jumped at the chance to do something different with my life. I really did love her, so it was a happy time in my life. We dated a few years, I got my Associate’s Degree and we got married.”

“Fast forward a few years to the Friday before Memorial Day, 2003. I was making great money in sales at a cabinet company. Had the headaches, ulcers, and high blood pressure to prove how hard I was working. I came back from lunch and Nora – the receptionist everyone loved to hate – was waiting for me at the door. In her nasally twang she informed me “Mr. Kendall called. His order is wrong and he needs it fixed NOW.” That little smirking wench couldn’t wait to deliver the bad news.”

Sam sipped his rum and continued…

“My blood pressure was rising when I called old man Kendall. My three day weekend with Janet was supposed to start in four hours, but that crab ass Kendall insisted his order had to be fixed immediately. That meant I’d be spending my Memorial Day weekend hand loading a 16 foot delivery truck and driving it from Dayton, OH to Springfield, IL. If I refused, I’d lose his account and the $27,000 yearly commission it generated.”

“Janet was already packed when I called to tell her I had to work most of the weekend. Turns out she didn’t much care. In fact, she decided that phone conversation would be a great time to tell me she was leaving me… for our neighbor down at the lake!”

Sam shook his head at the painful memory and remained quiet for a long time. He paid the check and invited me down to his sailboat for the next round. The cabin of his boat was warm and inviting, decorated with photos and souvenirs collected during his travels. He tuned his small TV to the football game, poured himself a rum, handed me a beer and continued his story.

“I loaded that delivery truck all by myself in a hot deserted warehouse. I’d stop to rest and the tears would flow when I’d think about Janet leaving me. I finally got the truck loaded, hit the road, and arrived in Springfield, IL around sunset. Being Memorial Day weekend, all the hotels were booked. I bought a bottle of rum, parked at Wal-Mart and spent the night in the cab of that truck drinking and crying.”

“I woke up at 10am hungover, tired and sad. I decided right then and there to change my life in a massive way and never look back. What the hell did I have to lose?”

“I’d been to Kendall’s house for a Christmas party so I knew where he lived; I also knew the old fart wouldn’t be around on Memorial Day weekend. I pulled up to his house and opened the back cargo door. I carefully backed a few feet into his 40 yard long driveway… then I floored it! About 20 feet from his garage, I slammed on the brakes and the contents of the truck went smashing onto his driveway and piled up against the garage door. I wrote “Happy Memorial Day Dickhead” on the shipping tickets and stuffed them in his mailbox before I drove away.”

We roared with laughter at the memory and he went on…

“Next, I drove the truck back toward Dayton but decided to detour to the lake. It was about 9pm when I stopped at the top of the hill in front of my lake neighbor’s house. I figured he was probably out on his boat with my wife enjoying the full moon night. My mind was numb – I didn’t really have a plan in mind. I left the truck running and stepped out of the cab. I stood there and stared at the moon for what felt like an eternity. Then, I calmly reached into the cab, put the truck in neutral and watched it pick up speed as it rolled down the hill. BULLSEYE! The truck plowed squarely through my neighbor’s garage and directly into the back of his new Mercedes convertible!”

“I jogged to the main road and hitched a ride with a couple of college kids heading out to the nightclubs in Dayton. I gave them $100 for their trouble – I figured the alcohol it would buy would help them forget me. They dropped me a few blocks from my house and I knew I didn’t have much time. When I got there, I threw some clothes in a duffel bag, grabbed some snacks and a couple beers and walked to my bank. I used the ATM to clear out two accounts. One Greyhound bus ride and 20 hours later, I was standing at the front door of an old friend over in Port Charlotte, a guy with a big heart and tight lips. I told him my story and he laughed his ass off. He sold me this sailboat and agreed to keep it registered in his name ‘so long as you don’t ‘start robbin’ banks and rapin’ kids’ as he put it. So far, so good.”

“This Memorial Day will make 10 years… and they still haven’t found me!”

Sailboats by Doug Hay Sam poured himself another rum and handed me another beer. The weather had started to clear, so we went topside. Sam climbed into his rope hammock and I leaned on the starboard rail. We clinked our drinks and silently admired the water as it glittered in the late afternoon sun. His was a face of pure serenity – something quite rare nowadays.

Finally, Sam spoke. “Danny Boy, I had to lose everything… but now I’ve got it all!” He put his hands behind his head and tilted his head into the sun. “Yup – we’re a long way from Dayton, OH – that’s for sure!”

© Doug Fish, 2013