Road Trip

I’ve received a few requests to tell my spring break trip to Florida with Kate and Connie. It was a time when we were partying like rock stars.

I had decided I was going to start college in the fall, so I thought this was going to be my last vacation for a few years. My last vacation? I had only been to Las Vegas with Mike and Florida with Brother John the year before. Up until a year ago a trip to Green Bay was a vacation for me.

This trip to Florida was going to be the maiden voyage in the 1984 brown Ford van. The previous fall I was at Danny Joe’s garage when he was preparing his brown Dodge van for the Crandon Brush Run 101 off road race. It’s called the Brush Run 101 because the original dirt race track was 25 ¼ miles long and they raced 4 laps. Over the years, they built new race tracks that were fan friendly. Instead of having the racers complete only four laps through the countryside to win, they race on a track that’s much shorter and most of it’s in full view from almost any seat on the hillside.

I got a ride to Crandon on Saturday morning by a guy named Dave. I ran across Dave at Danny Joe’s the day or two before. Danny Joe was showing me his van. How it had an air mattress in the back with drawers underneath for storage. He showed me how he had two coils so if one failed all he had to do was switch a wire and the van would run again. He carried spare engine belts and other parts. He told me he didn’t wait until the parts failed before he’d replace them. Every 25,000 miles he’d replace the wear parts with new stuff then carry the old used parts in the van. To this day, I have a used (but in good shape) engine belt and distributor cap in my current van.

Anyway, Dave showed me a different route to Crandon then most people take. When I say most people, there were weekends when 100 people from the Marquette area would go to the race. I just realized I have too many stories about Crandon. I’ll post them another time. I guess my main point was I slept in big John’s tent on the ground that first weekend. It wasn’t fun. I went home and ordered the 1984 brown Ford van within a few weeks later. I was never going to sleep on the cold uncomfortable ground again.

The van came in a week after I lost my driver’s license, but since it was completely empty inside, I had several months to install the wheelchair lift and interior. Designing and getting the van ready was fun. I’d design and purchased the materials and my family and friends did the work. About a month before I was going to get my driver’s license, probably February I received a post card in the mail. It said, 4 night and 5 days in a plush resort in sunny Ft. Lauderdale Florida for only $49. A few days later I received a second post card from another plush resort offering the same deal. My guess is somewhere along the line when I was down there the year before with my brother John these two outfits got my name and address.

After a quick call to my buddy Jim to see if he wanted to go to Florida and I was making reservations. I was getting my driver’s license back on whatever day, so I made the reservations for the eight days the two days after that. Then it was just a matter of getting the van ready for the trip. It was less than a week before our scheduled departure date when Jim bailed on me. I must have told my mother I wasn’t going to go, because a day or so later she told me a young lady, Kate and her friend Connie would go with me. I never met Connie before and Kate only once or twice, but sure the trip was back on. But now it was like oh crap. I had quit working on the van. It was midnight the night before we were going to leave when Jay Are finished installing the hand controls so I could take the van for a 5 minute test drive. I’m not kidding. It was really only a 5 minute test drive around the parking lot at midnight and in the morning I’m leaving to Florida with two young attractive women.

At 9am sharp, just like we agreed, Kate and Connie showed up at my house on East Ridge Street. I already had my van packed with everything I thought I might need, plus, which included a complete set of tools; Tools that did come in handy on the trip. And of course the rose colored suitcase with a store bought shower/commode chair that folded up and fit in the suitcase. Yes they make them.

Now we agreed to leave at 9am, because that’s when the DMV (Department of Motor Vehicles or Secretary of State’s office as it’s called in Michigan) opened, but I drove right past it on my way out of town. I had a letter from the Secretary of State (SOS) saying all I had to do was to pay $15 or so to have my license reinstated. Finally in mid afternoon in Bay City Michigan I told Kate and Connie I had to stop for my driver’s license. They were a little shocked, but when it took me less time in the SOS office to get my license than it took me to transfer into my wheelchair and exit the van that their fears quickly faded away. Plus we had lunch and probably filled the van up with gas.

I pretty much drove straight through to Florida with a four hour break to give my rear a rest somewhere during the early morning. I’ll never forget this. I woke up somewhere in Northern Florida at a gas station. I quickly jump into the driver’s seat while the girls pumped the gas. If I remember right, Kate hated traveling in a vehicle. I did almost all the driving. This four hour stretch was one of only two or three times Connie ever drove. I leave the gas station and turn right on to the four lane city street. Within two miles it’s a two lane city street. Within a mile or two we were on a country road driving through an orange grove. Hey Connie, by chance, did you take an exit off the freeway when you stopped for gas? Oh, you did! That’s good to know. Can you grab the map and see if we should stay on this country road (I read off the road sign we just passed), or should we turn around and head back to the freeway. For most if not nearly all of the trip I drove and they read the map, which worked out well. We found the freeway within 10 miles or so.  Without turning around

Ok, we arrived in Ft Lauderdale to find our resort to stay in except it wasn’t in Ft. Lauderdale and it wasn’t a resort. It was in Deerfield Beach Florida and it was a common 20 room motel on the side of the road and our room wasn’t wheelchair accessible like they promised. But we were three young 20 something Michiganders who just hours earlier were living in a town with snow covered streets. We were there to party. Now before I go any further, this was back in the mid 1980’s when the drinking age in Florida was probably still 18 years old, Florida was the place to go for spring break and Neither Kate, Connie nor I had quite grown up yet. We were teenagers in adult bodies who were still as carefree as they came.

We found a bar/club just a few blocks from the motel while exploring the town during the afternoon. After dinner and dressing in their best party clothes, remember I was with two women who had to change to go out after dinner, we showed up at the club ready to go. Well, I thought I was. I don’t think we made it ten feet into the club when the manager came over and introduced himself to us. I guess we had that look. I think it was still only a Sunday night, but the place was packed. I remember some kid with acne all over his face came up to Kate and Connie. Now, like I said, I never met Connie before 9am the day we left and barely knew Kate, so I wasn’t remotely prepared for Kate and Connie on alcohol. The poor guy with acne was told to leave pizza face I believe that’s what they called him. But it was when two guys dressed like actors from that TV show Miami Vise tried buying the girls a drink that I was introduced to Kate and Connie. These two women had tongues on them sharper then razor blades. If they thought a guy was a player, they’d cut them into little pieces faster than a wood chipper with a jet motor.

I won’t lie to you, except when it was a nice guy, it was worth the price of admission to watch them every night. After watching Kate and Connie, even getting a free drink or two from some of the guys they liked (for a while) I wandered off to chat on my own. It wasn’t long when the drinks and lack of sleep hit me. All of a sudden the cute waitress told me to follow her. She said something about me being sweet and opened a closet door. Inside she sat on my lap, kissed me and said she’d be back in a few minutes. I’m thinking to myself I’ve got four hours of sleep in the past 36 hours (24 of which were driving to Florida) and this cute girl likes me. Crap, I should have taken a nap before coming out tonight. Then I start thinking I’ll go out to the van and get a little sleep and be back for closing. I was now feeling like I had been in a boxing ring for 10 rounds and I forgot to put my hands up. My brain activity was close to zero. It was only 10 o’clock or so. I needed some sleep. I suddenly realized I was facing away from the door in a small room. I tried to turn in my wheelchair to reach the door knob, but the room was too small. Oh crap, I thought I was following a cute girl thinking I was going to get laid and instead I’m trapped in a closet. I’m dead tired but I don’t want to be in a closet either, so I started moving the pails and crap around so I could reach the door knob. It was a round knob and hard for me to turn, but after several tries and moving more and more crap I was able to reach and turn the knob. But turning the knob and opening the door with my wheelchair next to it doesn’t work. I move more crap and I was about to put a broom handle in the opening of the door so I wouldn’t have to keep trying to turn the knob when the door suddenly opened. There in the opening was Kate, Connie and the waitress. Kate and Connie started laughing and I don’t blame them. Our first night partying in Florida and I get locked in a closet.

The next day, fully rested we go out again. That’s was our MO (modus operandi) hit the clubs until 2, 3, 4 one night 5am an hour North and two counties away from Deerfield Beach and then sleep in until 10 or so. Florida, at least in the 1980s didn’t have a standard last call for alcohol like Michigan. One night we kept hopping to the next county and the one after that had later and later last calls. At 5am one morning I said no more driving away from our resort motel. oh, the waitress that put me in the closet felt bad when I told her I was brain dead because I just drove straight through from Michigan and not because i was partying all day. She even gave me free drinks for several days.

Partying with Kate and Connie was entertaining to say the least. During the day we’d hang out and have fun. Every night I never worried about needed to drive them back to the luxury resort motel that had a pool that not even the alligators swam in for fear of diseases. First of all, they were two attractive single women that may meet a nice man for the night. Then they just may end up in jail. On the second night in a club, when the manager says, hi Jerry, Kate and Connie, you’ve made an impression. Not all of them were going to be nice. And finally, Kate and Connie’s tongues were sharp. There are people in Florida that don’t laugh.

After the first night of being locked in a closet, I tended to slow down as the night went on. Leave a full drink in your can holder and everyone thinks you’re drinking. We were leaving a club when Kate started pushing me. I’m trying to stop her but she pushed me right off the sidewalk onto the parking lot were there wasn’t a ramp. I was launched out of my wheelchair. I get myself to sitting when I see these two gentleman wearing full length coats in Florida. These guys had the look of having a 38 snubbed nose gun in one pocket, a switch blade in another, a straight edged razor blade in a third and you didn’t ask what was in the forth. But they walk up to me and ask if I need help. Sure! They help me back into my wheelchair. I’m thank them and hoping to get out of there before I know what’s about to come. I’m halfway back to the van when I hear Kate and Connie. I open the door, get the lift coming down before I even look back. I’m in a hurry. I’m on my way up when I see Kate and Connie running to the van and the two guys walking this way. Connie jumps directly into the driver’s seat. She tells me we need to leave now. She backs the van into something, I don’t have a clue. I was looking out the side window at the coldest blackest eyes you’ve ever seen. Eyes just a few minutes earlier were compassionate and helping me into my wheelchair. Every night we went out and every night I felt it was 50/50 whether they rode home with me. Every night was like an unwritten short story without an ending until the final moments when we got into my van. I was in y early 20’s and it was exciting. I guess I always knew I’d be writing my life stories. I just had to live long enough to write them.

The last of our eight days we had booked at the world renowned resorts my brother John came up to visit. After our trip the year earlier John loved Florida so much he moved down there. Kate and Connie instantly dubbed him Joe Miami. A shorten version of Joe cool and Miami Vice. I left Kate and Connie at a low budget motel and left for Miami. I told them it was going to be for two days, but it turned into four. Spenser was always a gracious host.

I had fun down at my brothers, but I was two days longer then I thought I’d be. I’m pulling back up to the no-tel motel I left them at hoping they’d still be there. I started to wonder on the drive back if they had any money left. What if they’re broke? I pull up to the Roach Motel. Sitting out front on their suitcases were Kate and Connie. I’m expecting a well deserved beat down, but both Kate and Connie both hugged me. We were strangers when we started, but best of friends (Kate and I) right then and there.

Oh, I almost forgot. Danny Joe also had moved down to Florida. I stopped and visited him as well. If I remember right, he made a few adjustments on the van to make it more user friendly and comfortable. Thanks Kate and Connie for a fun time and Danny Joe for teaching me so much.

Another tidbit, we just cross the Mackinaw Bridge, the third longest in total suspension in the world and the longest suspension bridge in the Western hemisphere when I get pulled over by the boys in blue with the cute little red light on the top of their car. I never drove over 4 miles over the speed limit on the entire trip, but i just passed a logging truck and was pulling back into my lane when he nailed me. I didn’t see any logging truck as he hands me a ticket which cost me my driver’s for a year this time. I think I had my 1984 brown Ford van for three years before I put 5,000 miles on it and I drove to Florida and back during those three years.

But if you’re not having fun, what fun are you?