Sunshine makes me happy

Jerry O’Dovero (disabled, quadriplegic)

It’s been a dream of mine since I was knee high to a grass hopper to travel the world. Some people wanted to be a fireman when they grew up. I wanted to be a mixture of James Bond, Indiana Jones and Thurston Howell III. Or maybe just get a passport and see how many stamps from far away countries I could get. Believe it or not, in 1979 I thought the accident was going to be my passport to traveling the world. But I swear I make more stupid decisions then smart ones, so becoming a world traveler didn’t pan out. Last fall I finally went to the post office and applied for a passport. It is amazingly simple. Just bring your birth certificate, a valid ID, some money and a comb or hair brush if you’re a hippy. Passports are valid for 10 years, so you do want to comb your hair before the people at the passport office take your picture.

After graduating college and beginning to work full time two things happened. I was no longer spending money on college and I was earning money. Not much. I took the first job offered to me and I did a poor job negotiating my salary, but enough money that I could start traveling by a plane and sleeping in hotel rooms. Prior to that, I did most of my traveling with Jay Are in the 1985 brown Ford van. We had driven to the east coast 3 times? 4 times? and several times to Denver Colorado. When I was injured I had a purchased $1,000,000 of automobile liability coverage. I’ll talk about automobile insurance in future blogs, but if you could do me one favor, call your insurance agent and see how much more it would cost to increase your coverage to $1,000,000. You’ll be surprised how little more it costs.

Because I had great insurance coverage, every year since the accident until I moved to San Jose California my insurance company paid for an all expense trip for two for a week in lovely Denver Colorado. And all I had to do to receive this wonderful trip for two was to let doctors at a hospitalo poke, prod, inspect, detect and inject every inch of my body. And like the great Arlo Guthrie says in his 25 minute song ‘’Alice’s Restaurant’’ song from the 60’s, ‘’and they left no part untouched.’’

The first couple of years Jay Are and I flew to Denver for the week of fun in the sun. Well even prior to Jay Are when I’d take family and friends with me we always flew. But once I had the 1984 Ford van set up to travel in, Jay Are and I started driving there. Traveling with Jay Are was both easy and fun. Neither of us is the anal retentive type that needed strict schedules to maintain, so we enjoyed what life had to offer us. We also created themes for our trips to Denver. One was the rural America tour where we took as many two lane rural roads as we could. Another was the state capital tour. Each night when we’d stop for the night, since the insurance company was paying for the hotel, we didn’t drive straight through like we did on all of our other cross country trips when we were paying for them ourselves, we spent the night in a state capital. There was St. Paul Minnesota, Pierre South Dakota, Lincoln Nebraska, of course Denver Colorado, Topeka Kansas, Des Moines Iowa and Madison Wisconsin. I’m a lucky man for having a best friend like Jay Are. The thousands and thousands of miles across the country with him helped lay the foundation for me to have the confidence to travel the country by myself.

One of the first trips by plane after graduating college was to Florida with Mike, brother Jim and his wife. Actually they were engaged at the time, but same thing only different. I usually did the trips by plane in February or Early March. I was now working fulltime (plus), so a week break from that and the long cold Marquette winters became a necessary. The four years I worked for my father I went somewhere each winter to warm up. The Florida trip started off interesting. I think we landed in some town in Florida at around 10 o’clock at night. Our plan was to travel all over the southern half of Florida, so we never booked any hotel rooms prior to going there. We did reserve two midsize rental cars one for Mike and I and one for Jim and Laurie. We took the shuttle bus to the car rental place which was obviously staying open for us. Well, the one guy still at the otherwise deserted office was. You’ve been to car rental places with dozens if not hundreds of cars in their parking lot. Our fly by night car rental place had four cars in the parking lot and one was on blocks with wheels missing. The nice guy behind the desk greats us with ‘’hi, are you Jim and Jerry? I have good news and bad news.’’ We all look at each other with the ‘’oh crap’’ look on our faces. It’s late at night; we had no hotel reservations, so I ask for the bad news first. It was what we all expected; they didn’t have the cars we reserved on the lot. The guy grins and says, but the news is we have a Chrysler La Baron convertible and Jeep Grand Cherokee Limited edition you can have for the same price. OK! That went pretty well. The search for a hotel didn’t go so well. The hotels and motels in the town we were in all had ‘’NO VACANCY’’ SIGNS, so we started driving North. It was after 1am, probably closer to 2am when we finally found a motel with a vacancy sign. But from then on it was a fun trip with hotels by 6pm every night..

Spring break in Florida is a lot of fun. If you’re in your early 20’s and single, go to Florida for spring break. I don’t care if you’re a man, woman, dog or cat go to Florida for spring break. It’s like a rite of passage into adulthood. You’re chance to let your hair down and have fun. Especially if you’re from a small town or city where the winters are long and cold. You’ll see more members of the opposite sex or same sex if that’s your choice running around near naked in swimwear in one day drinking beer and having fun acting foolish then you’ll see in your small town in an entire summer. Well, half naked anyway. I’ve ‘’seen’’ ‘’might have been’’ drinking beer, having fun and acting foolish when it’s below zero once or twice before. But it’s a lot more fun when it’s in the 90’s and your family and friends are dealing with freezing weather and a 2 foot blizzard back home.

If you’ve never been to Florida in the springtime, there is one thing you need to know. When the afternoon skies become dark with black looking clouds, it’s going to rain. When I say rain, I mean ‘’RAIN!’’ One day the skies went from bright sunny skies to dark black clouds in what seemed like in minutes. Mike and I were driving in the La Barron convertible when it happened. As the drops of water started hitting the windshield, Mike asks if we should pull over to the side of the highway to put the top up. My response was to drive two more miles to an overpass so we could park underneath while we put the top up. Mike didn’t wait. Within seconds Mike pulled over and hit the button to put the electric top up. The convertible top was only ½ closed when the rains came down. I’m not talking your normal summer rains. I’m talking GOD went into the gulf of Mexico and scooped up as much water as he could and dropped it on us all at once. For about an hour, more rain fell that day in Florida then we get here in California during an entire winter. Two hours later the sun was shining bright when we pull into a motel and parked. I’m transferring into my wheelchair when a car parks next to ours. It had a mud line a third of the way up the door. Not just the outside, but the inside as well. While talking to our new neighbors for the night, they said they were at a flea market when it started to rain. Their car was parked in a parking lot that resembled a giant bowl. The rain filled the entire parking lot with more than two feet deep with rain water. Not just the outside and inside of the car filled with muddy rain water, but their trunk filled with their suitcases as well. Jim and Laurie walk up and look at the car and say, we were hoping you guys were going to wait a little longer before you put the convertible top up. Thanks, I love you too went through my mind. But now the sun was shining and we were going to have another day of fun in sunny Florida. Every night we stayed in a different town. Laurie was pregnant at the time, so we weren’t on a ‘’how many bars could we hit’’ spring break. We did a lot of the tourist stuff instead. But a few of the nights we hit the bars and clubs. We seen more than one wet t-shirt contest. And if I remember right, Mike and I did stop by and visit Danny Joe.

If you’re young, go to Florida for spring break. If you’re not so young, go to Florida and say hi to all the people that moved there from your home town. One of these days I’m going back there and spend a month there visiting.