When moving to a foreign country (in this case Florida), adjustments must be made. First up — getting one’s papers in order. The local DMV was shockingly efficient. But even more shocking was looking at my new driver’s license and seeing my face under “FLORIDA.” It was suddenly official. I AM A CRACKER! Never before have I lived east of Austin, Texas.
Austin was/is a very liberal city. Same for Los Angeles, where Lynn and I lived for decades. Silver City, New Mexico, where we’ve been for the past couple of years, leans slightly Democratic. Most of Florida is Trump country. More like my hometown — Odessa, Texas. Lucky for us we have Neighbor Nancy, who introduced us to all the Democrats near our new home. That didn’t take long. And although I completely fail to understand how anyone can trust in Trump (or even tolerate his antics), I know some very fine people who vote Republican (cannot imagine why). But instead of butting heads with them (none of us are going to change our minds), I am hoping to find some common ground while I recruit independent and undecided voters.
The drive from New Mexico to Sarasota this past Spring had been exhausting for Lynn, Baby Doll our Staffordshire terrier, Cowboy our one-eyed, 95-lb. American Bulldog and this old fat boy. My neck and lower back had been bothering me for years, but now they really stepped up their game. I felt like I had gone two out of three falls with Dory Funk. For you younger “wrasslin” fans — Randy Savage. For you even younger wrestling fans — Hulk Hogan. For you even younger fans — The Rock. Okay, have you heard of Ronda Rousey? Well, I felt like she had body slammed me from Tallahassee to Tampa Bay.
While crying into my cabernet at Nancy’s house, someone suggested I explore the possibility of Medical Marijuana relieving my pain. Florida has Medical Marijuana? Who knew?
The first step toward getting a Marijuana card was seeing a doctor. It’s not like it was in California, where every 20 yards along the boardwalk at Venice Beach one was beckoned toward a tent where some Extra in a lab coat glanced at your driver’s license to make sure it was Californian — and BOOM! you had a card.
Researching info on the local doctors was exhausting. I had to regain my strength with a visit to Walt’s Fish Market for one of their excellent Grouper Reuben sandwiches.
Demonstrating my well-known efficiency, I practically simultaneously booked an appointment with a Doctor of Internal Medicine and an Installer of Storm Windows. Florida has become more famous for its hurricanes than for its orange juice. And hopefully, the installing of our high-impact glass windows will be complete, if not in my lifetime, at least in Lynn’s. As Hurricane Dorian approached, the window project was not finalized but we had purchased enough water to fill a small swimming pool and stashed away more canned vegetables than I had seen since my childhood in Odessa. I was 21 when I first ate spinach that had not come out of a can. It made a difference. Fortunately, we managed to dodge Dorian without eating a single can of spinach, black-eyed peas or hominy.
On the way to meet my new Doctor, I stopped for shrimp tacos at the Hub. Wasn’t really on my way, but well worth the detour. Dr. D was a pleasant chap. He agreed that a partially disabled Vietnam War veteran with an aching back and a neck that cracked and growled like a garbage disposal every time it moved was “an excellent candidate for a Medical Marijuana Card.” I thought, “Wow, that was easy.” But wait — the catch: he had to refer me to a Neurologist, who could then approve me for a card. An appointment was made. More money would be spent.
In the meantime, Lynn continued to fulfill the purpose of our move by thoroughly enjoying the Siesta Key beach and hanging out with childhood friends. We have pictures of Lynn and Melody on the sand when they were still in diapers. While they comb the beach, I sometimes visit Captain Curt’s for a delightful bowl of clam chowder.
Baby Doll and Cowboy like the new house, but I think they miss barking at the deer that wandered through our property in New Mexico. And — like me — the dogs are learning the importance of distinguishing the Heat Index from the listed temperature.
Warning: In Florida, one must beware of walking a dog close to a pond or other body of water. Gators may lurk in the depths. Recently on the Bobby Jones Public Golf Course, a ten-foot gator emerged from a water hazard directly in
front of me. I froze ... but it never even looked at me. Just sauntered across the fairway to a larger water hazard. During another round, I looked down at two logs floating in a pond four feet below the fairway. Three baby gators were sunning themselves on one log. When the other log began to slowly surface, I realized it was not a log, but a Momma Gator eye-balling me. It is impossible for a standard golf cart to be able to peel out, but I immediately obtained maximum speed in mine.
Golf courses here are a playground for birds. I have seen many great blue herons, osprey, wood cranes, geese, ducks, Roseate Spoonbills, ibis, flamingoes and swans. One day, while golfing with a former MLB Manager of the Year and a distinguished golf teaching pro, we witnessed Sandhill cranes performing their exotic dance of courting. The ravens, which inhabit the Island Course on Longboat Key, have a propensity for stealing golf balls. They prefer the yellow ones. Just where the ravens take the yellow balls, and what they strange ritual they may perform with them, is a mystery worthy of Poe.
The office of my Neurologist turned out to be two blocks from a Thai restaurant. The food was not up to L.A. Thai standards, but it’ll do. (Warning: from this point on my story may have a slightly whiny, self-pitying tone.) The Doctor herself was not particularly personable, but she caught my attention when she said, “You are an excellent candidate for a Medical Marijuana Card.” I waited for the catch. It came: I had to get MRIs on my back and neck. I once crawled a few yards into a tunnel in Vietnam and backed out as rapidly as possible. Nothing could have made me go back in there. It wasn’t just the fear of snakes, booby-traps and the Viet Cong that frightened me. It was claustrophobia. The confinement inside an MRI tube produces that same sensation. I got through the procedure thanks to B.B. King blasting the blues through a set of headphones supplied by the technician.
I don’t eat much red meat (except when I’m in Texas), but after the horror of the MRI device, I gorged on beef at The Alpine Meat Market. Then I stealthily made my way to Siesta Key, where I granted myself the luxury of an ice cream cone at The Orange Octopus.
One of the great treats that come from living in Sarasota is sharing Lynn’s joy for crossing bridges. That is not a metaphor, an analogy, a simile or a pun. Lynn literally likes bridges: “a structure built to cross physical obstacles, such as water.” In our area we have dozens of bridges that cross water — skyways, draw bridges, six-lane highways and shaky wooden relics Lynn can recall riding her bicycle over with Melody, Joy and Jill after sneaking out of the house without the knowledge of their parents. Female Tom Sawyers and Huck Finns seeking adventure on the beaches of the Gulf, rather than the banks of the Mississippi.
Lo and behold, the Tampa Bay Rays were suddenly in the baseball playoffs! Several times I have taken the hour drive up to Tropicana Stadium. Alas, most people in Tampa and St. Petersburg won’t take a much shorter drive to see the local team. When I went to see a game against the Red Sox, seventy-percent of the crowd wore Boston hats.
Since there are several bridges between our home and the stadium, Lynn agreed to go to a playoff game with me. The opponent — my Houston Astros. It was a battle of the Orange Juices! The Rays play in Tropicana Stadium and the Astros at Minute Maid Park. For once, the locals turned out to support the Rays. The joint was rocking. And to everyone’s surprise, the Rays won. The Astros' budget is four times what the Rays spend on their players, so it seemed like a victory for the little guys. The scrappy bunch beat the ‘Stros twice before losing the series. But I think they made a lot of fans. (Note: The stadium’s Cubana sandwich is not bad, but I prefer the sausage dog.)
Meanwhile back in Sarasota, on the way to view the results of my MRI and thence hopefully to get my Medical Marijuana card, I downed a quick curry at a little Indian café where I seem to always be the only customer. I’ve been told that when the snowbirds return the café will be much busier.
“You could easily become a quadriplegic!” At least the neurologist didn’t sugar coat it. After coming out of shock, I decided she was totally insane. When my neck had been x-rayed in Los Angeles, I was told I had arthritis. Just to be on the safe side, I agreed to see a neurosurgeon.
When Lynn and I discussed my medical situation at The Shore restaurant on St. Armand Circle, I thoroughly enjoyed the halibut served on a mound of mashed potatoes surrounded by sautéed spinach and asparagus. Lynn likes to drive there because we cross numerous bridges on the way. We (Lynn) decided she should go with me on my visit to the neurosurgeon.
Since my appointment with the surgeon was a week away, I had time for a round of golf with my good friends Mark and Sally, whom we had known in Los Angeles. They invited me to join them at the Island Course on Longboat Key. I don’t think Sally lost a single ball, although the same could not be said of Mark or me. No ravens robbed me of a ball, but five new Callaway Supersofts now reside in the depths of various water hazards. The fatal fate of the drowned balls was soon forgotten while we lunched at the course’s patio café. As I recall, I had the salmon.
It was not a happy moment when the surgeon confirmed the neurologist’s diagnosis. While I sat gape-mouth-shocked, a cervical fusion operation was scheduled. I realize that the Kris Kristofferson song “Why Me Lord?” is about a man wondering why he is so blessed. But for several minutes “Why me?” was all I could hear in my head. And the question did not concern my bounty of blessings.
For several days I considered every tingle in my toes or twinge in my neck to be a sign that I was about to topple over dead, paralyzed or, at least, embarrassed. When one of my growing number of doctors assured me it would take a car crash, a hard fall or a bar room brawl to produce such results, my spirits began to slightly lift. I gave up bar room brawling back in the Clinton years.
Those of you who have known me for a long time, prepare yourself for a shock: I GO TO A YOGA CLASS EVERY SUNDAY! It was at my class that I started thinking about how fortunate I have been. I survived growing up in a wild and woolly Odessa; witnessed the University of Texas Tower massacre without a scratch; laid flat for hours on the jungle floor in Vietnam, helpless to defend myself while others died around me; endured close encounters with various men of malice; navigated the wilds of Hollywood and lived to laugh about it; was not eaten by a mountain lion in New Mexico; and made it to Florida with a budget for unlimited amounts of seafood. The sky suddenly got bluer. The grass got greener. My already beautiful and charming wife got even more so. I get it, Kris — Why Me? indeed.
And hey, cervical fusion is not brain surgery — uncomfortably close though it may be. It’s just the thought that someone starts the procedure by cutting your throat. And then they mess around with your spinal cord. That’s a lot of knife work for a boy of my maturity! I reserve the right to whine.
My newly-arrived Grand Nephew is waiting to meet me in Houston. I plan on remaining qualified to attend the NOT DEAD YET PARTY in Austin. Many grand meals and snacks lie ahead. Oh, and by the way, I got my Marijuana Card!
James BigBoy Medlin © 2019
James BigBoy Medlin was the sports writer for the original Austin Sun. His column was called "Why Not?"
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