Every time I visitFlorida, I lose my shoes.

I don’t know whythis is, but it happens every time I go. On my first trip to the SeminoleState – a high school spring break jaunt – I left a pair of tennisshoes under a bed in a hotel room. On my second stint – a brief layover before my brothers and I left for acruise – I fell asleep in the airport and awoke to find my shoes stolen,although my laptop, wallet and video camera were untouched.  I’m generally a pretty organized guy, yetwhen it comes to shoes and Florida, I seem to attain a nutty professorlevel of absent-mindedness.[1]

Driven and Determined

Thus, I wasdetermined not to lose anything as I dipped down into Gator Nation for a thirdtime.  Twenty-eight states into my48-state road trip, I was having a hard enough time not losing my mind.  This was the part of the trip when thenovelty of being on the road and doing something grand had subsided and wasbeing replaced by acute boredom and a growing realization that 12,000 miles reallyIS too far for one person to drive alone and retain their sanity.  This, coupled by my recent near-breakupwith my girlfriend[2]  had me desperately searching foranything resembling an “adventure,” just to fight the loneliness and keep mefrom throwing myself in front of oncoming traffic.

I settled on Pensacola [3],and rolled into the sleepy town just after dusk.  Finding no one around, I decided my “adventure” in Floridawould be to sleep right there on the empty beach, something I’d never donebefore and a far superior alternative to dozing in my sweltering Taurus.

Sand-Angels Are Useless AgainstEvil Jellyfish

I slept soundlythat night directly on the warm, bleach-white sand, contently dreaming that I’dfinally picked the perfect “road trip” thing to do – that is, until I wasawoken at 6 a.m. by a four-wheeler roaring by about three feet from myhead.  Of the many possible risks Iassumed when I decided to sleep on a beach, I admit I hadn’t anticipated thisone.

I climbed out ofmy panicked sand-angel and, adrenalized, figured I’d try to recover the morningwith a calming dip in the ocean.

I was promptlystung by a jellyfish.

At least I thinkit was a jellyfish[4].  I don’t have a particular phobia ofmalevolent ocean creatures, but there’s something deeply disconcerting aboutsomething squishy squirming its way up around your inner thigh and then stabbingyou.  Especially when you’re justbouncing innocently up and down in four feet of cloudy water.[5]

Whatever it was,it hurt like crazy, and by the time I scrambled out of the water, a nicefour-inch blotch had already appeared on the front of my pasty-white thigh.  As I raced across the sand, the onlythings I could think of were a) whether or not jellyfish were poisonous, and b)if so, what  was I going to doabout it.  For some reason the notionthat jellyfish poison might be counteracted with urine kept tumbling through mymind, but I couldn’t remember if this was for jellyfish or snakebites.[6]

I jumped into the Taurus,sopping wet and swelling, and peeled out to find the nearest hospital.

I was promptlypulled over by a cop. Of course.

The officer tookforever to saunter up to my window as I sat there, shirtless, wet andpanicked.  I should have been worriedthe cop would approach with his gun drawn, thinking he’d pulled over ahalf-drowned, naked meth addict. But mostly I was just worried that my leg was going to fall off.

Children are our future.Do they know how to cure jellyfish stings?

The tall cop leaneddown, resting his elbows casually on my open window.  “Kind of in a hurry there, aren’t ya?” he drawled from undera bushy, brown moustache.

Despite the factthat my quad was beginning to inflate like a pink balloon, I decided to arguethat I hadn’t been speeding. “Sorry, I thought the sign said 30, and I thought I was under.  I have this rule about speeding.[7]  Also, I’ve been stung by a jellyfish.”

The cop did notseem concerned.  “It’s a schoolzone, this time of the morning. Limit drops to 20.  Youdidn’t see the yellow sign?”

“I’m sorry, I musthave missed it,” I said.  My legwas throbbing, as if a small techno rave was forming inside it.  “Listen, is there a hospital somewherearound?“

“Also, fine’sdoubled in a school zone,” the cop continued.  “Lots of kids around.” He glared at me, accusingly, as if I’d been trying to run kids down onpurpose.

“I’m sorry, Ididn’t see any kids.  Butseriously, is-“

“LOTS of kidsaround,” the cop persisted, staring at me.  “You always drive like that, when there’s kids around?”

I looked up athim, not sure what answer he was looking for.  I wondered if he could smell the combination of fish andfear wafting up from the Taurus. “But I’ve been stung by a jellyfish!  And isn’t it summer?”

“Summerschool.  Aren’t as many kids asusual,” he admitted.  “But they’rethere, alright.  Lemme look at yourleg.”

Confounded, Ishowed him my leg, hesitant to mention that 6:30 a.m. seemed a bit early forsummer school.  The cop frowned, regardingmy puffy limb for a moment.  Hepopped his gum.

“It’s not toobad.  I’ll be back.”

Without anotherword, the cop went back to his car, and I was left in the Taurus, leg burning,salt beginning to soak into my now-dry skin.  Another eternity went by as I waited for the officer to return,presumably with a vial of jellyfish antidote that every Pensacola cop carriesin their car.  Instead, he cameback with a paper.

 “I’m giving you a warning,” hesaid.  “But if I catch you speedingthrough another school zone, I’m gonna drop the hammer on you.”  He handed me the paper.  “Children are our future.”

I didn’t know whatto say.  “Um… thanks?” I managed.  “But honestly, do I need to go to ahospital, or something?  Can youdie of a jellyfish sting?”

“I told you, it’snot bad,” said the cop, standing to his full height.  “You may not even have been stung by a jellyfish.”

And he was gone.

I started the Taurusand headed west.  I called Craig,my cancer-curing doctor friend in St. Louis, and he assured me that no, I wasnot going to die of a jellyfish sting.[8]  After an hour or so my leg stoppedthrobbing, and the swelling went away. As I entered Mobileand started looking for something interesting to do in Alabama, it occurred tome that I’d gotten my adventure in Florida after all.  And, for a few hours at least, I hadn’t been the least bitlonely.

And that’s when Irealized I’d left my shoes on the beach, back in Pensacola.

 

“The Jellyfish Cop” is an excerpt from “48 States in 48 Days,” abook by Paul Jury about a road trip he took to all 48 continental states oncehe graduated college and realized he had no plan.



[1] Perhaps it has something to do with partying too muchevery time I visit Florida. Nah.

[2] Who was notenthusiastic about my dodging her for eight weeks.

[3] Why Pensacola seemed like a good place for adventure,I don’t recall; I guess I’d recently seen the movie “Contact” and thought maybeI’d see Jodie Foster, or some aliens. 

[4] As a Minnesota boy, being stung by random crap in theocean was not something I had a lot of experience with.

[5]And it’s not like I was even attacking their jellyfish nest! Though thisvengeful thought would occur to me later.

[6]And the idea of laying sideways on the Pensacola sand peeing on myself seemedoddly inappropriate, even for someone who’d just slept on a beach.

[7] The rule was: I already had four of them on my record,and if I got one more, the Minnesota DMV had promised to tear up my license,something that seemed quite detrimental to a

48-state road trip.

                   [8] Did Imention it felt like my leg was going to fall off?

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