Okay kids, Grandpa Irrelephant has a belly-full of fresh-caught Scamp from the Gulf and he's got his pipe full of tobacco all lit and burning nice, and he's going to tell us a story, so everyone gather 'round.
And this is the story he told:
It was, as I recall, the summer of '07, late August. It had been hot, so hot the asphalt was bubbling, and it was decided that to keep from going mad we'd pack up and head to sunny Florida, home of rich old people and Mrs. Irrelephant's Dad. And, we thought, a seven hour car trip isn't so bad, since there'd be the two of us to share the driving, and since my job wasn't able to let me go for but a single workday we decided further that'd it be just grand to get off work a little early on Friday and leave straight after packing.
Well kids, we hit the road around 5ish since I still had to pack, but finally we were headed east southeast with our Mapquest map in hand. Actually we headed south, since the only way to get anywhere in Louisiana is to drive to Baton Rouge or New Orleans FIRST, even if you're going north, and then drive to where you want to go. Trust me on this; before Louisiana went completely underwater and everyone still stupid enough to be living in New Orleans surfed to Arkansas all the roads went through Baton Rouge first. We drove as the sun set through the furtherest parts of the boot that is Louisiana, and long into the dark we drove down to the boot's pointy tip, all the while wondering why four of the hours of our trip had to be spent on the worst roads in all of the grand United States, but we tightened our kidney belts and we gritted our teeth and we kept driving.
We drove through the little tiny bit at the bottom of Mississippi, and we drove through the heel of Alabama, on into the night. And at some point in Alabama we pulled over for drinks and a restroom break, and when I got us back on the road it was in such poor condition that I thought we had gotten on the wrong road, and it was another hour until we finally saw a dilapidated sign that said "I-10E," and we knew we were only deep in Alabama, where all the money goes...somewhere other than to highway maintenance or education. Kind of like Louisiana, only with less pine trees and better radio stations. The only thing that kept us going was the memory of that nice fellow whose Dodge Viper had broken down in the gas station parking lot. I wanted to ask him what it felt like to own a broken $50,000 penis replacement, but he looked like he might sue me.
A lot of strange things happened on that trip: I remember nearly driving into a motorcyclist who was passing alongside us because I wanted to see what sort of bike it was and I somehow managed to gently turn the steering wheel a little to the left, which drifted our rather large car into his lane. The rude little guy got all angry at me swerving so violently at him and gave me a dirty look and I even earned a shout of fear and alarm from my passenger, whom I thought was still asleep. If I had hit him it'd have been okay, though; it was only a Suzuki.
Then there was the beautiful blue-green glow of a GPS in a vehicle ahead of us that lead us on for an endless hour in that long dark time. I followed him for so long that when he accidentally swerved I did too, and I became afraid that I'd wake up several hours later parked in his driveway behind his Toyota, and I'd be forced to ask him where we were, as I had accidentally followed his GPS home. Fortunately for us he exited while I was in the opposite lane and I couldn't get across the interstate fast enough to follow him. Now I know how moths feel when they see a lightbulb.
I won't even get into how freaked out I was to see that in Florida the highway workers are out 24/7, and that if you're sleepy enough you can almost run over them even close to midnight while they labour to repair one of the millions of bridges that cross every inch of Florida. Honest--every square mile of Florida is required to have at least one concrete bridge over a body of water. Look it up in your Funk and Wagnalls.
Grandpa Irrelephant is tired now, so go look at some pictures and let me nap.
A whole bait swarm came to shore that Saturday, some in bits and pieces and some in a long stream almost a hundred and fifty feet long, moving and writhing. Playing in the bait ball seemed like a nice diversion until I realised that larger, predatory fish would be following said bait to eat it, and that I would be pretty stupid to be caught standing in the middle of the cheeseburger when the bigger teeth came along.
Some other people, however, didn't see it that way and thought it'd be fun to play with the bigger fish and the leopard sharks.
The neatest part of standing in the bait ball before the sharks came is that you could see all those thousands upon thousands of tiny brown bodies, all streaked with the most beautiful turquoise and green, and they were all swimming in the same direction all the time, and changing directions all at the same instant, so that it looked like millions of tiny things with one mind controlling them all, sort of like ultra-conservative Christians only prettier to watch. When you'd stand in the middle of them they'd swim about two feet away and you'd get a torus of beautifully clear blue-green water and the fish would start at a perfectly defined edge, as though someone had scribed a circle around you and said "No Fish Here."
Playing Charades with the seagulls on the beach was a lot of fun too. We were betting them Dorito chips that we were smarter than they were.
My guess was "City of Angels"
but it turned out that the right answer was "Rapa Nui"
Darn but those seagulls were good at Charades.
After we got tired of Charades (I think the gulls were cheating) the ladyfish out in the water finally got smart and started forcing the little bait fish into round shoals so they could swim into them from behind and trap them on the beach. The seagulls loved this as the tide would come in and leave a black shimmer on the sand comprised of thousands of almost-stranded fish, which come to find out were actually tastier than Dortios Original Recipe. Or at least that's what the seagulls told me. I still wouldn't trade them for my bag of chips.
And I'll admit this only to you guys--at one point a very small group of those bait fish got VERY smart and formed themselves into a very tight sort of shape, pointed at the front and sort of very tapered and long at the back, and they swam by me about a foot away, moving in a very fast, very determined manner indeed. And of course having watched all the others swim around and move so slowly and having watched Discovery's "Shark Week" the last ten years in a row AND Blue Planet and then seeing something large and dark and shark-shaped swim by me very fast in the Gulf I nearly peed myself in fear before I realised that it wasn't going to bite me. I also realised that since I was standing in the Gulf up to my waist it was okay if I peed myself in sheer terror, so I did.
I tell you this, though; that little group of fish had a good thing going because I was deathly certain that after this weekend getaway you guys would have to start calling me something not very clever and terribly ironic like "Lefty" or "Gimp" or "You With Only One Leg Because You Were Stupid Enough To Stand In A Bait Ball In The Gulf Of Mexico At Lunchtime."
Stay tuned for: Adventures On The USS Fish Bones