My Naked Self

Baggage Optional

Dateline: Friday, March 8, 2013

Wake me up before I go, go at three thirty in the a.m. with the harp-tone, I instructed my iPhone. Up in the dead of the night. Yippee. A trip. A vacation from winter, upstate.

I’d precision-planned my get-away outfit for a swift exit. I dress in black yoga pants, black tank, a thin white sweater, new white hoodie, jean jacket, New Balance sneakers. Encase it all in a knee-length black North Face 600 parka I inherited from my daughter who’d moved to L.A. in the fall.

I roll the biggest Swiss Army does-it-all carry-on bag I can heft into an overhead compartment, packed with summer trappings, to the garage. “Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah.” Load it in the trunk of my eight-year-old Saab that plows through any kind of weather.

One click. The automatic garage door roars shut with a sweet bang. I’m off on my adventure. In the dark. Before the day even starts. I tune up the radio. What’s on at this hour? Surely not Terry. Maybe Early Morning Edition. Yes. A cultured voice cruises with me out of Ithaca, up Route 13, then cross-country through Freeville (School speed limit not yet in effect!), MacLean (Dandy MiniMart not open!) Cortland (Gas!). Thirty-five minutes into my journey, headed due north to Syracuse, I hit Route 81, the big highway that bisects upstate, often treacherous with eighteen wheelers on snowy ice-glazed morns. But not today. Epic.

NPR static now, I rock-n-roll to Hancock International Airport in North Syracuse. Exit 27. Park in the long-term. I shed the North Face 600. Abracadabra. A new me tosses the parka into the truck, yanks out my Swiss Army bag of dreams. Florida, here I come.

I hit the walkway rolling. No line at security. I happily slip off my sneakers, offer up the bag, its summer magic contents, for inspection. Sunscreen. Swimsuits. Shorts. Sunglasses. A whole new one-week life-in-a-bag.

A plane change in Charlotte gives me enough time to suck down some caffeine at Starbucks, ‘cause where I’m going, I might be up all night. Ah, the gate. KEY WEST, FLORIDA. The overhead bins full, the gate agent checks my bag, a free schlep. The trip couldn’t be going any better. I find my aisle seat, next to a sweet pleasant boy from Tennessee en route to a wedding, who talks just enough, not too much.

We land at Key West International Airport. The air-lock door whooshes open. I feel it before I see it. Slip on the Ray Bans. Exit old school onto the tarmac into the dazzling sunshine, the warm scented air of heaven on Earth, sweet like maple syrup on my skin, my tongue. I have arrived. Welcome to Key West, baby.

I walk directly into baggage claim from the tarmac — no hustle through miles of jet-way gates. The raucous crowd mills between the tiki-hut bar and the lone baggage carousel.

My Chicago brother-in-law Steve texts: “I’m coming to get ya!” In my mind’s eye I see the home Susie-Mom, my mother-in-law, rents each year for the past dozen in a residential neighborhood of conch houses. Steve strolls into baggage claim, a glimmer in his eye. “We’re already here!” I check the carousel. Not there. No bag. No worries. No problem. “It’s on the first plane in the morning from Charlotte. We’ll drive it right out to ya.” It’s five p.m. Not long to wait. Key West, baby.

Steve pulls into the brick drive of the beloved vacation home. We follow the cool path beyond the gate, wind through a private tended jungle of palms, blooming crimson ginger plants, flame vines, hibiscus. The unseen waterfall gurgles, splashes into the hidden pool beyond. I spy the sixty-foot palm tree, summer’s flag, swaying above. I gain the brick pool deck, survey the compound. The hip-roofed dining patio off the open kitchen, the pale yellow conch house, the silver-roofed guesthouse hugs the pool in a perfect semicircle.

I shed the hoodie. Casey, my Chicago sister-in-law, a marathon runner who’s done all fifty states, loans me a cute pair of black shorts. I need no shoes. My husband, Jim, arrives from his Boston job via the intercoastal highway from Miami an hour later. “Hi, honey! They lost my bag!”

Dinnertime with no suitcase doesn’t matter in you-can-wear-whatever-you-want land, the black tank, yoga pants, the sweater perfect for balmy evening air. The four of us early arrivals amble a few blocks into Old Town, to dinner at Pisces on Simonton Street. We dine in the shimmery light of the tropical art gallery-like room. A group of boldly outlined nudes decorate the wall. No clothes. Like me. We feast on Ahi Tuna Sashimi, Key West Pink Shrimp, Yellowtail Snapper “Atocha” — named after the famous sunken Spanish galleon, its golden treasure.

We toast our good fortune at being together in this magical place. I ponder my luck, my arrival with the clothes on my back, my handbag. The remainder of our East Coast family, stranded up north by bad weather, won’t get to Key West until the next day. My daughter stranded in L.A., working her first job, no vacay.

After dinner, buzzed and humming, we stop in CVS on the walk home. The only item I purchase: a toothbrush.

I borrow all other toiletries from my husband. The night naked, R-rated. I sleep in one of his tee shirts in a king size bed, the French doors open onto the jungle garden.

A rooster’s cock-a-doodle-doo wakes me in the morning. I’m the first one up. I brew Cuban coffee, rich thick living-giving stuff, fold back the accordion-glass kitchen doors, glide barefoot to the porch, out to the brick pool deck, greet the palm. Slip into the pool. Ahh.

I dry off, drink my coffee by the side of the pool, dangle my feet in the water. A jet slips by overhead, not far above the palm tree, with the first arrivals of the day.

Others stir. An hour later, my husband rolls the Swiss Army through the front gate. “You got my bag! Thanks so much, honey!” I drag the bag to our bedroom, leave it unzipped in the corner.

Problems zipped up, gather dust in the corner. (You know what I’m talking about: The fight with your companion. Your job worries. Your money worries. Etc.)

Baggage optional, the best med.


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Image by Kevin Dooley