Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Sailing in my old Datsun

Do you remember where you were at this time in 1981? I was in St. Petersburg, Florida, working at the old Evening Independent and awaiting another glorious month of spring training. By fall I would be headed for the big leagues, the Atlanta Journal, where the afternoon newspaper covered "Dixie Like the Dew."

But in late February I was digging my life and career in St. Pete. I was driving an old Datsun that had been shipped back to the States from Hawaii. It had a surf scene "mural" painted in acrylic across the weathered dash and the electric windows had died somewhere between open and shut. Nobody else would have bought this car. I didn't pay much.

It was the perfect transportation for Florida, at least during spring before the rains came. It was the car I drove up and down the coast, between Pass-a-Grille and Clearwater, chasing down fishing stories for the Independent. If the whiting were biting at Redington Long Pier, or the trout were holed up under the Johns Pass Bridge, I'd be there in no time to chronicle the action.

The radio in the Datsun didn't work, and the cassette player played only one tape: the one that had become lodged in there months earlier. It was Christopher Cross, and don't laugh because the music spoke to me at the time. You had to have been there, and I know some of you were and still wouldn't agree. But you weren't tooling up and down the coast in my blue bomb.

It's not far down to paradise
At least it's not for me
And if the wind is right you can sail away
And find tranquility
The canvas can do miracles
Just you wait and see
Believe me

I didn't have a boat, much less a sailboat to test the gulf breezes, but I used to watch the sails closely from various perches at watering spots along the beach. I almost bought a catamaran, but it couldn't get me to work in downtown St. Pete from my landlocked home in Kenneth City. (What a shame, to be living in paradise and have to call Kenneth City home.)

On this night in 1981 Christoper Cross won five Grammys, and to this day only Norah Jones among solo artists has matched him by sweeping the Big Four: best record, song, album, and new artist. This must have made my Datsun with the cassette tape stuck in the player worth at least a couple bucks more, though I don't remember using that as a bargaining chip when I traded it in a few months later.

I realize now there was a reason, bigger than I can explain, why that tape was stuck in my player. There was also a reason the front windows were stuck half open, and that one is easy: to let those gulf breezes whip through my blue bomb.

Like the man sang: Ride like the wind, to be free again.


  1. Just a few years later I was cruising up and down those same roads in a beat-up MGB with holes in the floorboard, a leaky top and broken window cranks. When it rained, I had water coming at me from all directions. It didn't have a tape player, but the radio worked until the antenna fell off.
    Good times ...

  2. Ernie Torok called, he said they're catching sheepshead and macks off the Redington Long Pier.

    Johns Pass bridge is all fucked up now. They built a new span, working on another, and you are no longer allowed to fish from the bridge. Last time I was there they were working at night and they had underwater lights and you could see snook as long as your arm swirling around.