Florida, the world's largest pier. Orchids and streetwalkers. Panhandlers and mansions. Cowboys and shark steaks.
In the midst of this fruit salad, there's a folk music community as strong as any in the country. There are songwriting fans here to rival Texans, and I don't say that lightly. Community-run radio stations with socialist goals and libertarian means, WMNF and WSLR completely remodeled my ticket sales this weekend. Thank you.
It's turning fall. The high was only 97 yesterday. At night it dipped into the 80s. Sitting outside in downtown Sarasota at midnight, I remembered waking up in my mother's lap in church, warm and salty, my face in a small spot of drool on her polyester dress. Today I drove out to Indian Rocks Beach and waded into the great blue womb, tiny fish darting around my legs in a crystal bathwater ocean. Looking back from the water, it all made sense.
Gun runners and green grocers. Spanish moss and Cuban bread. Mickey Mouse and the mafia.
I walked back out and put my towel to my face but it was already dry. Two hundred yards to the car and my suit was dry too. Sand so white I was blinded, now a salt rub on the dark floormat of my rental car.
Tonight's gig might have been the best of all in a carpeted, paneled living room with a cheap sound system and plastic chairs, a raised triangular plywood stage that peaked out from one wall and sounded like a kick drum under the toe of my right boot. The air conditioner couldn't keep up. My head went swimming. People gasped. They laughed. They sang and clapped. I swam aloud and gulped warm water between lungfuls of songs that I vaguely remembered were mine.
After the show, a public defender kissed me on the cheek. A woman with dementia, otherwise silent the entire night, sat up and sang an old song so beautifully I thought I was dreaming, as if the moment was so fragile that we could simply wake up from it. A retired Navy man told me he A-bombed Christmas Island in 1962 and then marched in Washington DC in 1963, holding high a picket sign and listening as Dr. King said, "I have a dream." He still has the program.
We drove out after the gig tonight to the Colonnade, a vintage Tampa restaurant with a view of the bay. I ordered tuna sashimi and a deep-fried crab cake. I was getting the hang of this milieu. Our waiter was sweetly apologetic for the items they'd run out of and apparently delighted to wait on us as we held the last table on a Sunday night. My friend asked him what his name was.
"Trouble," he said. We all laughed.
He twisted his head to the side and said, "Did I pronounce it wrong?"