The sun hadn’t made an appearance from dawn to dusk, well covered by a fast moving cloud mass at both medium and high elevation. Nevertheless, the sky was beautifully overcast, with a broad spectrum of gray hues defining a sort of polyrhythmic flow above.
Finishing our first year in college, a friend from high school, nicknamed E, and I, decided to head to Florida for Spring break. Not that we knew much about spring breaks, we were just going to visit our friend Jimmy. Neither of us had cars road-worthy enough of the thousand-mile trip, so we decided to hitchhike to South Carolina, where we hooked up with a friend K, who was attending college there and also had a school break. And a car.
In high school, there was a gaggle of guys, and for some reason, we called ourselves (and still do) “great men.” I think the origin started when any one of us did something daring or noteworthy (stupid?), he would be called “a great man” (even if we were still teens). The term stuck. Anyhow, this trip was a mini-reunion for four great men.
E and I hitched to the Carolinas, catching rides with all types of characters. We were invited in the back of converted hippy vans to smoke pot and were even picked up by the Grand Marshall of the KKK as he was passing through Virginia going to his home in North Carolina. Yes, that KKK. He treated us to lunch at a roadside diner. The manner of his talk raised the eyebrows of two guys from north of the Mason Dixon who didn’t share his culture nor his beliefs.
After meeting K at his University, catching up on nourishment in the school’s almost vacant cafeteria, we headed south for another 12 hours, freed from the need to stick our thumbs out for a ride, arriving at Jimmy’s at dawn.
To me, Jimmy was truly a great man. He defined cool. He was also good looking, with a sophisticated suave, yet down-to-earth demeanor, and at the same time charming, funny, engaging, and a downright damn nice guy. He set us up with accommodations in the dorm of his quasi-military flight school, where he was studying to pilot planes. After inviting us to breakfast we all went to the beach, which was directly in front of where we were staying.
I was exhausted, not having slept much during the past 36-hour trip, so I crashed on the beach, not able to participate in the catch-up banter that first day. There is nothing like sleeping surf side. Having spent time on the New Jersey and Maryland seashore growing up, dozing in the sand by the water was nothing new. What I didn’t realize this time was that Florida is different, i.e., closer to the sun by an ever-so-slight a fraction that it matters. So I took off my shirt and fell fast asleep on that somewhat windy overcast day, the image of the beguiling sky firmly imbedded in my memory before my eyelids took over. I hadn’t planned to sleep the entire day, but I did, which proved to be a huge mistake because apparently, as I learned later that evening, the Florida sun can burn right through clouds. I woke up as red as an overripe tomato and in pain that seemed to grow by the minute. That night I could not sleep, not because I slept on the beach, but because my skin hurt so much. Every movement hurt, even picking up a glass of water made me grimace.
I was down to my last five bucks, regretting to spend half of that on a can of solarcaine, a sunburn relief spray (prices were that different then). I don’t remember if it helped much, but I’m sure the placebo effect did. The sun’s torturous impact lasted at least two-full days. Just as the pain was subsiding, our visit was over.
Jimmy died not many years later while piloting a commuter flight in New Jersey. He was barely 25. In retrospect, at the time it was nice to have had those several days with him just hanging out, away from our homes.
I had been sunburnt before, but never like that day. The experience was enough to gain a healthy respect for cloudy days in tropical climates. That particular cloudy day also reminds me of a young guy and great man, who, having a much shorter than normal existence, still unknowingly left a positive influence.
Do you have a cloudy day? 😮😀