by Slo Mo
It's been a wild week Chez Dog.
Following Star's lovely introduction to the neighborhood (and a subsequent legal action from the Bunny Protection League), Dog and I have spent the last several days trying to teach Star the basics of household obedience. I called on the dog-training wisdom of my colleagues at the vet hospital, and this was their unanimous advice: tie Star's leash to my waist and make her follow me everywhere until she calms down and learns that I'm the boss.
And let me just say right now that having a dog tied to my waist did absolutely nothing for my social life. It's hard to be gorgeous while you're wearing a training leash. Although the truckers down at the 7-11 seemed to dig it...
But anyway, me and Dog and Star muddled along, and by the end of her first week here Star had learned not to jump over coffee tables, nor dance on the kitchen counter, nor make confetti out of my feather duvet, nor disconnect all the phones by chewing through the cords, nor poop in the sink. Star and Dog had become inseparable, and I was feeling good about my decision to adopt her.
But I was exhausted.
And I had a leash burn on my waist, which was pretty hard to explain to the regulars down at the beach without sounding like some sort of weirdo-sex-slave-dog-abuser.
So when Joolz asked if I was in the mood to drive down to the Keys for some good old-fashioned backcountry kayaking, it sounded like just the break I needed. Tropical birds perching in the trees, dolphins frolicking on the horizon, stingrays flashing through the shallows, the kayak rocking gently with the current as I paddle through the mangroves in search of the mysterious and elusive American crocodile...
Ohhhh, how sweet it sounded! I dropped Dog and Star off at the hospital kennel, packed myself an overnight bag, and jumped into Joolz's jeep before she could change her mind. Key Largo, or bust!
Five hours, seven pit stops and one flat tire later, we hadn't even made it off the mainland. The turnpike between Miami and Homestead was down to one lane due to construction, and we were hopelessly and terminally stuck in a convoy of boat trailers and Winnebagos, all of which were tooling toward Key West at top speed, which in their case is about 2 mph.
And okay, I have to ask just what is it about old people that compels them to drive huge, hazardous vehicles which suck outrageous amounts of fuel? Hasn't their bloated generation already hogged enough of our planet's resources, like fresh water and pension funds and the breakfast buffet at Shoney's? Don't they ever feel just the slightest bit ashamed of their greedy, graying selves? And what is it with those damn bumper stickers about Jesus?!?!?!
By now Joolz and I had run out of anything and everything we could possibly have to say to each other, and our bladders were full and our butts were numb and our lungs were choked with Winnebago fumes, and the only thing that kept us from killing each other was my Violent Femmes CD. Which, coupled with Joolz's ability to communicate via hand signals, enabled us to teach those preschoolers in the van next to us how to sing "Dance, Motherfucker, Dance!" without even needing to ask their parents to roll down the window. If it hadn't been for the extra lane that finally opened up, we probably could have taught them the art of self-piercing, too.
But the lane did open up and Joolz (who has driven in Italy, which should tell you something about her kamikaze skills) expertly cut everyone else off before they could manouevre their behemoths in front of us. We were once again masters of the asphalt, hurtling through the early dusk toward kayak paradise.
That is, we hurtled for about fifteen minutes. Then we got to Florida City, a depressing outpost of gas stations and fast food chains - your last chance for sustenance before the mainland ends and the road leads you along the easternmost edge of the wild and woolly Everglades. Whereupon our hurtle came to a halt as we discovered that US 1, all two lanes of it, which is the sole route in and out of the Keys, was blocked off in both directions due to a horrendous accident involving a tractor trailer and a single prop airplane.
And yes, the fact that an airplane somehow managed to get in a car accident would probably be big news where you live... But this is the Keys, my friends. Anything goes! Including underwater Buddha statues and three-for-one margaritas-
"HEY!!! Look, Mo! It's three-for-one night at The Swampy Bugger!"
You know, it amazes me how Joolz can take both hands off the wheel to point at something while executing a perfect u-turn without slowing down. I used to be mystified, until her fiancé told me about Joolz's amazing power to grip and guide things with her thighs. But I stopped listening at that point because it already sounded like too much information...
Our thigh-powered jeep slalomed through a row of police flares, jumped the curb, and landed in the parking lot of The Swampy Bugger.
That was our first mistake.
Our second mistake was to forego a spot at the crowded bar and instead accept an invitation to share a swamp buggy booth with two cute guys named Kyle and Karl.
Our third mistake was to tell them we had a pair of kayaks strapped to the top of the jeep.
As it so happened, Kyle and Karl had kayaks on their jeep, too. They were on their way to Key Largo, too. They were planning some backcountry excursions, too. But they also had an extra bit of information that we didn't have: they'd listened to Kyle's police scanner and learned that the road to the Keys would be closed all night. We were stuck in Florida City. Stuck in Florida City drinking watered-down margaritas in a swamp buggy booth at The Swampy Bugger, to be precise.
Which is when the waitress leaned over from the booth next to us and said, "Why don't y'all join the moonlight trail? They're launching from out back of the utility station in half an hour."
What the heck is a moonlight trail? As I soon found out, a moonlight trail is an excursion with a group of kayakers and canoeists who paddle out into the backcountry by the light of the full moon.
And what, you may well ask, is so special about the full moon that it can't be enjoyed from the safety of dry land? Well, a full moon on a clear night will illuminate the glades like a giant light bulb, which in turn can give you a shot at catching a rare glimpse of the mysterious and elusive and highly endangered Florida panther. As opposed to waiting until first daybreak to catch a rare glimpse of the mysterious and elusive and highly endangered American crocodile, which is what I'd really come down here to see. But a rare critter is a rare critter, I guess, especially with a smashed up airplane blocking the road.
Besides, I didn't really have a choice - Joolz had already said yes.
And so it was that I found myself standing with Joolz and five strangers behind a deserted utility station at eight o'clock in the evening, slathered in bug repellent, wearing Karl's extra set of mosquito netting and a miner's head lamp, wondering why the hell I let Joolz talk me into these things, and trying not to crap my jeans while Bruce, our trail leader, read us the riot act:
We understand that we participate in this trail as individuals and we are each solely responsible for our own safety.....
We understand that this is a high-risk activity...
We understand that this should ONLY be attempted by experienced kayakers and canoeists...
We are visitors to this habitat. Respectful silence is the rule at all times...
Lights should only be used when signaled by the trail leader or in case of emergency...
Although we will be in very shallow water and in very dense mangrove, we must avoid disturbing vegetation and the shore bed as much as possible...
NEVER put your hands or feet in the water...
Even in the Everglades, the primary danger is human error. Stay in your assigned trail position, do not leave the group, and follow the leader's instructions and judgement at all times...
You'd better believe it!
Oh, and by the way, besides poisonous snakes there may also be crocodiles in the water with us, as they are nocturnal hunters. Unlike alligators, crocodiles can become highly aggressive and deadly without warning...
Croc attacks are a rare but unavoidable risk. If you're still up for it, grab your gear and let's go find some panthers.
I was about to high-tail it back to the safety of the jeep when Joolz caught my arm and shouted, "Cool, Mo! You'll get to see your endangered crocodiles, after all!"
I didn't know whether to burst into tears, or slug her with my kayak paddle. Joolz and her big ideas. Where was my relaxing trip to Key Largo? Where were the tropical birds and the dolphins and the sting rays and the warm sun and the peaceful currents? And when I said that I wanted to see a crocodile, I didn't mean that I wanted to see one UP CLOSE AND PERSONAL IN THE DEAD OF NIGHT!
The next bit happened so fast I barely even remember it. One minute I was preparing to clobber Joolz, and the next minute Bruce had assigned me a position in the trail and I was in my kayak and my emergency kit was stashed at my feet and Karl was saying something encouraging as he pushed me off the land's edge.
And then I was gliding into the still, silent water of the Everglades. Me and the full moon and the snakes and the crocodiles...