I slept hard after yesterday’s weather beating and awoke to John’s son Michael clunking around in the kitchen. He slid a cup of coffee in front of me and continued cooking up a breakfast of donuts and assorted meats. Michael is such a hard worker. He has his own lawn care company and like his father, he always has at least a few projects in the works. He builds gadgets and tinkers constantly with electronics and engines. The saying,”The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree” applies here in full force.
Post breakfast, John and I tackled the project of connecting his computer to a circuit board that he ordered to MIDI-ize his player piano. I enjoyed seeing both of our areas of expertise converge. I have used MIDI since 1983 so I was familiar with the interface, the files, and the computer side of things. John knew about the electronic side and how the circuit board needed to trigger his solenoids. We couldn’t get the triggers working but didn’t fiddle with the system for too long as we had a boat trip planned. With John, there is never an urgency about figuring something out. He knows he will eventually get to the solution, but sometimes breaks are needed to let the brain churn on the information already gathered.
John and I hitched up the boat and drove to Daily’s gas station to gas up and get some beer. We also picked up a Italian sub sandwich from Larry’s Giant Subs which is a chain but still a great sandwich. We arrived at the boat ramp and John carefully backed the boat down into the water. He admitted being self-conscious about doing this task since he doesn’t unload the boat much. I said, “Who gives a crap? We don’t know any of these people!” We got the boat launched and we were soon on our way.
We pulled away from the dock. John hit the throttle and the boat seemed to bog down. He hadn’t had her out in a while, and he thought there might be a problem with the motor as we drifted to a stop. He tilted up the engine and the problem was easily diagnosed. The prop had picked up a pair of pants! Good old-fashioned blue jeans were trying to prevent us from our time on the water. We both laughed for a while and I threatened to keep the pants and actually wear them.
With the Levi’s brake released, we made our way along the St. John’s river. I recalled when I used to sail in these waters with an old friend John Bush. We were the two new kids at San Jose Catholic and both got picked on and teased accordingly. He was pretty wealthy as his dad owned the Toyota dealership and he was somewhat socially awkward. As outcasts we became friends and would sail the St. John’s in his Sunfish sailboat and later a Hobie Cat. My youth is Jacksonville was a troubled one. I had a violent streak and got into a lot of fights. I was also becoming aware of the difference in class status as I would go to fellow classmates parties. The city itself never realized the potential our family dreamed of when we moved here in 1977. “The Bold New City of the South” was the motto to lure new professionals to the area, but visiting some 37 years later not much has changed. There are empty store fronts and once promising structures have fallen into disrepair.
Each landmark we floated by triggered a memory. Passing the Gator Bowl, I remembered seeing the Jacksonville Tea Men play and dreaming of being a soccer star. I also recalled the time the city was courting the Baltimore Colts and my mom brought us to the stadium for “Colt Fever.” We rolled by the Jacksonville Landing, a horseshoe shaped mall with a large public performance area where I played a great show with my band Ant Farm. We passed the Riverwalk, a now dilapidated boardwalk with many closed businesses where I was hassled by a cop for playing my guitar late one night. The cop said I wasn’t allowed to play. I told him there was no one around for miles and I wasn’t busking. He said he would arrest me if I didn’t pack up. I packed up alright and moved away to Tampa shortly after in October of 1990. I often wonder what my musical career path would be like if my family remained in Northern New Jersey. Would I have made it big by playing the clubs of NYC? There are no control groups in life, we simply make the best of what we have or make a change. When that cop harassed me I knew it was time for a change.
We covered a great deal of the river in John’s beautifully restored boat but the rains started to roll towards us. We took cover along a pillar of the Acosta Bridge and lashed the boat. We watched the torrential rain move along the river and I reflected on the melancholy tone of the city where I spent 13 formative years. I had some sad times here, but I also had some great ones. Hanging out with my brother on this boat trip added to the great pile.
The rain quickly let up and we turned for home. We got the boat up on the trailer without much ado and returned to John’s house to get cleaned up for dinner. We gathered the family and went to a great seafood place called Trent’s and everything was plentiful, delicious, and cheap. I had a huge plate of lobster and crab legs and washed it down with loads of light beer. We talked about our journey with the pants clogging the engine and the rain, and everybody had a great laugh. The meal was a fitting end to a full day.