East Coast Tour 2013 – Day 8 – Jacksonville, FL to Saint Augustine, FL

I woke up and John and I tackled the MIDI piano controller circuit board again. This time we hooked the interface to his PC and found a public domain MIDI player. We loaded a file and eureka! The solenoid flapped the metal strip covering the air hole up and down. I am lucky to have a brother like John who never gives up when trying to figure out a problem. He has taught me skills that have turned into a career for me. He once jokingly gave me the advice, “Touch your soldering iron every day.” I think about this and laugh when I flip on my workbench light and see my Weller WSD81 ready to be put to use.

The player piano that John is modifying has been in his life a long time. He bought on the cheap and restored it to pristine condition. John’s daughter Liz loves music, especially the piano. She is autistic and has trouble communicating with people. Music is a beautiful conduit for her soul. I often sit with her at the piano and play a few chords that Liz will improvise over by playing only the black keys. Today was now exception. We sat at the piano and jammed for a while. Liz has a hard time expressing herself, but when she plays music I see her face change. Her frustrations relax and for a moment, the confusion and noise of the world seem to go silent. Music has this effect on me as well. What I can’t say with words I am able to communicate with my notes ands lyrics. Playing my guitar brings me a similar calm that riding the Brick does.

The time had come to roll towards my parents house.  I made John’s entire family get on my motorcycle for the Flying Brick family album, and we all hugged as I clipped on my saddle bags and mounted up. The journey to St. Augustine was just a short 30 mile jog, but I would be stopping at the St. Johns Town Center to get my iPhone replaced. I always have a moment of sadness whenever I leave the house of friends or family. My pulling away marks the end of a reunion. I remind myself that I have created memories and life is but a fabric constructed of these memories stitched together. The garments of my memories and experiences would fill the closets of kings. I have lived a charmed life.

I arrived at the mall and the design struck me as very odd. The stores are all separate and connected by sidewalks. This provides a level of outdoor beauty, but to a cramped New Yorker, it’s nothing but space abuse. I fear my mind has been bent into thinking that a claustrophobic environment is normal, but reflecting on my youth, I’ve always enjoyed small places. I liked camping out in my closet and enjoyed the idea of being a crew member on a submarine or space capsule.  The other flaw of this mall design is that Florida is beyond hot.  So walking from the heat to the cold and back again is ill conceived at best.

After a tough time finding a parking space I located the Apple store and was in and out in under 15 minutes. They simply replaced my phone. I created a backup of all my data on my computer before the swap and all I needed to do was restore it to the new phone. Simple and painless.

I hopped back on the Brick and drove to my parents house where my sister Catherine also lives. My mom Louise and my dad Jerry hugged me and smiled wide. I made a sandwich and sat on the couch. My mom doted on me to the point where I snapped at her. I was in bad mood thinking about Tampa where the last time I visited in 2012 I tried and failed to reconcile with my now ex-fiance. We split over a year ago, but she is already married to her lifelong pen pal who visited her during our hard times. I know we weren’t right for each other and the split was for the best, but what caused me great pain was that the relationship was my last attempt to start a family with a child of my own. We had a long distance relationship between New York and Tampa and she was going to relocate to the Big Apple where we would marry. The long distance proved to be too much and my battle with depression combined with jealousy caused me to pull away. I believe she didn’t want to relocate, and she pushed my buttons to cause us to self-destruct. Perhaps that’s just my myopic spin on the whole mess, but for whatever reason it ended hurtfully.

No matter what my mood or feelings, there is no justification for getting upset with my mother. The woman dedicated her life to our family. We were five kids and she tirelessly took us to our baseball games, brownie meetings, cub scout meetings, twirling classes, doctors, and dentists. Through all of this mayhem, she also found time to take us to museums, movies, plays, and zoos, providing us a strong sense of the arts and culture. She has given more of herself than anybody I have ever met in my life. She raised our family and then when times got tough for my sister, she let her move in with her 4 children and took care of them while my sister’s family fought to get back on their feet. When my sister’s kids had similar rocky patches, she also took them into the Popp home. She even took care of a great grandchild until her knee gave out and she needed surgery. My mom is a woman of faith and that faith has guided her to give her entire life to others. I am lucky and humbled to have her in my life. If there is a heaven, she’s got a glass of wine, a paperback novel, and a big comfy chair waiting.

My stoic father also gave so much to our family. He worked 60 plus hours a week to keep a roof over our heads. He found a way to get us each a used car as we came of driving age so we could get jobs. He instilled in me a work ethic that few people know. By the age of 15, I too was working 60 hours a week in his muffler shop during the summer. His love of cars, motorcycles, and music courses through me and I realize now late in my life that I am truly my father’s son. He has handed down skills and a fearlessness of taking things apart that I cherish to this day. Like my brother’s gifts, without his teachings, I would probably be unemployed.

I was feeling down and I took that feeling out on these great people. I sat on the couch like a vegetable watching The Godfather as I guzzled beer to numb the sad memories that seemed to haunt me. My parents said little after I snapped, thinking better to leave me to my own devices. My sister Catherine who lives with my parents asked me for a hug which I gave her. Catherine too has been a great source of support and inspiration in my life. When I lost my first talent show in 7th grade she made me a construction paper medal inscribed with a magic marker that read, “World’s Greatest Brother.” The disco act she was in got a second place in the show which she didn’t even care about. Her only worry was taking care of me and making sure I felt better about my loss because she knew how much it meant to me. I was supposed to be a rock star.

Being rude and distant from these great people made me feel like an idiot. I dragged off to bed and plopped onto the bottom of the two bunk beds. I called my girlfriend Nicole and we talked for two hours. She was my new hope, an old flame from my past and the mother of two really great kids. I told her of my errors with my mom and she comforted me as best she could from her home in New Jersey.

As I hung up my thoughts raced as I stared up at the slats in the upper bunk. Am I a fool again? Am I  going into another relationship thinking that it could work? Was it me? Was it them? I had tried to date a few old flames before and something always went wrong. I put these doubts aside and focused on the positive. She makes me happy. Her kids give me great joy. As my eyelids turned to lead, I accepted that I have her happiness and joy today, and that the ghosts of the past are merely sheets that need to be shredded.

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37.8 Miles – Jacksonville, FL to Saint Augustine, FL


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