I rode out to Higgs Beach at my three in the morning lunch break and went for a walk. At 75 degrees the air felt brisk, there was almost no traffic so I was flying at the speed limit, alone.
Its a conundrum: how did I get to be so old? I never expected to reach my 57th birthday but yesterday I did, in remarkably decent health, still able to ride my bike without back pain and feeling half my age. I must have inherited better genes than I ever had any right to expect.
I was working last night, luckily a night blessed with a moment of inactivity and to my surprise a dozen police officers appeared in dispatch like a Christmas choir ready to sing carols, they serenaded me with the proper old familiar verse. Then we had cake, traded war stories and made merciless fun of each other in ways that officers do when out of sight and allowing their hair to drop just a little bit. It was very moving. It is a strange and difficult profession they have chosen, protecting and serving people who demand a lot of one and expect a great deal of serving as well. I couldn't do it and I am entirely happy handcuff-and-gun-free behind my civilian desk out of sight and out of mind.
I was 46 when I started in the summer of 2004 hardly expecting to make a career in an environment so alien to me but somehow I fit in and through the lense of taking 911 calls night after night I have come to see a different kind of Key West. It is unfortunately true that working with the police tends to give most humans a rather jaundiced view of their neighbors, who may not be criminals but who do not always act with a full appreciation of all the possible consequences. In Key West a great deal of police activity involves cleaning up after the stupid element, not the criminal one.
But from time to time tempers flare and what may simply be a bar fight can end up in something more serious. So for me a break walking around a beach, smelling the sea air and enjoying a breeze is one way to remind myself how lucky I am to have this job in this town. It is odd to be in Key West where nonconformity is the image and a lackadaisical approach to employment is par for the course, to find myself working to a strict schedule where absence or tardiness is not tolerated, where speed and accuracy are paramount and where occasionally it is actually a matter of life or death how I do my job.
But then there is the time away, the time to sit on the deck and read, take the boat out on the water, go swimming, and wonder about the meaning of life. The older I get the more evanescent it seems, and meaningless too. I used to think as a child that death would provide the explanations that at last i would know what it was all about. Now it seems to be about getting to the finish line in the least worst shape possible and to have a few laughs along the way. I never claimed I was ambitious.
This past year I meant to make the effort to go swimming off Higgs beach, just once perhaps but at least once. I have never done it and now winter is upon us and I suspect only outsiders will find the waters warm enough to frolic in. Next year...next summer...out on the swimming pier I will go.
Some people define themselves as motorcyclists, but I consider myself someone who rides, and would rather do that than drive. I have been doing it almost daily it seems since the summer of 1970 when my mother bought me a Vespa 50 and I explored the hills around my home in a way and to an extent never previously permitted by my bicycle. Riding as exploration has been the thread through the years of my life. I took up sailing figuring a boat could be a cheap place to live and when I went sailing up and down California I went exploring. Always exploring.
Even in Key West I will ride the long way round, up South Roosevelt, round the triangle at the entrance to the city and back down North Roosevelt, a ten minute brisk ride when a cut across six blocks would have done just as well. For me it is always the journey not the destination. Always is, still, after all these years. I still get a thrill out of my commute, wondering what obstacles will be set in my way, yesterday's drunk driver may be this morning slow dump truck or some crazily speeding kid from the Navy Base. I find my challenges where I can and Highway One is not, of itself very challenging, while its users tend to be.
I cannot imagine another thirty years of life, I expect I am in the final third. However in defiance of all the platitudes about seizing the day that plague the social media I have actually done just that much of the time, marched to the sound of my own internal drummer and not paid too much attention to the dictates of peer pressure or fashion. I am 57 years old and content. So far so good. And I never did waste time muttering this stuff to myself:
I just got on with it. What choice did I have? Hobson's, which is to say no choice.