We're holed up on the beach again at Rick's Reef. It's the kind of joint where Hemingway would have told his stories and downed eighteen daiquiris. My other half is sitting on a bar stool, thinking about the steamed shrimp. I'm savoring my draft, talking with Rick. This dive suits him.
Lots of regulars in today. They're here for a cold beer and the clams that Rick smokes on the side alley. A gray–haired, lady–friend of Rick's is sitting on her bar stool. She owns a new tavern down on the gulf and takes long slow drags on her smoke. My wife and I had chatted her up. Our reward is a gift card for two free drinks at her place the next time around.
After steamed shrimp and smoked clams, we're on to her beach joint in the afternoon. A few more beers and I forget to use the card. There are massive bodybuilders working as bartenders behind the bar. Busy slinging drinks. They can bench press 400 pounds at least, I'm sure. And now it's happy hour, which is really many happy buzzed hours. Every retired lady and gent living on or near the beach comes in. They're out making the rounds. A smiling regular reveals to a couple from New York, who just retired: "I come in every day."
Finally, we're on to Crabby Bill's up the beach. We see—no surprise—the legendary couple who've been sitting at the same bar stools every day, by noon, for 25 years. They have their own bar glasses, filled with light beer for the husband and white wine for his wife. They always get their drinks at half price, well before happy hour.
She generally sits with a book and a smoke, now smokeless. He says those "god–damned low interest rates" are making it impossible to live. She asks us not to talk about it since he is recovering from heart surgery. I've seen them both get a little too drunk, time and again. Then it's off to the condo they rent next door to sleep it off. Until everything begins again the next day.
It's all kind of what you dreamed about, when you didn't know any better, while working those long hard days. Thinking about endless carefree beach days to enjoy, when the kids were out of school and you've saved up enough bread.
But those pipe dreams seem strangely dismal now. And you know those retired kings and queens at the gulf joints are just faking it. Looking for something real to do or feel, secretly reminiscing about good old work days downtown, packed with deadlines and action. But publically they say that they simply couldn't stand another winter.
But I still have my card for those two free drinks to consider. I think we'll just go back to happy hour for a bit, save a few bucks, tip the dolphins, and see who's still around. We'll talk for a while. But then we'll get the hell out of here. We'll change our tickets, catch a direct flight back to Boston and get back to work.