Hours after the valet stand had been carried indoors and the valet boys were long gone into their Saturday night we found parking easily in the nearly deserted plaza lot.
We walked through the empty patio of the restaurant, rain droplets pooled on empty bread plates and in the stemware left on the outdoor bar installations, solemn artifacts of evenings earlier revelers.
It’d been raining for what felt like weeks in Jacksonville.
Tropical rain, explosive and violent. Monsoon-like rain that flooded the roads in an instant and made me pull over on the side of the road, or take the nearest exit, where I’d find the first gas station and park to patiently wait until I could see again.
I didn’t mind. It broke the humidity and washed away the haze, leaving the city feeling lush, green, innocent and new.
I’d had a sleepy day filled with naps and puttering around the house; when my client sent a text asking me to dinner I told him he could pick me up in an hour. “Beach?” I texted back and I received thumbs up which I took to mean he was amenable to the idea. When he picked me up I grabbed a blanket from the trunk of my truck and tossed it in the backseat of his car before jumping in and then we sped off into the night.
The little sports car maneuvered down Butler Boulevard and we sailed over the bouncing bridge of the intercoastal until the highway left us only two choices, Ponte Vedra or Jacksonville Beach spitting us out just shy of the Atlantic ocean. We tossed around a few ideas on what was currently open for a late evening dining experience and settled on a restaurant with which we were both familiar but had never visited the location in Jacksonville.
As we walked in I felt my heart sink a bit, remembering favorite experiences at a Boston location, momentary sadness coming over me like a wave, a frequent occurrence these days - pangs of homesickness. I caught myself and remembered to stay present in the moment and the memories dissipated as quickly as they’d formed. A beautiful and friendly hostess assured us it wasn’t too late to dine and ushered us to seating in the bar. He stood beside the tired hostess politely waiting for me to select my seat. I slid into the leather tufted bar seat facing outwards toward the restaurant and gestured for him to sit right beside me. I wanted to be able to speak closely.
Our server had bangs and freckles, equal parts fresh-faced youthful and beachy milf. She smiled a broad and reassuring smile insisting that we weren’t imposing in our late night pre-closing dining and said she was glad we’d missed the rush and I thought of the lonely glasses on the patio and of the Ponte Vedra patrons who were now wine drunk and fast asleep or having rich sex in their residences. We feigned interest in the menu but creatures of habit, we predictably ordered exactly what we usually ordered in at this restaurant, we weren’t really there for the food.
The mood was dark as we talked about our fears.
We shared a similar impending sense of doom about being “trapped” -- him by a partner he no longer loved, responsibility for family members, obligations, homes and me by the exact opposite, the freedom and instability which for a long time I found exhilarating but now found exhausting. As we played with the final bites on our plates I made a deep and physical sigh, my shoulders and chest slightly heaving accompanied by a smile.
“Okay, enough,” he laughed. “I’ll take you home.” I knew that he felt he was imposing with so much of our time together spent in deep conversations with heavy emotional labor.
“I thought we were going to go to the beach,” I said softly and sweetly to shift the mood. I knew he really didn’t want to take me home yet.
“Yeah! Yeah… we can definitely go” he exclaimed in a hushed voice and then whispered “lets go, I’d love to take you to the beach!”
Traffic was light for a Saturday night. We cruised north on A1A towards Jacksonville Beach.
Our faces illuminated only by lights of the modern dash I dug through my purse. When I found it I held it out. A perfectly rolled joint.
“Do you want to smoke pot? I rolled a joint,” I said devilishly.
He looked over at me and the briefest microexpression registered, it was as if he had to think twice about it. A mischievous smile crept onto his face.
“Perfect,” he said and I smiled back at him in the darkness.
We made a right turn near Jacksonville Pier and discussed the body types and looks of beautiful scantily clad young women out for an evening of partying. I insisted that the state of the Jacksonville adult market was due to no shortage of gorgeous and sexually permissive young women in Florida, he insisted that a hot body and youth were not what a client like himself was looking for and we laughed and laughed at each others bullshit. The clubs like Hoptinger, Pier Cantina, The Ritz and Lynches had taken over Jacksonville Beach for the night so all parking closest to the pier were designated pay lots and chaotic.
Cruise farther north, I insisted, until we reached the parking lot of the historic Casa Marina Hotel.
Pulling he maneuvered into a tight little spot -- the farthest back and closest to the sand.
The property was hopping with people crawling all over the lot.
“Whats going on here?” he asked.
“Look up,” I replied casually and he cast his eyes up to the rooftop. “There’s a bar up there,” I cooed knowingly.
“Wow! You wanna go up? I wanna check it out!” He was clearly excited.
“Yeah, lets get super stoned first,” I said and like two high schoolers our hands giddily dove around his pockets and my bag looking for a lighter. “Close the roof,” I said, “turn the music up.”
He did both, sealing us inside, the Bose speakers now smoothly pumping a live Mother’s Finest album, .
“Oh my God! I love this song!” I squealed as the bass line of Love Changes of thumped. I lit our little herbal cigarette and passed to him.
Love. Will. Make. You. Oh So. Happy. Inside.
Love. Will. Make. You. Oh So Sad. Make You Cry.
The singer’s voice soared, enhanced by the cheers of the live audience and the medical high quickly set in. I mouthed the words to the song and thought of my childhood, listening to the record play as my mother cleaned the house. He began discussing the historical significance of Mother’s Finest as a band... and the impact of this particular album on his teenage life.
Smoke filled the cabin as we laughed and jammed to the funk songs. The little joint passed between us until it had burned down to little more than its filter when I spied flashlights flashing on the ground just ahead of us on the sidewalk beside the dunes.
“Wait a second, turn that down, I think I just saw flashlights,” I said.
“You’re being paranoid,” he said with a hearty laugh and resumed giving his dissertation of the Atlanta psychedelic music scene and how it related to his coming of age.
Suddenly just ahead of the car the flashlights resumed and two uniformed officers appeared, quickly approaching the still running car. “Oh shit, its the police” I said and reached between us to make sure the joint was put out and quickly shifted my fingers to the cars touch screen to turn down the music or pretend to be preoccupied, not being aware of them, hoping to become suddenly invisible.
For a millisecond his hands tensed on the wheel and he glanced in the mirrors which made me think he would attempt to drive away and I braced my whole body, praying he wasn’t so stoned or tipsy from dinner that he’d make a bad situation worse. His hands softened on the wheel and we both held our breath as one of the officers made his final approach towards the driver side window.
Two fingers rapped at the drivers side window and a flashlight shone in.
As he let the drivers window down from outside of the car the officer said “Sir please turn off the vehicle”
And he did as he was instructed.
“Do you know why I’m standing here right now?” the officer asked calmly.
He and I both sat silently, the air thick with uncertainty.
“No?” said the officer.
“O.K.” he said - and he produced a piece of paper the size of an index card and began reading.
“You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law. You have the right to an attorney. If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be provided for you. Do you understand the rights I have just read to you? With these rights in mind, do you wish to speak to me?”
I know he read the statement in its entirety but after the first words of the verse my heart sank into my stomach and my thoughts drifted into the immediate future, one which included an arrest for smoking pot in Jacksonville Florida, and the prospect of my client losing his job and what would happen and how much this would cost me and how long this would be on my record and how embarrassing.
I was snapped back into reality when the cop ordered us to produce identification.
He handed the IDs off to the accompanying officer, a small stone faced blonde.
He opened the door “Whew, smell that? You two still don’t know why I’m standing here?” he asked.
“Now, what else do you two have in this vehicle right now. If you lie its going to make it worse, we are going to tear this vehicle apart. We can do this the easy way or the hard way.”
My client volunteered nothing, he looked stunned or as if he were collecting his thoughts, I couldn’t tell the nature of his paralysis.
“All we have his this” I said as I reached between the two of us and produced the little snuffed out joint.
“Is that all? No additional paraphernalia, packages, objects, or substances,’ he demanded.
“No sir,” my voice trembled, as I handed it to him.
“Well I’m not going to turn your life upside down over one little doobie but we’re going to see whats going on in here,” and with that he ordered us out of the vehicle. Before exiting I looked between my client and the arms of the officer leaning in and spied the red seal of a long necked bottle of whiskey in the drivers side car jam.
As quickly as I spotted it so did the officer, “WHOA, is that open sir?”
“No, no, no sir, I have an apartment in Jacksonville, I don’t live here, I come down to relax and have fun I threw that in there when I was packing fast, no sir it is most certainly not open, the seal isn’t broken,” he explained.
“What is that pill bottle, there” said the officer digging further into the jam.
“You’ve got quite a bottle of Oxycontin here, out, out of the car now both of you.”
As I stepped out of the car the ice cold blonde officer instructed me to put my hands behind my back as she took my purse.
My purse landed on the hood of the car with a soft thud and then her hands were on me, trailing over the profile of my body and between my breasts after I answered that I had no sharp objects that she could poke herself with. I looked out into the black of the parking lot, cast my eyes to the left where a cruiser and another large officer had pulled up and to the right where the dunes where. I inhaled the salty air and just resolved to stand as non-moving as possible, be as honest as possible and as ingratiatingly docile as possible. Though not my general operating nature, being soft, quiet and submissive has always been my response to any form of authority and a position I slip into much more easily than most who know me could ever imagine.
After being searched I stood at the back of the car, watching the entire car being rifled through, listening to the questioning of the client which I couldn’t hear in detail but could hear had softened in tone to almost a jovial interaction.
The initiating officer who had searched and been questioning my client came over to me inquiring about my previous arrested for a driving violation, asking me about Massachusetts and how long I’d been in Jacksonville, whether I liked it. He was quite handsome I found, getting my first real look him. Kind of a compact silver fox, athletic for his age. He turned back to my client and asked him who he worked for, and what he was doing in Jacksonville. He explained again that he had a place in Jacksonville for leisure and their conversation continued, sounding less and less like we were going to be arrested on the spot and more like a conversation that could take place between two men at a bar. The officer asked “the marijuana, does it help with the pain?” - Clearly my client had explained to him origin of the 90 day supply of Oxycontin he happened to be carrying with him. They had a discussion on pain management and after the searching officers gave the all clear on the vehicle he held the remainder of the joint in the air at eye level like a parent to two naughty teens and dropped it to the ground, destroying it with his shoe.
“This bottle? Its going bye bye, in the trunk, never saw it. I don’t think anything about you guys having a little doobie but it IS ILLEGAL” he said sternly. “Enjoy yourselves on the beach and be careful, there’s a lot of people out here you don’t want to run into in the dark.”
And with that he and the blonde officer were back off on the beat continuing on foot out of the hotel parking lot, the cruiser backing away, leaving us stunned in the darkness.
We retrieved the blanket from the backseat of the car and walked over the boardwalk to the oceanside, the water illuminated by a brilliant moon shimmering over the water. Drunken locals partying on the beach, screaming, running into the water in the dark.
“I’m so sorry,” I said, “this was all my idea. I can’t believe I nearly got you in so much trouble.”
He burst into laughter. “Are you kidding me? This is the most fun I’ve had in ages, honey, don’t worry about my job, at my level it takes a lot more to get let go of than a little arrest” he bellowed.
Relieved I finally laughed too. “I really can’t think of any one else I could get stone cold caught smoking weed with in a running car and have a bottle of whiskey and oxycontin fall out of the driver's seat -- lets just say that if that happened with anyone else I would be on my way to jail.”
We recounted moment by moment what just happened to us, aghast that we got out of it and sent on our way...what are the odds....and we took it as a sign from the universe all was well and that for all of our current personal turmoil we were actually right where we were supposed to be gazing up at the stars in the Jacksonville sky.