(Updated – September 14, 2018 – Undedited Creative Version)
Those Crazy Girls
It was just past the cocktail hour at mid-week in late September as the sun’s reflection blanketed St. Petersburg in a temporary warm auburn haze. Hugged by a calming breeze I walked alone under laurel oaks, coconut palm trees, and past a large hotel construction project, down the street toward The Moon, and then along an uneven brick alleyway that was paralleled to the main roads that the city fathers had smoothed over with blacktop.
I had typically avoided those clean roads that were lined with fancy shops for art, or clothes, or busy restaurants with guests dining outside under umbrellas.
Earlier in the day an all to typical tropical storm had popped open and the black battle clouds had treated the roads and alleys the same; with the deluge cycling down the streets toward the harbor, or quickly disappearing within the sandy soil that was supported by sections with dense St. Augustine grass. The only hint that a storm had passed by were the coffee-with-cream puddles that were left behind within the concave sections where the alleyway bricks had descended from natural decay.
St. Petersburg had been built to last, I thought. It was covered with enough hidden alleyways from neighborhood-to-neighborhood that even a London taxi driver would consider it deep knowledge to successively navigate. As I had walked and biked Old Northeast, I had realized those meandering alleyways were the town’s soul; its hidden truths, where modern progress abutted up against granite curbs and baked in place old world history within Augusta Blocks, or Baltimore Blocks, or bricks from the Southern Clay Manufacturing Company. The neighborhood alleyways and brick streets were protected by a healthy oak tree canopy; the bricks had different shades for reds, or oranges, or browns, they had imperfect repairs, but they non-judgmentally circuited behind expensive homes, or modest apartment dwellings, or in front of the preserved 1920’s bungalows. The streets were wrinkled, flawed, but they were defiant as the blacktopped downtown streets ceased at the old neighborhood entryways, but for the areas were the concrete, or blacktop-glue, had hopped past and invaded sections under new zoning law protections. But if you inspected those older blacktopped roads that were deteriorating, the bricks were still there, just temporarily hidden underneath like ugly 1970’s shag carpet over quarter-saw oak flooring.
It was along the downtown bricked alleyways, held together by sand, time, and developer disinterest that it was the location where the restaurants waiters, cooks and worker-bees hid to take their breaks. They smoked cigarettes; they leaned against the pungent metal trash bins and expressed their angst. After awhile, they seemed to recognize me, and they’d acknowledge my relative existence as I passed by them toward The Moon.
“Your usual, dear,” Edwina asked. She was the youngest bartender, a bit larger than Jane or Kate, but with a decidedly direct personality behind fashionable thick black eyeglass frames.
“Thank you,” I said. I acknowledged the couple to my right.
“You look a little like, Andy Dufresne,” she said. She had an androgynous appearance, but a perky countenance. She sat next to another heavier-set woman near the bar’s center section. “It’s the hair, yeah, it’s the hair.”
“Hm, sorry,” I said. I sipped my Guinness. “Not sure I know Andy?”
“Careful with these two,” Edwina said. She tapped over at one of them. “Top off your drinks?”
“OH, you are the devil,” she said. But she quickly downed here clear liquid cocktail. “If you insist…”
The closer female, a bit older with salt and pepper hair cut just above her shoulders, gripped my left arm.
“I’m Annie,” Annie said. She nodded to her right. “My wife’s name, Constance.”
“Hey there,” I said. “Call me, Rob.”
“Rob,” Annie said. She closely examined my face. “I don’t know why, but I like you.”
“Would it have anything to do, blame it on the alcohol?” I said. I grinned. “I have that effect on woman, but I don’t think I’m on your team, or am I?”
“Good point, we both like girls,” Constance said. She hugged Annie. “You have kind eyes, a calm vibe, have a girl?”
“She’s being honest,” Annie said. “She lacks a filter, but I love her just that way.”
“He’s good,” Edwina said. She smirked. “You crazy girls hungry?”
“We love the Moon,” Constance said. She opened her arms, and held up her hands. “Everybody gets treated the same.”
“We’re just drinking,” Annie said. Edwina moved away.
We sat quietly for a few minutes admiring the busy bar scene. The television had zero volume as it displayed a hard fought rugby match, beneath, Edwina opened a chilled wine cabinet and retrieved a bottle with red wine, pulled out the cork, and filled a cabernet glass.
“You crazy girls sound foreign,” I said. “Where’s home, home?”
“Ohio,” Annie said. “We had to escape, Constance got a job, I followed, I inspect fire alarms.”
“You do not,” I said. I laughed. “I’m kidding, I thought I heard Ohio, or Michigan, how long?”
They both looked at each other as if to calculate time. Annie pointed up at Constance with thick fingers, a gold necklace dangled from her neck.
“Twenty-two years,” Annie said. “Yep.”
“That’s about right,” Constance said. She gripped the bar with both hands. “God, time gets past, but we’ve been happy here.”
“You ain’t from here either,” Annie said.
I sipped the Guinness, I leaned back and stared up at the coffered ceiling centered by brown ceiling fans and surrounded by British West Indies themed decorations.
“Kentucky, Florida, Alabama, Missouri,” I said. I shrugged. “A bit in New Jersey, really New York, and Texas, and now I’m here, at the Moon.”
“You’re like a Johnny Cash song,” Constance said. She nudged at me. “You’ve been every where man…”
“You’re welcome here, Rob,” Annie said. She patted me on the shoulder. “But remember, The Burg, you have to slow down to notice it, the old buildings, like up there, those stain glassed windows.”
I turned my shoulders as I followed her fingers pointing upwards. There above the double doors were a line of rectangular stain glassed windows depicting sailing scenes.
“I didn’t even notice,” I said.
“See,” Annie said. “That’s St. Pete, it ain’t like Tampa.”
“We don’t belong in Tampa,” Constance said. She shook her head, and glanced over at me. “Different world across those bridges.”
As I looked away from the stained glass windows, I noticed a decorative fireplace across the far wall for the dining section, and along the walls, decorations that could have been absconded from the 1939 movie set for Ganga-Din.
“I guess you’re right,” I said. “I should pay better attention.”
“It just the Burg vibe,” Annie said. “If you stay long enough, you’ll get it, we love it here.”
“It’s not where you live, Rob,” Constance said. “It’s do you feel welcome.”