“You must live the most stress-free life down here!” commented a customer to the bartender at an outdoor spot, where my great guy and I had just met after our many multiples of work shifts for the week.
My great guy and I exchanged glances as we sipped our cocktails. The bartender saw us exchange the glances and, in turn, glanced at us.
“I can’t even imagine it,” said the customer, now wistfully speaking more to himself about the Keys life he imagined he could live far away from his reality’s rush hours.
The archetypal dream to live where one vacations cajoles as it lulls, torments as it taunts, and sometimes–if the timing is just right in one’s life–captivates as it convinces.
Flip-flops replace dress shoes, shorts replace slacks, fishing themes emblazoned across T-shirts replace striped collared shirts. On the rare occasion when “dressing up” is encouraged–say, at a wedding–you can still wear the flip flops as long as you toss your tropical-motifed linen shirt in the dryer for a few minutes to make sure it’s relatively wrinkle-free after living in the back of your closet for months on end.
Trays and tables replace anonymous cubicles, bottles and blenders replace coveted corner offices, ready cash replaces dwindling credit as you slowly but very surely unwind from what and where you used to be.
Without exactly knowing how, you will quietly be absorbed into the local realm, although you will never be considered a local. You will be okay with that, however, because after a few months of living your new stress-free life, you will pounce on perfect strangers visiting from your former city or work life and eagerly share what you have in common as you beg them for news from your shared former reality. These strangers will, at first, be equally eager to chat with you, until you spend that one minute too many with them and they smile and ask if you could check on their order, “When you have a second.”
You will marvel at your quirky new co-workers as you let go of concerns about your future and simply live for the next day. One day, however, when several of these quirky co-workers come to work an hour late if they show at all, hammered or high or both, and you have to cover for them for the third time in as many days, you will marvel less and fume just a little. Because you notice that despite their proclivity for enhancing their stress-free lives, they will still get the prime sections and schedules, and you won’t.
You will, however, eventually discover that you live and work amongst some very hard-working co-workers and managers and others who embrace their stress-free lives as you do, but still maintain a modicum of a decent work ethic. You will befriend these people and they will become the circle in which you play and laugh and share the highs and lows of your stress-free life.
Until the day that one or several of these persons disappoints by allowing loyalty to ever so subtly seep away with the tides. You will then reach out to your closest friends from your former life and beg for their analyses of your stress-free reality, because you continually can’t decipher what is acceptable and understandable behavior on the part of your new friends here in this stress-free reality, where all the rules are fluid and mostly upside down.
One day, as you don your flip flops to walk to the bank to make a cash deposit to cover an overdraft and catch up on past-due bills, you will acknowledge to yourself that you and you alone chose this stress-free life in one of the most beautiful places on the planet, where the weather is sultry and soothing and the water is a brilliant blue-green.
You will acknowledge that human beings are human everywhere, in all their goodness and with all their failings. That work is still work, and that the rent must still be paid, even in slow season.
You will not immediately run from this stress-free life, as you have in the past. You will simply accept it for what it is, for all that it is, for right now. You will be surprised by nothing, and you will learn to expect just about anything. You will be smarter and savvier as you realize nothing too grievous has been committed here in your stress-free life. That all is okay, just not as perfect as one would hope a new stress-free life should be.
It’s real life when you live where you once vacationed. Ah, if only we could just live on vacation, instead.