To acquire wisdom, one must observe

The Florida experience

Spring break for everyone is different. I have discussed in the past about how other colleges and universities schedule their spring breaks. However, since Brandeis provides its students with an April break for Passover this means that everyone truly has a very different Spring Break experience. For some they go home to celebrate the holidays and be with their families for Passover and Easter, while others take the time to enjoy the Massachusetts spring weather or travel!

Seeing as this April break was my final one after having a lifetime of April breaks in Massachusetts schooling, I decided to spend it traveling. Because of the pandemic, I have not had the opportunity to visit my friends at their respective schools—so this break was my final chance! I visited one friend of mine at Georgetown which was a beautiful and very crunchy experience (in the best way), but as I continued south to St. Petersburg, in Florida, things instantly became a lot weirder.

There I visited with one of my close friends from high school and got to spend time with him, his girlfriend and his roommates. We had plans for every day I was there and on Friday night we decided we would go into town and have fun! In St. Petersburg they are attempting to grow the city’s nightlife with a program called “First Friday.” On the first Friday of every month St. Petersburg shuts down a few blocks and that area becomes one massive night club in the streets with bars spilling out into the road and food trucks on every corner! I was there on the first Friday of April and that night was an absolute blast, but what I was shocked by was just how many crazy people I ran into that night. Here I would like to highlight some of the most memorable moments from the people I came across.

Shirtless dude and his wife

The night began with a truly innocent plan: myself, my friend and his girlfriend were going to get soft pretzels, sit in a nearby park and eat them. We got the pretzels and as we were eating this couple walked by us, in their late sixties and coming from First Friday. They had clearly been enjoying themselves as the husband had his shirt in his hands and not on his torso as most humans decide to wear their shirts. We were eating on a bench and the husband was being asked by his wife as they passed us, “do you have your keys and wallet?” He promptly slapped his pockets, turned to her and said, “shit, no, they are still at the bar.” 

The two of them changed direction and went back to get his belongings and so we continued to eat at the bench. No later than ten minutes does the couple pass us again, but this time the husband looks at all of us and jokingly says, “don’t worry I got all my stuff now.” So we congratulated them on getting it all together and then the husband told us, “by the way” (now pointing at his shirtless body) “I’m not just rocking it right now.” Then, with the reflexes of a cat, the wife immediately covers her husband’s mouth and yells to us, “This idiot fell into a fountain and got his shirt all wet.”

This was perhaps one of the most innocent and funny moments in the night as we laughed at this guy’s inability to walk without teetering over from time to time and came to realize that their relationship must be constant comedy.

Man who is definitely “not” cheating on his wife

So, for the three of us, we decided to enjoy the night by walking around and seeing how everyone else was spending their First Friday. People watching is a true passion of mine that never ceases to amuse me. We walked all over St. Petersburg and listened to many  conversations. But one caught my ear far more than any other conversation had as I fully rubbernecked around to look directly into the eyes of some lady who’s life I will never understand. I say this because we were walking past a late night cafe which was open and had tables on the sidewalk.

Sitting at one the tables was a slightly older gentleman wearing a nice suit and some young lady who would not be but only a few years older than a college student. I caught, and I want to be clear here, no part of their conversation except for a single line that came from the woman’s mouth. Because right as we passed their table all I could hear from her was, “Look, you don’t have to love your wife, but you can’t be here with me if you’re going to continue living with her.” After hearing that I whipped my neck around and looked directly at this lady in the eyes waiting for the next tantalizing line in this story which I can only imagine is crazy. Who is she? Where is the wife? Who is he and why is he with her? All I wanted in that moment was to sit down at the table with them and just listen, because what a story that must be if one of them utters that line. 

Dude with a fan

There really is not a whole lot to this guy other than he was just an oddball. As we continued our parade around the city there was a guy behind us going in the same direction. He was a fast walker so he caught up to us but as he was approaching us we kept hearing this “twack” coming from him. Though none of us thought to look behind us to see what it was we learned real quick when he caught up to us. It was a fan that he kept swinging open, fanning himself with for three seconds and then closing only to reopen it not but five seconds later.

When he got to us he was WAY too excited to show us his fan and all the ways he could open it. Now I know what you are thinking: isn’t there only one way to open a fan? To that the answer is yes! By spreading apart the wooden ribs in the fan is the only way, yet this guy somehow thought he was Michelangelo with this fan. He showed us all the “different” ways he could open it, which was really only him opening it while walking forwards, then opening it behind his head and then opening it as he was walking backwards. But it wasn’t the fan that got us despite how redundant and ridiculous that stunt was. It was what his friends said to him as he arrived at the bar where he was meeting them. Because right as he sat down with them at an outside table one of them yelled, “dude, we have been waiting for you for seven hours!” Seven hours?!? How late was this guy? What was he doing for seven hours? I hope not learning “different” ways to open his fan because we may have played dumb to make him feel better, but I doubt his friends did.

The trash man

This was the conclusion of the night and it went out with a bang. A truly “Florida Man” encounter as any avid internet user may describe. As the night was ending and we were walking to the car to drive home we saw a man in a wheelchair who most likely did not need the wheelchair. How did we know this? Because he was pushing himself in the wheelchair with his legs but for some reason going backwards. This was causing him to drift all over the sidewalk and push people into the road.

Now, for whatever reason I tend to not avoid people late at night like I most likely should. Instead I just watched this guy as we walked closer and closer to him. When we were within 10 feet of him he turned around so that we could see his face and he made direct and almost painful eye contact with me. Just staring me down as we got closer and when I was side by side with him he began mumbling to me, “blah blah burg burg blah FIRE blah blah burrrrr chasing me blah FIRE.” I had no idea what to do with the information I was just given so I didn’t think much of it until we walked past him a little bit further and the wheelchair guy screamed to me, “FIRE.”

I had no idea why he was so insistent on “fire” and why he really wanted to tell me about it until we came to the end of the block. There it was. Our shining answer to our crazy wheelchaired question. A trash can fire! Incidentally as we looked at the burned trash can my friend and his girlfriend got their BeReal notification and we began hysterically laughing. 

I mean what better timing for a BeReal? So we watched that trash can burn as we were laughing and wondering what we ought to do about it. But to the rescue came a man with a fire extinguisher who, when we asked where he got the extinguisher, told us, “I am a bartender down the street, this is that guy’s third can tonight and I CANNOT keep chasing him down the road.” And sure enough it was that man’s third can as down the block to the car we could see the other cans still smouldering and smoking. I think about that pyromaniac from time to time now. Wondering how he got the chair, why he keeps lighting those cans on fire and just how many bar crawlers, townies and vacationers he has given warm memories to.

Florida provided me with a truly unique night that I will never forget (whether I want to remember it or not). I can only hope that as my life continues and more trips to Florida occur that I did not dry out all my luck in one night. That I can continue to see the beauty in the chaos that is the Florida experience. Because in a state with odd laws (to put it lightly), weird animals and crazy people there is a never ending stream of entertainment that comes from people watching.

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