You Go, Carol

Alison and I spent a wonderful week in Captiva.  I joked that I was glad to have survived a week without her getting frustrated enough to decapitate me (she got sick halfway through the week), but the trip home presented several real safety threats.  More than anything was the colorful driver we had back to Fort Myers.

Getting home from a private island has a certain element of planes, trains and automobiles.  North Captiva is only accessible via boat or private plane, and having forgotten to notify our personal pilot that we needed a pick-up, we scheduled a boat to get back to the mainland.  The ride back started late, but was uneventful except for the dork taking pictures with what was obviously a new Nikon, firing it off like an automatic weapon.  He must have gotten at least 50 shots of the sunrise from the boat.  I suppressed laughter with Alison’s assistance and we got to the opposite shore without mishap.

The fun began when we were picked up by the taxi/limo … /van at the other side.  Carol introduced herself to us with a sign reading “Farmer/Stevens.”  The Stevens were a family of three generations that we’d observed while waiting for the boat, with me snidely observing that the children were over-privileged and the mom was posing for the scruffy teenage golf-cart driver who’d brought their luggage to the quay.  The grandmother went and got her car, delaying our departure … then followed the van out of the area because although she lived in neighboring Naples, she had no idea how to get out of the neighborhood.

Carol was the real work of art, though.  She drove in silence for about ten minutes, allowing us to bump along and indulge our drowsiness – we’d packed the night before and gotten to bed reasonably early, but neither Alison nor I had gotten decent sleep.  I woke up at 3:00 (marking the fourth night in a row in which I hadn’t gotten more than four hours’ sleep) and she’d been up repeatedly because she couldn’t breathe through her sore throat and headache.  We were hoping for a quiet ride to the airport and perhaps to catch winks on the plane back to DC.

And then the stories started.

I’d like to call it a conversation, but that requires multiple parties expressing opinions and telling stories.  The other thing I’d like to do is to biography Carol, but that would have all the literary impact of A Thousand Little Pieces … she was so full of shit that I am left wondering whether it was pathological, and whether she thought we were buying anything she said.

Carol “is” a fabric artist, who has sold clothing designs to some knockoff bargain store the name of which Alison recognized but I did not.  Carol gets a free article of clothing every time they buy one of her designs, which she wears to the vast admiration of everyone she knows.  “Never in a million years” did Carol imagine that her fabric art would be acclaimed, but then she had not one, not two, but THREE pieces accepted to be shown at some world exhibition of clothing design somewhere in Florida.

Carol and her husband are from Madison, Wisconsin – “never in a million years” did Carol envision herself moving to Florida, but when they went down there on vacation and impulsively bought rental property, they found themselves tied to the place.  They wanted a shrimp dinner one night, and impulsively bought A SHRIMP BOAT, so they found themselves not only landlords, but owners of a shrimping business.  Alison elbowed me when I started making Forrest Gump noises from the middle seat.  It was tough not to smirk as the monologue proceeded, since I was sitting in clear view of the rearview mirror and Carol was spending far more time looking back at us than she was at the road.

“How far is it to Fort Myers?” I whispered in Alison’s ear, more than once.  Each time, she gave me helpless looks.  “About an hour,” she answered once.  That was how long it took to get *to* Captiva, though — Carol wasn’t managing the speed limit (in the left lane) on the interstate.

Meanwhile, we found out that Mom Stevens was originally from Canada but called Dallas home.  She became “Dallas” to us.  It turned out that she was pretty nice, and as the Monologue continued, she gamely took her turn making polite noises in response to Carol’s stories.  She would respond for a few minutes, then I would, then Alison would.  When you’re in a van with someone you don’t know, in Florida, riding where no one can hear you scream, you make polite noises.

Tragically, Carol almost died a few years ago.  Her dentist gave her too much novacaine and she developed brain blisters or something.  She sat in her car in agony immediately following.  Pay no attention to the fact that her problem was an overdose of *painkillers*.  That kicked off a series of doctor appointments that cost her upwards of half a million dollars.

This is the woman driving our cab.

After brain surgery to fix her blisters, Carol had to find decent dental care for the ten broken crowns on her teeth.  She heard from her friend that dental care is cheap in Costa Rica, so went there and saw a dentist who fixed all of that for $7,000, after being quoted something like $40,000 from a dentist in the States.  Her husband “has terrific teeth but plaque is more of a problem as he gets older.”  I wanted to point out that brushing would be good for that, because plaque does get worse as you let it go.  Lucky husband was quoted over $55,000 but got his work done for $8,000 in Costa Rica, that Mecca of medical care.  Side note: I do believe Carol has been to Costa Rica because I casually quizzed her on a few geographic notes and landmarks, and she recognized them all.

In the meantime, Carol had a long period of recovery from her brain cloud and strokes.  She spent years re-learning how to speak and walk.  This is the woman driving our cab.  She couldn’t work anywhere – somewhere in the Monologue was lost all the rental properties she and her husband owned – because she couldn’t remember anything for more than a few minutes.  This was the woman driving out cab.

Alison and I exchanged sharp glances once or twice when it seemed this woman should *not* be driving our – or anyone’s – cab.  Her husband with back trouble couldn’t go whitewater rafting with the grandkids the next weekend though, while she couldn’t wait to get back on the river.  We realized after some time that she wasn’t going to lose motor control or forget where she was going, and we didn’t take it too seriously.

Amusingly, Carol told us about a friend who wanted her to visit a butterfly farm in Costa Rica.  She couldn’t remember why Costa Rica had come up between them … nevermind the well-rehearsed story she’d just finished.  We guessed how the topic of our neighbor to the south had arisen.

As slowly as Carol was driving, she couldn’t find a straight line to save her life.  Eventually, one of Dallas’s two sons (who wound up being much nicer kids than either of us had expected) announced that we had to pull over.  “He gets sick,” Dallas explained apologetically.  “When he travels we need Dramamine.”  I immediately emptied our sack of snacks and passed the retooled barf bag to the back seat, while Carol inquired whether we had to pull over.  The boy behind us responded emphatically yes, to which Carol’s response was that we were only 10-15 minutes from the airport.  It was only when the retching noises began that she pulled through the cones and onto the shoulder.  Boy piled out and engaged in unproductive dry heaves for a few minutes, then climbed back in and went to sleep.

Ten or 15 minutes would have been at the speed limit.  We reached the airport in 25, proceeding through an easy check-in and security line.  The turbulence that delayed our trip home was at least addressed by a presumably-qualified flight crew and we counted ourselves lucky to see National Airport again mid-afternoon.  As uncomfortable as I’d been to spend an hour and a quarter in Carol’s rearview mirror, I was even happier to have her in ours.

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