(not his actual name)
He ignored all the directional cues popping up on his phone screen. He could drive the 45 minute route to the airport, eyes closed. Came here to be back by his mom after his life in California began to crumble. She came here from New Jersey when his dad died, to be near her grandparents. When Rob was about 12, he caught an eel at the mouth of a New Jersey coastal inlet, and cooked it on the fancy new gas grill in the backyard. Pretty unpopular with the family 🙂
Snook season started with September, but he doesn’t have friends with a motorized boat anymore. He just puts his pole in his “pedal boat” and stays around his house on the water to fish. August and September are pretty slow here for Uber service, so he hasn’t made enough money yet to take a day off and fish. “That there Uber app” tells him how much he has made in the month so far. Maybe later this month, he’ll take a day and drive to one of the fisheries he knows will be rich with snook. “They are the prize fish around here.” They used to be called soak fish. They got a layer of bitter oil between their skin and flesh, but somebody figured out that if you fillet them a certain way, they are delicious, though some people find the dense texture objectionable, like snake.
Where am I heading? Back home to Pittsburgh. Rob used to work at a burger joint on the hillside in Coraopolis. It was a clown face and something else he can’t remember, on the sign. Wasn’t even an airport then. Stayed with parents of a friend he met in California. He had another friend whose family lived along the Lake Erie coast in Welch’s orchard/vineyard territory. Rob was a scrawny long-haired hippie, and the old man three times his age was wearing boots that he also wore for his other job on a pig farm. They were cutting open big sacks of frozen cranberry, shoveling them onto a belt, which carried the berries up into a steamy pool that looked like a water treatment plant. The old man without a full set of teeth just busted the bag open and the frozen berries tumbled around his boots… Kind of ruined Thanksgiving for Rob after that. No more cranberry products seemed palatable. He remembers when he over-ate once, made him feel uncomfortable, so he just hasn’t done that since, even minus cranberries.
Rob’s dad was a correctional officer. Those “types” didn’t have a lot of friends, but the ones they had were pretty close. Billy Jackson (not his real name) was the only one who would ever talk to the kids when he visited. Billy helped Rob’s brother sell his dad’s guns for a fair price so his mom could get a little money out of them when dad passed. Parts of the guns were gold. Rob just found that out when his brother visited recently. They talked a lot because his brother didn’t have much to do while his wife was scoping out a job. They can’t move here though; benefits not good enough for some medical needs.
The left two of four lanes on the bridge used to spook Rob when he drove across it. Back when he drove taxi, those two lanes ran in the opposite direction, but they widened the bridge. Before, signs used to say flat tires couldn’t stop on the bridge. You had to drive all the way to the end. Nowadays, Rob drives in those left two lanes because they’re smoother. He doesn’t remember when he heard the explanation, but the story is, trucks used to take the bridge in this direction, but not in the opposite direction, so those left two lanes are smoother.
As we waited to turn onto the bridge, a dog had his head out of the window in front of us. “He’s a beagle…” He was barking at the air. Rob put his window down and hollered “Scream it to the mountains, brother.”
The 45 minutes went quickly.
I like Rob a lot.
I doubt I’ll ever try snook – but who knows? I hope he gets to fish this month. He’s 68, and I hope he’s around as long as the 81-year-old woman who shoveled her 80 foot long sidewalk during the winters on that cranberry shore of Lake Erie. Rob makes the world a better place. The world of rushing and stress, illness and benefits, sadness and death, fishing and eel-grilling, In fact, a magnificent place.
Vanilla Paige scoops ice cream at Busch Gardens… https://feelwithneil.com/2022/09/16/vanilla-paige/
Neil D. 2022-09-16