We had planned to go later in March, but Mountain Man had a business trip come up. He called home from work one day earler this month and said he thought being he already had to drive 4.5 hours south to Cincinnati, did I want to come along and then continue south to Florida? Then he suggested we could drive the new car on her first road trip to visit our parents. Did I? Did I??? I think I started packing before I hung up the phone.
We left early last Wednesday, spent two nights in Cincinnati, and then left Friday for Florida. We drove all night and arrived at my in-laws at 4:30 in the morning. I only until about 9am and then I was just too hyped up to get vacation started, so after only four and a half hours of sleep, I was ready to get things underway. My 19 year old niece, Hannah, was flying into Tampa that afternoon, and I had volunteered to drive my mother in law to the airport to pick her up. Yes, after spending 14+ hours in the car, and sleeping only 4.5 hours, I volunteered to pick her up. You see, I had a hidden agenda.
I wanted to cross the Sunshine Skyway bridge. It's on my bucket list. Do you have a bucket list? If not, I highly encourage all of you to make one. I pretty much live by mine nowadays.
The bridge has a story. In case you haven't heard of it, I copied this from Wikipedia:
The southbound span of the original bridge (built in 1969) was destroyed on May 9, 1980, when the freighter MV Summit Venture collided with a pier (support column) during a storm, sending over 1200 feet of the bridge plummeting into Tampa Bay. The collision caused six automobiles and a Greyhound bus to fall 150 feet, killing 35 people.
One man, Wesley MacIntire, survived the fall when his Ford pickup truck landed on the deck of the Summit Venture before falling into the bay. He sued the company that owned the ship, and settled for $175,000 in 1984. For the remaining nine years of his life until he died in 1989, MacIntire was haunted by the fact that he was the only one to survive the fall from the collapsing bridge.
The collapsed original bridge on May 9, 1980 after the Summit Venture collision.
Photo by St. Petersburg Times.
The pilot of the ship, John Lerro, was cleared of wrongdoing by both a state grand jury and a Coast Guard investigation.
After the Summit Venture disaster, the northbound span carried one lane in either direction until the current bridge opened. Before the old bridge was demolished and hauled away in barges, MacIntire (the sole survivor of the collapse) was the last person permitted to drive over it. He was accompanied by his wife, and when they reached the top of the bridge, they dropped 35 white carnations into the water, one for each person who lost a life in the disaster. The main span of the northbound bridge was demolished in 1993 and the approaches for both old spans were made into the Skyway Fishing Pier State Park. These approaches sit 1/2 mile to the south and west of the current bridge.
I have sailed under the bridge before on a cruise ship, as it is the gateway from Tampa Bay out into the ocean on the gulf side, but I had never crossed the bridge before.
Ever since my illness, things that have a story like this bridge does, intrigue me. I don't have any explanation as to why I have to do them, but I simply call them God Moments. I know that if I listen to my heart when it tells me this is something you need to do, that I will be blessed in some way, it never fails.
So with that in mind, I took off to the airport with my mother in law to pick up Hannah, and had told her that on the way home I wanted to make a large loop over the causeway to St. Petersburg and south to the Sunshine Skyway bridge. She never hesitated once after I told her of my plan, and we were off to the airport.
We picked up Hannah, told her the plan on the way and she was giddy about it! So the three of us took off on a mini adventure, with me looking for my next God Moment. I wasn't disappointed.
Before I left for Florida, I had made a list of things I wanted to do/see/find while I was there. My mother in law knows that I am an avid junker and had planned several days of thrift store and flea market shopping in our agenda, so I figured I needed to bring my list. I had on my list to find a big spiraled Lightning Whelk seashell or a Conch shell, a Starfish, and a Sand Dollar. I wanted to do a display with them on my bookshelves and I was hoping to go beach combing and find these items.
We were planning to go to Sanibel Island with my parents while down there, but when we looked at a map, we found out it was 3.5 hours each way and we just didn't want to spend our time with my parents staring at the back of our heads for 7 hours. So, before we even left home, we opted not to go to Sanibel Island. I figured that the seashell hunt would have to happen on another trip when we had more time. But, even though the odds of going someplace where I would find those items were slim, I still had them on my list.
A few days earlier, while in Cincinnati, I went to a thrift store while Mountain Man was at the plant taking care of business. Low and behold, there sitting on the shelf of the thrift store I stumbled across this beauty:
Yup! A perfectly beautiful specimen of a starfish that I could never have dreamed I would find on a beach in Florida, let alone sitting on a shelf in a thrift store in Cincinnati, Ohio! This beauty was wrapped in bubble wrap and a plastic bag like it knew it was headed on a trip somewhere (to Michigan by way of Florida, maybe?) and for only four bucks! Mine!
Now, to show you just how grand a specimen it is, here is another photo, with a nickel sitting by it for comparison:
So, fast forward back to the bridge. We were coming in from the St. Petersburg side, from the north. We had stopped to get some food cause my niece hadn't eaten since breakfast and it was going on 4 o'clock. Well, when you eat, you get drinks, and when you drink you eventually will have to use a rest area. We stopped at the toll booth, paid our toll, and were on the approach to the bridge when we spotted the rest area. Hallelujah!
We went in, did our business, and on the way out a security guard approached me. At first I was worried that I had done something wrong. Turns out, he wanted to talk to me about my car! He was an avid fan of the Dodge Charger and came over to tell me that he liked my car. You wouldn't believe how many times this has happened to me since the purchase of the Charger. That is another story in and of itself.
He then commenced to showing me pictures on his cell phone of his 1966 Dodge Charger that he had restored. In the midst of our conversation about cars, motors, 20" tires, and such (when did I become a car officinado???) I happened to ask him where the best place to take photos of the bridge might be. He directed us to a road that ran along side of the bridge at ground level and led to a lookout point.
After a quick wave out the sunroof to the nice security guard car guy, off we went under the highway, turned left as per his instructions, and sure enough, about a block back from the direction we had just came from, was a point that jutted out into the water.
As we approached the point I couldn't believe my eyes! People were out on the point in their cars, taking pictures, fishing, having picnics, etc. My heart skipped a beat as we approached the driveway. I was going to get to drive my car on the beach!
That was never part of my plan, but I recognized it right away as a God Moment! We all got out, took pictures of the bridge, walked in the sand, basked in the sunlight, let the ocean breeze blow through our hair, and oh, did I mention? I already had my flip flops on!
I quickly took a picture of my Jemma sitting there in all her glory, beautiful "muscle car" that she is, sitting on the sandy point. Mountain Man would have never believed it unless I had photographic proof, even if I did have his mother riding shotgun. We felt like a couple of teenagers right then and there. Well, technically, Hannah still IS a teenager, but I am sure at that moment, she thought I was the coolest aunt on the planet. Well, it's my blog and I tell it like I see it...
After our all too brief moment on the beach, we piled back into the car and headed on our way. On the way back out to the road, I looked over to my left and saw a cooler sitting on the ground behind an older model pickup truck. On top of the cooler was a collection of seashells! I did a double take. Not just seashells, but the exact kind that was on my list! They were Florida Lightning Whelks!
There sat about a dozen of those beautiful spiral striped ones in various sizes! I had been looking at shells online before we left home and was finding some really pretty large specimen type ones for around $25, not including shipping. I had been hoping to find one in Florida for free, or at least get one from a shop there and not have to pay shipping.
I stopped the car. I didn't even pull into a parking spot, just stopped it right at the cooler. I grabbed my wallet and started counting my cash. I hadn't had a chance to stop at an ATM machine. Who knew I would be on the beach, let alone shopping on the beach? I had exactly $13 on me. Drat! I knew the prices of the shells I had seen online. Maybe I could get a small one. Maybe.
As I stood there looking at the shells, a man came walking out from behind the pickup truck. I was still looking at the shells when he said "Hello." Without looking up, I asked him if the shells were for sale and he said "Yes." I asked him how much they were. He reached down and picked up the most beautiful one on the cooler. The one that had caught my eye from the car. The one that made me stop the car.
It was then that I noticed his hands. They were very rough, dirty, and as he turned the shell over in his hand, I noticed that he was missing part of his thumb. I then looked up to see the kind face of a very time worn man. He told me that he was asking $10 for the large shells, and $5 for the small ones. I couldn't believe my ears. $10? I told him that I liked the one he was holding and he handed it to me, he told me that it was an excellent choice, that it was a true beauty, by far the prettiest one in his cooler top collection. I gave him the $10 and was returning to my car when my niece decided that she wanted to look at them also.
I put the shell in the back seat and turned back around toward them. It was then that I noticed that the beat up truck topper and tailgate was open and filled with what appeared to be this man's earthly possessions. I saw clothes, dishes, a pot and frying pan, a small bundle of firewood, and various other items. He had a small dog in the cab of the truck with him and he was telling my niece that his dog helps him find the shells early in the morning on the beach. I couldn't help but wonder if this truck was his home and that the reason he was on the beach so early was because that is where he and his dog slept. For all appearances sake, this man seemed to be homeless and living in his truck.
My niece picked out one of the smaller shells, gave him $5 and then as we were getting set to leave, he asked me "Do you know how much these shells go for?"
I thought he was asking me if I knew what a deal I was getting, and I said, "Yes, you have a very good price on them." And then he said, "No, ma'am, what I mean is, do you know how much people are selling them for? I don't know, and wondered if you could tell me if I am charging a fair price?" I then told him that from what I saw online that he could charge an additional $5-$10 more for the larger ones and probably still sell them like hotcakes. Then he thanked me. He thanked me. Like I did him some kind favor.
We thanked him again, loaded up in the car, and as I drove away I felt both humbled and blessed at the same time. I only wish I had taken his picture, but I couldn't find the words to ask him that would make sense as to why I wanted to take his picture. I won't be forgetting his face anytime soon though.
We continued back down the road in the direction of the rest area, passed under the highway and onto the southbound ramp, the one that was struck in the accident. We were climbing higher and higher and suddenly we came upon the beautiful sunny yellow cables that make the twin spires of Sunshine Skyway Bridge.
I was there. I was crossing the bridge! I had my niece busy with her camera in the backseat taking photos and I grabbed my cell phone to take a shot of the bridge just as we reached the pinnacle.
It is probably not the best thing in the world to have your eyes fill with tears while trying to drive in traffic across a humongous bridge, but nevertheless, this was the case. I was thinking of the 35 lives that were lost in the accident when the bridge collapsed, I was thinking how blessed I was to be alive on such a gorgeous day, and I was thinking of how happy I was that I was able to cross this item off of my bucket list.
Here's another great shot that Hannah took from the back window. What a beautiful bridge. What a beautiful day!
On our ride back home, while my mother in law and Hannah chatted, my mind was busy thinking of what had happened that day. I couldn't help but wonder why the security guard was a car guy who loved Chargers who would randomly strike up a conversation with me. Or that he would lead us to the beach on the point to take pictures instead of from the pier where most everyone else seemed to be headed. Or that there would be a wayward soul there on the beach, selling the exact kind of shells I was looking for. I didn't need to wonder. I knew. I call them God Moments. They can happen anywhere and everywhere. They never cease to take my breath away. At a rest area, on the beach, and yes, even on the shelves of a Goodwill in Cincinnati, Ohio.
I'm linking up to Nifty Thrifty Tuesdays at Coastal Charm, Today's Thrifty Treasures at Southern Hospitality, and Second Time Around Tuesday at A Picture is Worth a 1000 Words. Check them all out for more great thrift store finds!
Til next time!