By Mike Ragsdale
I’m about to cast my line when I see them. There are four or five dolphins in the first pod, and they’re swimming straight toward me. About a hundred yards behind them, an even larger group closes the gap. If they maintain their present course, in about two minutes, they’ll all pass within twenty yards of our dock.
In a spine-cracking twist of my neck, I look back toward the house. The sun’s glare makes it difficult to see inside. My oldest girls are probably browsing Facebook or testing the limits of our calling plan, while my son hunts down his virtual buddies on “Halo 3.” Our eight-year-old is no doubt hugging my wife’s heels as she struggles to stay one step ahead of our massive Mess Machine.
I can make it, I think to myself.
When we first moved here, dolphin sightings were a pretty big deal. In fact, from April until October, they were routine family rituals. We live right near a little curve in the bay, where dolphins love to corral panicked schools of mullet up against the shoreline. The end result is a National Geographic-like frenzy of flying fish (and mammals).
When dolphins were first sighted, an alarm was typically sounded, which generally consisted of me screaming, “THE DOLPHINS ARE COMING! THE DOLPHINS ARE COMING!” like some sort of deranged Paul Revere. I would storm wildly through the house, rouse bewildered family members, shove them out into the yard, and then herd everyone briskly toward the dock…all followed by our little white yapping dog. (The cat refused to participate in this sort of thing.)
Our neighbors would also begin to gather outside—not to watch the dolphins, mind you, but rather, to see our platoon stampede off toward the water, yelling, stumbling, and griping, frequently in various states of undress. More often than not, we would reach the water mere seconds after the final dolphin had passed by.
Inexplicably, over time, my kids became less fond of this Running of the Idiots ceremony, and it became harder and harder to coerce them to come witness another one of Mother Nature’s remarkable matinees. Even the dog stopped following me. My wife continued to humor me, but I could tell it was just because she thought my feelings might be hurt if no one else dashed outside like a giddy schoolgirl.
She was right.
When we first moved here, it was only a temporary fix. My goal was to learn the art of relaxation before jumping off this continent for good. Back home, I suffered from frequent headaches and stress. I worried about silly things: bills, business dealings, social faux pas, missed opportunities…whatever absurd trivialities my dented brain could latch onto. I was also a workaholic. When my “Crackberry” rattled across the nightstand at 3 a.m., I simply had to respond to the incoming email right then. To wait until dawn was unthinkable.
But something inevitably snapped. Like an over-heated processor chip, my mind simply froze up. I decided that I needed a total restart (and while I was at it, possibly virus and optimization scans, too). Like countless others before me, I wanted more in my life than meetings and presentations and investors and grapevine chitter-chatter and stuffy cocktail parties and dress codes and drawn-out conference calls. Or, more accurately, I wanted less. A lot less. I wanted out.
I decided that our family needed a permanent vacation, and I was going to be the outrageously enthusiastic tour guide.
My plan? We’d swan-dive head-first into a simpler life. We would abandon civilization altogether. I’d make Thoreau look like Paris Hilton.
I went down to central Mexico and proudly returned with fresh digital snapshots of some beautiful homes for sale. I assured my wife that I could Photoshop out any rabid mongrels and street thugs, but she insisted that doing so would only improve the photo and wouldn’t do much to affect the reality of things. This was going to be tougher than I thought.
I would have to start slow. I needed to earn their trust. We needed to take a little leap of faith together. We’d move to the beach first. What fun! Who wouldn’t love to live at the beach? In the process, I calculated, everyone would become comfortable with the notion of tearing up roots, and from there, we’d soon be skipping off to the Caribbean or Buenos Aires. Or the Czech Republic. Or Indonesia! It didn’t matter. Gradually, like the demented father in The Mosquito Coast, I would drag us all deeper and deeper into the counter-cultural jungle…kicking and screaming, if necessary.
To my mild surprise, moving to the beach was not a hard sell.
All within a few months, we went cultural cold-turkey. My wife and I quit our jobs. I resigned from various social and business committees. We cancelled our country club membership. I sold our good business, and I closed the bad one. I surrendered my Blackberry and mobile phone and laptop. I bought a fishing rod. We sold our house and moved to the coast. It was as simple as that. Somehow, I had managed to permanently purge the proverbial inbox.
Or so I thought.
That was nearly two years ago. Frankly, I figured we’d be in Bali by now, but something subtle transpired along the way. Not too long after we arrived, I joined a writers’ group. A new friend I met there encouraged me to start writing a column for a local newspaper. Later, an ad in that same newspaper inspired me to volunteer at our community radio station. To help me organize announcements for my new radio show, I created a website to help keep me updated on all of 30A’s countless local concerts, wine tastings, art shows, charity events, shops, parks, and restaurants. Before long, I found myself enjoying a brand new career, one in which my enviable role was simply to help spread the word about Alys Beach—a stunning new beach town, the likes of which has never been created before.
At each step along the sandy way, I added a few more good friends to my growing local buddy list.
Last night, I bought an iPhone.
Good God…I’ve put down roots! Did my vision of transforming into that lazy, lounging, fishing, laughing, good-for-nothing, Mai Tai-slurping derelict from those Jimmy Buffett songs somehow slip through my keyboard-pecking fingers?
No. I just love it here. I really, really do. I can’t help myself. I love the water. I love the fresh seafood. I love the bars, the towns, the white sand. I love the parks, the concerts, the sunrises, and the sunsets. I love the fun and creative and quirky people.
And I really love those dolphins.
I can make it… I still have time to race inside and round everyone up. These moments are simply too precious to let them slip away, I tell myself.
My eyes have finally adjusted to the glare of the afternoon sun. I can now see Angela and the kids clearly through the windows. I was wrong. They’re all playing “Rock Band” together on the Xbox. They’re sitting around the TV, playing, singing and laughing. They don’t realize it, of course, but they’re creating a very special memory right now.
Relax, Mike. Let it go. Let them enjoy their moment. It’s okay…
I turn back and look at the dolphins surging toward me. They'll be here in less than a minute now, and I smile. Today’s matinee is just for me.
Besides, we’ll still be here tomorrow.
— V —
Mike Ragsdale is the Town Evangelist for Alys Beach, Florida, and is the creator of 30A.com.