Sunday, September 14, 2008

Coming Back to Grayton Beach: 1986

I'd left Grayton (the first time) in December of 1985, going back to Iowa. The Paradise Cafe had closed for the season and I was ready to hole-up for the winter, write and get some cash in my pockets, then be off wandering again. I'm thinking I took the bus to Chicago, where I looked up Cin but Cin wanted nothing to do with me, so I headed on to Des Moines. In Des Moines I got a job at Younkers at the Merle Hay Mall (again) and lived at my parent's house. (I did go to Iowa City for a spell, staying with Matt and Roger, who had made their way there after being in New Mexico for a spell.) I'd been reading a lot of Henry Miller and Norman Mailer, a little Knute Hamsun, and so my plan was to take off on my own for Eugene, Oregon with little money and do whatever I needed to do when I got there. But as spring approached, I got a call from Johnny--chef and kitchen king at the Paradise--and he asked if I wanted to come back and work at the cafe.
So, I went to Iowa City first for a few days, then took the Greyhound down to Grayton.
The bus trip itself was strange. Long hours sitting, stopping in small towns, seeing and feeling the shift from cold untrustworthy weather to the sleepy drooping-leaved trees of the Deep South. I recall stopping in Dothan, Alabama where the bus station was like a place back in time. It had a little cafe attached to it with worn formica-topped tables in swirling green and homemade sandwiches in plastic that looked like they'd been sitting on the shelves since the 1950s, and beans and cornbread and gravied meats and all that very southern atmosphere and voices and just old old foreign world stuff (to me). Along the ride we'd picked up some guy in Alabama and he said he'd been in jail and the bus driver let him off on the side of the road, where his car sat--evidently he'd been jailed for drunk driving and now he was taking the bus from the town to where he'd had to leave his car. And in Florida, in the panhandle, the bus only had a few people in it and the driver talked with us about his experiences, about hitting a mule once, about a buzzard flying, crashing through the windshield once and he--the driver--had to grab the big ugly bird to take out the door and it was still alive and it puked on him (a natural defense of buzzards, it turns out): "Ain't nothing stinks worse than buzzard puke. High heaven," the driver said.
Finally, in Walton County at night, the driver could only let me out at the IGA store in Santa Rosa on Highway 98 (not in Grayton on little 30A) because, after the stop in Panama City, his next scheduled one was in Ft. Walton before heading to Pensacola. So he let me off the bus and said I'd have to get my bag in Ft. Walton when I could (he wouldn't unload it). So, I was left there--no car, no luggage, little money--and I used the pay phone to call Johnny. He sent Ron to come pick me up.
It was great to be back in Florida, in Walton County: the warmth, the fetid smells and heavy humid air, the southern voices and talkative southern people, the beach and sea and pines and magnolias. Friends who had not become truly close friends yet. Yes, I was down in the panhandle essentially by myself: no Matt or Brock or Holly, just the semi-local folks I'd met and worked with the year before. But I was glad to be back and not starving in Oregon.
And there was a party going on.
Much like the first time I'd come into Grayton Beach, the young people were whooping it up at Sam's place outside of Grayton, some second floor spot in Seagrove Beach, I think it was. Ron took me there, straight from the long bus ride and my baggage-less wait at the IGA. And inside were some of the same people but also some new ones as I was handed a beer, a cigarette, some smoke, maybe a bump of coke. They were happy to see me and I happy to see them and I fell right back in to the hedonistic laid back beach world. It was Sam's place and she had a roommate whose name I can't recall, some southern lass who had a boyfriend named Melvin but everyone called him Smellvin. Doug was there, Tommy and Jack and maybe even Brad, Randall and Van and others. There were two other new people who were going to work at the Cafe: Eva and Shumae, both Asian--which was very unusual for the beach there. A good guy named Chas--a smart southern man who wanted to get into the restaurant biz (and did end up owning a cafe, with Shumae, years later (I think he's still down there). So, I partied with everyone, reacquainting myself with them, with what had changed. I had a room in Grayton--an apartment upstairs on the main road which Johnny was letting me use. But eventually I rented my trailer (also on the main drag).
So that was my first return to Grayton Beach. And it was actually the last time I lived in town, last time I worked for the Paradise Cafe. I came back twice more, living in Gulf Trace and Seagrove Beach. I saw Monica again for a while, but not Gretchen, I met Pat and her daughters, I met Tee and Tee ended up moving into the trailer with me (as did Matt, as he returned also). Maybe Holly was still there. Good old Duke and his wife, Rebecca. Bobby and a host of other characters from the cafe and not. Keith, who we called Chief, who was an African-American down from Detroit, he and I became good friends. It was all fun and disastrous. But I left in August to go to the Iowa Writers Workshop, which was also disastrous in its own way.
The next two times I returned to "Grayton" were different, but I still came back.
I'd still go back, I think.

1 comment:

R.J. Igou said...

i left grayton and the paradise in early fall, 1985. do we know, or did we miss each other?