Steve Meador is the author of Throwing Percy from the Cherry Tree, a poetry book that was an entrant for a National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize in poetry. He is widely published in online and print journals. He has been a real estate broker since the early 1980s and currently lives and practices in the Tampa, FL, area.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Near the Shrimp Docks

I can tell you, truthfully…Scout’s Honor,  Honest to God, Cross My Heart (the whole stick the needle in my eye ordeal)…that I rarely know where I will find myself when it comes to taking photos. I am a dust devil, a willy-nilly traveler to places that happen upon me, a ramblin’ fool with a camera. If  no schedule  dictates my time, I will stop at anything that screams to the corner of my eye, as did the grassy parking area at the south end of the 22nd Street bridge, near the Shrimp Docks. On the south side is an old freighter, the Peggy Palmer, resting in a velvet of rust and barnacles, in what looks to be shallow water. 

To the north is a small backbay. The bridge, in each direction, is three lanes and is lifted by a series of concrete columns, looking like square fingers rising from the water, blackened by the salty environment, humidity and age. The concrete surface has the southern, sooty charm look.  This spot called to me, like the Sirens called to Odysseus and his crew, but I did not plug my ears, I went to find them.

After creeping down a steep grassy embankment, jumping off a seawall and tiptoeing through low tide muck, I encountered a culture that was new to me. I will, from this point, forever refer to them as the fishing people. I found, beneath the bridges, under the rumble of the tanker trucks and other traffic above, in the glow and smoke of small fires, a gathering of gypsies, of sort. Lester and Azalea, Pooch and Wanda, Hector and Enny and their Chihuahua. Bodacious, along with many others were there, just as they are often there, out of the mainstream of this town. 

They come to fish, catch and cook, some out of love of the sport, some because it provides a necessary meal. These folks are not homeless, however, there are homeless people there. The homeless do not give their names, only greetings and nods. They come for the fish, because it is readily shared, even though they have nothing to offer in return. I am a stranger with a camera who, out of courtesy, snaps only shots that are not personal, and I am offered a roasted ear of corn, a thick, sizzling slice of sheepshead and a cold beer. I thank the group, tell them I just ate, but maybe next time.

This spot is also about relaxing, enjoying the sunset as it paints the skyline and watching the seabirds pick an evening roost. It is about joking, as one woman tells her husband to go rinse his legs in the water, get off the black muck with its strong decay and mineral odor. He laughs and says, “But baby, rich people pay at a spa to smear this stuff on!”  Then, everyone laughs when the wife responds, “Yeah, well you ain’t rich enough to smell that bad.” There is low talk about politics and benefits and the weather, resulting in heads shaking and nodding and an occasional “Amen.” So it continues until Lester and Azalea stand up and start gathering their gear. Others do the same. There are farewells and hugs and handshakes and “see you tomorrow” calls. There is a dousing of the flames and a slow exit, which does not seem so much slow because people are old and tired as it seems they hate to have to go. I know the feeling.

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