Venice Afternoon


“Today was good. Today was fun. Tomorrow is another one.” — Dr. Seuss

The January sun was warm, the sky postcard blue, so we drove to Venice — not the one in Italy, but the one down Tamiami Trail. We parked downtown about a half hour’s walk to the South Jetty.

A couple of soulless concrete condo buildings loomed near the 7-11 by the public beach. The cutest places, though, were the one-story rentals, with names like Bahai Vista and Point Whitecap. One had a gnarled old banyan tree crowding out the bougainvillea at curbside; another featured a trickling man-made stream and fountain. No luxury behemoths here, just old-timey  little places a seashell’s throw from the Gulf.

We passed the Venice Yacht Club, not as hoity-toity as its counterpart in Sarasota. Nice boats lined the seawall, but the blue and white building looked like any typical Florida supper club — probably no ascotted, blazer-wearing Thurston Howell III and his wife Lovey at the bar. Yacht club rentals, a strip of motel-sized units, hugged the water’s edge; a humble lawn chair or two lolled outside every screen door.

At the end of Esplanade, we followed the road as it curved past the Crow’s Nest Restaurant and Dock and changed its name to Tarpon Center Drive. At the tip was the South Jetty, a happening place on a sunny afternoon.

Venice snowbirds, guys in white Nikes, women in splashy-bright capris, flocked to the benches along the seawall to oversee life on the water. Others congregated on the deck of Anita’s Sand Castle, dining on her self-proclaimed World Famous Beach Dogs. Waiting for his order, a barrel-chested New Englander, arms crossed over a faded BoSox tee shirt, prognosticated about the upcoming baseball season with a Cinci Reds-hatted Ohioan. Their wives flashed “nice-to-meet-you” smiles and offered “beautiful day” platitudes. Laughter erupted from a picnic table nearby – old pals reminiscing over cans of beer. Were they new retirees like us, still giddy at being free from work?

We found an unoccupied bench in the shade. Near us, an old man absent-mindedly patted his dog’s head and stared blankly at the water. I stole glances his way. Was he lonely or just preoccupied? I mentally spun a tale of a bereft widower mourning the loss of his wife who’d often sat next to him on a South Jetty bench. A jollier character caught my eye – a chap in a macaw-colored tropical shirt and Tropicana orange trunks. Where was his wife? I wondered. How did he escape out the door in that getup?

This day’s entertainment featured three fishing boats manned by guys in waders – one wore orange; one, green; another white— casting nets into the waters of the inlet. Their feet planted firmly on the boats’ decks, their brawny arms swung in a rhythmic dance: hoist the net the air, drag it out of the water, then hoist; then drag. “They’re just fishing for bait,” Mike said, as if he knew what Gulf Coast fishermen do. As the fishermen pulled the nets on board, it seemed he was incorrect. The nets were heavy with good-sized fish flopping around, and the men threw the smallish ones, under a foot or so, back into the water. The sturdier fish that’d make a hearty family-sized dinner were shoved into a cooler. Pelicans circled the boats, on the alert for leftovers.

We watched the show for a while. Heading back, we detoured to ogle Roberts Bay near the yacht club, then turned on Venice Avenue where pretty homes faced a park populated by giant banyans with ropey limbs dressed in Spanish moss. A white stone arch proclaiming Venice Army Air Base, a remnant of WWII, stood at attention on the lawn.

Closer to our car, we rubbernecked at the shuffleboard courts where it was a competition day, with Venetians in yellow polo shirts competing against a traveling team in blue. Sure, shuffleboard was the stereotypical old-people pastime, but the players sliding the stick across the court to get the puck in just the right spot didn’t seem to mind being typecast.

How could we improve on a day like this? We headed home. It was almost time for a glass of wine before dinner.


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