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Destination Clearwater: Submarine Races

Yesterday's makeout point is today's memory.

As a pre-teen we made the drive over the Courtney Campbell Causeway roughly once a month, or so it seemed. We moved to Clearwater from New York and, as anyone who moves to Florida can tell you, we suddenly grew quite popular with extended family. That meant I went to Walt Disney World a lot. It also meant that we took many trips across Tampa Bay.

When we did I loved to look for dolphins. This was, of course, before I realized dolphins in Florida waters are as common as cockroaches in a New York tenement, albeit with better PR. That didn't matter to the 8-year-old me, though: it was quite a charge to see that dorsal fin slicing through the green water.

As a teenager I crossed the Courtney Campbell to get to the airport. Our merry band of misfits loved to hang out at the airport, ride the trams, and page each other on the PA system. Part of the fun was crossing the causeway: a strip of road flooded with yellow halogen, flanked by inky night on either side.

On first weekend home from the University of Central Florida, I realized I was tied forever to this state. The Tanga Lounge came into view (we all knew we were home when we saw the Tanga!), I rolled down my windows, and sucked in a deep breath of the salt air. I had planned to move back to New York until that very moment, when I realized that the salt and surf had mingled, somehow, with my blood. I let the wind slap my cheeks all the way across the causeway.

I have many, many memories of the Courtney Campbell Causeway, but the ones most private are those of the submarine races. If you've been to them, you remember. No, I'm not talking about the sleek Japanese bikes that raced across the causeway at alarmingly high speeds on the weekends, and I'm certainly not talking about any regatta. I'm talking about a scene replayed in pretty much every teen romance movie. The cops had the beach locked down, and really, unless you felt like walking a mile north of 880 Mandalay, you didn't have any privacy. But along the sides of the Courtney Campbell oleander and palms gave the illusion of privacy.

Sure, people had illegal bonfires and people drank and smoked, but when I hear the words “Courtney Campbell Causeway” I see two things in my mind: dolphin fins and the view of the palms through a steamy car windshield.

Today, though, the side access roads look a little less tidy, and I wonder if my mind’s cleaned up the memories or if the roads always looked so scraggly. I think back and realize that my stop down memory lane – literally – may be the first time I’ve seen these side roads in the daylight. I look around and find the disorder pleases me: beach sunflowers fringing the boots of the cabbage palms, grasses overlapping twists of vines. It’s not the same as I remember it, but it’s lovely all the same.

I can almost see a submarine in the distance.

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