A Final Thought: The Invisible Man


By Mitch Allen

I was raised in Alabama and Georgia, so I’m not a fan of Northeast Ohio’s long, grey winters. While I have managed to tolerate them for 28 years now, it’s becoming increasingly difficult. Call it Seasonal Affective Disorder, the winter blues, or a lack of Vitamin D, the month of February can be rough.

So this year I decided to experiment with an extended visit to south Florida—alone. Could I actually work from down there for three weeks in February and be productive? Would I miss my wife and family? Would I love it so much I’d want to quit my job and become a bartender at a beachfront dive?

All of the above.

My youngest daughter’s father-in-law owns a small condo near Hollywood Beach. It’s vacant most of the year so I was able to stay for free. The unit is a time capsule, featuring 1970s velvet and foil wallpaper. It works, though. As a senior community, many of its residents are in their 80s and 90s and are likely the same people who hung that wallpaper.

This was to be a “fitness vacation” so I did not rent a car. Instead, I walked everywhere—15-20 miles a day, back and forth to Hollywood Beach, Dania Pier, and out to dinner. I eventually bought a cheap bike from Target and ran it into the ground, though I found walking far less stressful. On the bike, I kept wondering when a Floridian centenarian was going to drift into the bike lane and kill me.

Upon arrival, the first thing I had to deal with was the envy. Walking alone over bridges looking down onto the decks of yachts in the shadow of million-dollar high-rise condos while breathing the exhaust of Bentleys and Maseratis took some getting used to. Where did I go wrong in my life, the inner voices kept repeating. Where was my yacht?

It took a few days but I got over it—once I realized that people who drive Bentleys don’t seem to smile much.

I also discovered that I am now The Invisible Man. Walking on Hollywood Beach’s famed Broadwalk, no one would yield to me. It was packed with people and if I didn’t move out of their way, no one else would. They couldn’t see me. Of course, they had no trouble noticing the rollerblading twenty-somethings in short-shorts with butts like two five-pound bags of Domino sugar—not that I noticed.

One day while walking the Broadwalk I heard a man scream and turned to see two cyclists collide head on, each rider sailing over his handlebars and landing hard on the concrete. I helped one man to his feet and gathered his water bottle and phone. Miraculously, only his pride was hurt.

I think he was invisible, too.

I really enjoy the diversity of south Florida. For the entire three weeks I rarely heard English. Most conversations were in Spanish, Russian or French—French because in February a lot of license plates in the Ft. Lauderdale area read, “Quebec.”

There were even days when I didn’t speak to another soul except to place an order with a bartender or talk to my wife on the phone. One day I decided to take a vow of silence to see if I could actually go 24 hours without speaking. Of course, that was the day I stopped being The Invisible Man. All day long strangers came up to me asking questions like, “Can you take your bike on the pier?” and “Which way is the Margaritaville resort?”

It was clear: These people knew I had taken a vow of silence and were messing with me. This was also the day I realized I was seriously lonely, perhaps the result of too much quiet. So back to Target I went. This time for headphones.

I had never walked or ridden a bike while wearing headphones, figuring it was too dangerous, that I wouldn’t be able to hear a Maserati speeding through the pedestrian crossing. But those fears soon faded as I came to relish the greatest hits of Crosby, Stills and Nash, The Carpenters, and Seals and Crofts. It was as if old friends had joined me at the beach.

My daily routine was to wake at 5 a.m. and walk to the corner Mobil station for a cup of coffee. One morning I biked instead and saw a woman rooting through the leaves in front of the ice machine. She was looking for cigarette butts.

“Do you smoke?” she asked me.

“Sorry, no,” I replied, walking toward the store’s entrance.

“Wait, aren’t you going to lock your bike?” she asked. “There are people who will steal it just to get two hits of meth.”

I looked at her. She was about 40, with a dark tan, tangled blonde hair, sunken cheeks and pretty blue eyes. Reluctantly, I took her advice and locked my cheap bike from Target, noticing at last that it was a Bentley.


Categories: Smart Living