Rain and Snow. Hikes and Sunsets. Friends and brothers. Sons and Dads. The Bulls in Chicago and The Boss in St. Paul. Stiff drinks and long division. This was Winter.
“Born to Run” by Bruce Springsteen
Few months back, Alexis and I vacationed a week in Florida to spend some time with family. We originally meant to be in Ft. Myers, but Hurricane Ian had other plans. From what I understand, nearly the entire first floor of the condo our family has visited for decades, was under water, and a lot of Estero Island was erased. We came pretty close to canceling Florida all together, but we made some adjustments and saw it through, and I’m glad we did.
We started in St. Pete, specifically to take a boat ride out to visit Egmont Key, home to one of the oldest lighthouses on the Florida Gulf Coast. This is where Alexis and her siblings scattered their mother’s ashes earlier in the year. Although her mom spent her last years in Ohio, she missed Florida terribly. On top of that, she had such an affection for lighthouses, that you had to see her ceramic collection to believe it. Can’t think of a better place for her to rest. We spent the afternoon reflecting and exploring the key for a few hours before our boat had to take us back. A cover of Springsteen’s Atlantic City played no less than four times on our 40 minute ride across the water. It became a bit of an anthem for the trip, as well as a running joke to this day. Before leaving St. Pete, we discovered a strange species of seagull that had a striking resemblance to Danny DeVito, which we appropriately gave the scientific name of Danny DeSeagull.
For the rest of our trip, instead of Estero Island, we stayed at a beach house we rented on Anna Maria Island. We planned on having a good amount of friends and family come visit. Nine adults and four kids. There were a lot of us, but we made it a priority to get a place big enough to keep us all comfortably under the same roof. It turned out great. The kids declared they wanted to live there forever, so we must’ve done something right.
We walked the pier, drank pool side, marveled at lightning storms, caught sunsets, fired up the grill, built castles, dug holes, chased the kids, were chased by the kids, and astonishingly avoided getting sunburned. Not pictured is the half mile long trench I dug on the beach by pulling the kids in a wagon with wheels that absolutely refused to turn in sand. I’ll be damned if I let those kids think I’m not invincible though.
With as much fun was we had, it’s hard to believe we were ever considering canceling the trip. There’s a lesson to be learned somewhere in there. We know we’re supposed to spend time with our family, but sometimes you forget just how much fun it can be. Thankful we could make it happen, and thankful for the memory of us all sleeping under the same roof, together as family.
The Cohen’s invited us to crash their family vacation in Gearhart, a small town on the Oregon Coast. They’ve stayed at this particular beach house a few times over, but it was a first for Alexis and I. It’s absolutely gorgeous out there. I’m no stranger to a beach and lived most of my years within a few miles of one, but it really feels unique out there. Simultaneously lush and harsh.
We spent our days eating, drinking, exploring, playing games, sort of flying a kite, losing sandals, and doing our best to entertain Della while simultaneously falling under the spell of her charm. She’s a little maniac, in the best of ways, that is growing up much too fast for the frequency we get to see her.
Of course, as sure as the sun rises, I spent an unreasonable amount of time in the hot tub. It wouldn’t be vacation otherwise. Possibly a collective 8 hours in one day. I have sources that could verify, but my sunburn was probably evidence enough. Think I also broke a record for the fastest I’ve ever exited of a hot tub. All it took was Jason pretending to throw the live crab he just caught into the water with me. Speaking of, the ordeal he went through to catch that crab could be worthy of multi-part docuseries.
We made sure to explore Cannon Beach nearby, mainly to hunt for obligatory photo opportunities featuring scenes from The Goonies. The clouds hung low and the fog was heavy, but it somehow felt ideal. Walking around the town for an hour or two had the predictable effect of me opening Zillow to wonder if a life here could be possible. Most importantly, Alexis finally got to be a Goonie.
After a couple days on the coast, we packed up and headed to Portland, but not before a pitstop in Astoria. Always liked how Astoria sounded. Astoria. Anyhow, we were there hardly two or three hours, but it was just long enough to be charmed by it. The weather was nice, and I wouldn’t guess that to be true a good part of the year. This meant the streets were lively and the people were in good spirits since they got to wear t-shirts and shorts. We had lunch and a drink at a brewery and spent the rest of our time hunting for more Goonies shots. Mikey and Brand’s house, the Astoria Historical Museum where their dad worked, and the jail where the Fratellis busted out of. They even had the iconic Jeep 4×4 parked outside it, bullet holes and all. You better believe Alexis was fired up.
Eventually, we arrived in Portland. We’ve been there before, but haven’t really seen much of it. This trip wasn’t much different in that sense, we were only there two nights, but we stayed in an area new to Alexis and I, the same goes for what and where we ate. Demystifying the city just a little bit more for us. In that spirit of making it count, when the girls decided to get their nails done one day, and everyone else opted for a nap, seemed like a chance to take in what I could on foot. Ended up being a lot of walking on a hot day, but I had no trouble finding a shaded patio and a cold beer to counter the sun. You absorb so much more when the world isn’t rushing past a car window. Always worth the price of adding a few miles to your shoes. While I do wonder how the people who actually live there feel about that saying “Keep Portland Weird,” I know that I love the spirit of it, and walking around, I felt it.
Another reason we wanted to spend some time in Portland was because our friend Jon lives there now. He moved from Seattle with his girlfriend Margret and they bought a house. We finally got to see it, and it’s lovely. He’s really carved out a nice life there. He showed us around some of his usual stomping grounds too. We dined, we drank, we gamed, and we watched Jon eat the scariest hot-dog any of us have ever seen.
Just a few hours before we were set to leave, we stopped off at a park and met up with some old friends, Erin and Jamie, who I knew from when I was in college and who Drew knew when he was in high school. That’s a strange sentence that honestly kinda touches on the confusion of how we’re all connected. It could probably warrant a scientific study, but that’s for another time. Anyhow, none of us had seen each other in a longtime, and it was nice it happened. They introduced us to their kids, Ruby who was so young and tiny that sleep seemed to be her biggest priority, and Elliot who might’ve held the coveted spot as the coolest kid on the playground that day. Sporting shades, a hat and jean-jacket speckled with cool kid patches all over it. He demanded a high-five from me before we left, which if I’m being honest, made me feel like a million bucks.
It’s with that, that our Oregon adventure came to a close. We got our photos, made our memories, and became honorary members of the Cohen clan. The last of which, I determined by Della being able to individually pick us out and point to us from a lineup when she heard our names. I was tempted to shave my beard to really put her to the test, but I also don’t want to be the uncle that inadvertently traumatizes her. Anyhow, thankful for these trips, thankful for these friends, and after nearly a week, thankful to sleep in our own bed.
We traveled to Florida in late October to spend some long overdue time with family. Our first stop was Anna Maria Island to see Alexis’ siblings and nieces. We spent our time exploring the island, chartering a boat, swimming, grilling, building a sand metropolis, carving pumpkins, and getting our Halloween costumes good and sandy. It’s not everyday we get this group together in the same room, so I designed (under Alexis’ supervision) some commemorative shirts for some added fun. By our last day I even got called “Uncle Kyle” a few times, which is always as equally terrifying as it is heartwarming.
After a few days we were off to Estero Island to see my parents at our family timeshare, where one Smith or another has been making memories at for over 35 years. Here we got a few good sunsets in, tore across the Gulf of Mexico on some jet skis, and drank an amount of alcohol that would be cause for concern if we weren’t on vacation. We were also lucky enough to catch up with some aunts, uncles and cousins who we rarely get to see, but who were also vacationing on the island.
Before we headed back to California we had just enough time to clink glasses and crack some jokes with my brother, as well as drop in on some friends in Fort Lauderdale. It was a long trip, that went by all too fast, which is really just a roundabout way of saying, we had a great time.
Second trip to Hawaii in six month. Could get used to it. We have Kirstin and Nick’s wedding to thank for it this time around. Some rain clouds kept us all on our toes up until the moment of the ceremony but it turned out to be a beautiful day and night. Thankful to have been invited along for the ride.
Off the Southwest Florida Gulf Coast there’s a place called Estero Island. On that island there’s a seven-story condo called Sea Watch. On the 7th floor of that condo, there’s a unit that’s been in my family since before my time. I was just five months old my first visit. The Smith’s are still making memories there to this day.
My parents hold the keys to it now, and Alexis and I tagged along this year. It was her first time and I hadn’t been back in eleven years. It’s a special place, with a lot of history. It’s a place I’m very thankful for.
Memorial Day. First time taking the Expo line all the way to the water.
One of my best and longest standing buds, Giovanni. Came to visit Los Angeles for the first time, and it was the best time.
Me and my one and only brother, when we still ran wild, with the Gulf of Mexico to our backs. He turned Thirty last month, can’t wrap my head around it still. I’ve grown taller than him, but he’ll always be my big brother. He’s got a reputation for being quiet, but I think he just chooses his words very carefully, always respected that about him. I believe in him, and have pride in him, always.
Happy Thirty Joey.