Thursday, April 23, 2015

The Florida Keys and Traveling Uncle Matt

So, I think I owe you an explanation about the Florida Keys. It is a part of our trip that I completely skipped over. I purposely skipped over it because I don't like to write about things that are a drag, but after discussing it with my wife I decided to put it out there. When I started this blog I told myself I was going to tell an honest story from my point of view. The problem is, sometimes my point of view can be jaded and downright depressing. I needed to let some time pass before I wrote about it in order to gain a fresh perspective on the whole thing.

But first, a bit about our time in the Keys...

We spent a good portion of the month of March in the Keys. Originally, we had planned to spend 10 days there at a REALLY expensive RV resort but as luck would have it a non-reservable site opened up at Long Key State Park. For those of you that don't know, the State Parks in the Florida Keys are among the MOST DIFFICULT to get a site at in the entire country. They fill up 11 months in advance and they are sold out within SECONDS of the sites becoming available. So when the chance presented itself we took the site and extended our stay in the Keys for two weeks. 
Secluded, Oceanfront lodging in the Keys. 

We took several trips to Key West to do some shopping and dining but most of our time was spent at our beautiful oceanfront site or in the nearby town of Marathon, which does NOT have a single bad place to eat. Since there are so many options, I will just throw two names out there as my top recommendations:

Castaway Waterfront and Sushi Bar: The beer selection is amazing and they will sell you a flight of your choice of 5 beers for $10. The honey buns they bring you before your meal are ridiculously good. You just poke a hole in the middle and drizzle honey inside and whoof it down. I ate sushi here twice and had a burger once. The burger was fantastic and the sushi was the best I have ever eaten. 
Get the sushi boat and eat it ALL!

Lu Lu's Garden Grille: They have 1/2 off drafts until 9 p.m., which brought the price of our Yeunglings down to $1.50 a pint. And who doesn't love Yuengling? The four of us all really enjoyed our food. I had some Mahi Mahi that was cooked in an amazing sauce and I was left wanting to eat another plate. The real star of this restaurant is the seating. You sit in a beautiful garden and the tables are semi-private. It's very tastefully done and it's a truly refreshing place to dine.  

In between dining and fun, we hiked some of the short trails in the park and handled our usual business like groceries, laundry and post office. It's really strange how completely average the Keys are in regards to what they offer outside of Key West. Fast food restaurants, gas stations, grocery stores, banks and convenience stores line the available space along Highway 1. If it weren't for the abundant sunshine and soft ocean breeze, you might forget you are in paradise. 
Everyone who comes to the Keys takes a picture in front of this stupid thing. It's the Southernmost point in the United States. I am doing you a solid by showing you this picture of the HUGE line you have to wait in to get a pic in front of it. Skip the line, it's lame. And, it's not even the real southernmost point in the United States. It's just a stupid gimmick. 

Back at our campsite, we had full signal on our cell phones which allowed me to stay connected with the business and social media. One afternoon I was reading the news feed on Facebook and one of my old friends had written a supportive post for another close friend of mine. It said something to the effect of, "We are rooting and praying for you Matt. You can make it through this..."

When I heard this I immediately thought 'typical Matt,' so I sent him a text message that read: "Hey asshole, why is Chris praying for you?"

I know, not exactly the most encouraging words, but it's just the kind of relationship I have with Matt. We call names and talk shit as a way of showing love for each other. If you are one of my Michigan friends or family members, you understand this type of relationship. It is how Detroiters do things. Matt had since moved to Chicago where he immersed himself in the music scene but, he is still VERY MUCH a Detroiter.

I met Matt in high school. We hung out with the same after-school crowd and we often played guitars together. But it wasn't until the last decade that we really became close.

His car died when he was living in Colorado in 2004, and he needed someone to deliver a new set of wheels from his parents' house in Michigan. Somehow, I was chosen for the job and I took a road trip with my future wife to bring Matt a car. It turned out to be an awesome trip and it was the moment that Jessica says she fell in love with me. I was already head over heels for her but I am a helpless romantic.

Matt again popped into my life in 2008 after my wife had a miscarriage. We were both devastated and decided to take a trip to Chicago, where Matt had recently moved. He was working for a take-n-bake pizza delivery place and he brought us lots of pizzas and took us out a couple of times. I remember him asking honest questions about the miscarriage. He wasn't afraid to strike that chord in us and you could tell he was willing to ride it out if his probing caused us grief, which it never did. 

After texting Matt, I waited for a few hours but heard nothing. I decided I had better do some investigating to make sure everything was okay. I thought he had just gotten himself into a goofy situation, like the time he was tackled and detained by the secret service while riding his bike near a presidential motorcade in New York City.

After several messages to mutual friends I learned that he was in the hospital, in a coma, fighting for his life. That was all I knew. No explanation of how he ended up there or what the prognosis was, just that he was in really bad shape. 

I don't deal well with crisis and these types of near-death situations. I also don't deal well with the 'unknown'. I try to keep a positive outlook in all things and I have a knack for spreading laughter. So when something like this happens I don't have a reaction. There is no play in my book that I can run.

This doesn't mean that I don't become deeply affected by this stuff. On the contrary, I get really beat up inside and I externalize my feelings by being irritable and shutting down communication with the people in my life.

I become distant and treat my family like shit. I remove myself from situations whenever possible and I have little patience with the kids. I say mean things that make my wife cry and I hide out in my bed and make up excuses why I can't join them for a swim or a bike ride.

I asked around and found out that he had unexpectedly gone into full cardiac arrest while at his apartment and was rushed to the hospital. His condition was stable but his brain activity was poor, meaning it was not looking good that he would return to being 100% Matt ever again. This made me feel incredibly sad. Matt is a super talented and insightful guy who has friends and loved ones all over the country. He is spiritual and poetic and his personality is magnetic. He is the type of guy who asks you something about yourself and then patiently listens to your answer. I could go on and on. He really is a special person, and I am not just saying that because of the circumstances. 

After taking this all in, I had to do something to stop myself from weeping. I got on my bike and rode out to the Long Key bridge and watched people fish. All at once, the sunshine and ocean became a bother to me. It felt like I was being taunted. Like I was in this place where people go to have their petty problems baked away in the heat and washed off in the saltwater.

Meanwhile, I was dealing with this crisis that I only knew about via secondhand information and social media. The charm of being on the islands wasn't working for me. As I sat on that bench watching locals pull fish from the ocean, I hit a low point. 

A lot of times, we imagine that if we could just get away, everything will get better. Here I was, in paradise, wishing I could be next to my hospitalized friend. I was on a tropical island and I just needed to get away. I woke up every morning hoping that I would feel better, but the helplessness and depression were still there. So I would stay inside or find a place in the shade to set my chair and bury myself in an electronic device or a glass of beer. 

I developed a negative opinion of the ocean over the next couple of weeks. I found myself comparing it to the lakes in the Midwest. The ocean is hot and salty and you need to rinse off after swimming in it. When the tide goes out you are left with a muddy shoreline that smells like a fart and there are all sorts of unusual creatures crawling around. I started noticing all of the traffic and tourists and college kids on spring break and my resentment for them grew every day. I was in a terrible funk and this beautiful vacation destination had become a full-on nuisance to me. 

Last I heard, Matt was being moved to a hospital in Michigan to be closer to his family. When I get to Michigan, the first thing I plan to do is go see him. He is still barely responsive but I have heard from some mutual friends that he is showing small signs of consciousness. For some reason, when I heard he had been moved to Michigan I felt a great deal of relief. It feels like this is the first step in the new chapter of his life. This is the road to recovery. 

The last time I saw Matt was in his apartment in Chicago, where we played guitars and sang songs. We sat around making noise and drinking until 4 a.m. When it was time for me to leave he asked me to deliver a present for him. He took the guitar that I was playing, flipped it over and wrote a message along with his signature on the back. He handed it to me and asked me to deliver it to the daughter of a friend of ours back in Michigan. He had signed it "Traveling Uncle Matt". 

It was a rainy night, right around dusk, when I dropped the guitar off. My family waited in the car as I walked up to the door. The girl who would receive the signed guitar was having a birthday party. I believe she was turning 10. I ran into her dad outside. We had a quick chat and he directed me to the door. I knocked and she answered with her friends standing behind her. I said, "I have a special delivery from your Traveling Uncle Matt."

Her face lit up and the room fell silent. I lowered the guitar into her arms while her friends watched in awe. A giant smile appeared on her face and she ran off with her new instrument.  

As I walked away from the porch I could hear the faint sounds of plucking and strumming. That guitar made her night. That's the kind of effect Matt has on people.

You can listen to Matt's music HERE


  1. Thank you for sharing such a touching and honest post. Saying prayers for Matt's recovery. Happy trails Yums.

  2. Thank you for sharing such a touching and honest post. Saying prayers for Matt's recovery. Happy trails Yums.