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Observations: Good Stuff

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image There were many silver linings in the dark clouds that brought on the lightning that hit and damaged my boat. Mitch Traphagen Photo

The distractions have been minimized, my outlook has changed and improved.

By MITCH TRAPHAGEN

I have a secret pick-me-up for when I’m feeling beaten down and discouraged about life: I drive to the West Marine store in Apollo Beach and stand before the navigation section.  There, in a too-small space, are charts, books and instruments with ancient roots, instruments that long pre-date but are still relevant in an age when global positioning technology has matured to the point of ubiquity.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve stood in front of that small section of store shelves at least five times.  In those chart books are adventure and places yet undiscovered (to me, at least) and proof (again to me, at least) that I’m not done yet. I still have places to go and things to see. The charts suggest the places; the compasses and instruments show me the way. The past few weeks haven’t been the best but, as always, there have been silver linings to the dark clouds that I imagined have hovered over me.

On the day before my boat was hit by lightning, those dark clouds were thick, blinding me to what I would otherwise see as beautiful. I was driving and noticed my car was on empty so I pulled into the Chevron station on U.S. 41 in Ruskin. I decided to pick up something in the convenience store so I pre-paid for my gas, along with my purchases.  I drove off, ran home and then drove to a grocery store in Apollo Beach. It was on the way back home that I noticed my car’s fuel gauge was now showing below empty. I forgot to actually put the pre-paid gas into the tank of my car. For the first time in 34 years of driving, I ran out of gas, nearly a mile away from home.

While a bag of ice and frozen groceries melted in the relentless 90+ degree heat, I walked home to get our old truck, better known as a dog hauler. Naturally, since it had been sitting largely unused, the battery was dead and a tire that had supposedly been repaired a month prior was flat. With sweat pouring off of me, I got out a battery charger and an air compressor got the truck started and ran back to the same gas station to fill up a fuel jug for my car, left on the side of a road. Of course my pre-paid fuel was no longer there.

I poured the fuel jug into the car and drove home, now leaving the truck behind. I decided to ride my bike back rather than making the walk. I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised about the flat tires but hey! I had an air compressor at the ready.  I managed to get halfway down the street before the rusted chain fell off and jammed itself into the rear wheel. And then the tire went flat again. Inexplicably, I walked that bike more than a quarter of a mile before I realized that I would be driving back that way with a truck and could therefore just pick it up.

The next day my boat got hit by lightning.  Cue the navigation section at the West Marine store. For whatever reason, I’m not dead yet and I do still have things to see. And that’s when I started seeing some of the good stuff.

When my boat was hit, Village Marina dock master Kevin Lefler was out into the storm, arriving at my slip before the fire department, to check to make certain I was OK. He has since repeatedly offered any assistance he could provide.

The next week I stopped into the Chevron station in Ruskin for gas and asked the manager what ended up happening to my pre-paid gas.  “You’re the one!” he said in reply. It turns out he saw me drive off without putting in the gas and cancelled the transaction. “The credit for your card should show up on your statement,” he said.

Wow — there are still honest people in this world.

Steve Fagan, owner of the Mullet Shack, stopped by to drop off some of his delicious smoked mullet and mullet spread. It turns out that Steve was out fishing when that same storm hit. He said in 30 years on the water, he had never seen anything like it and, although miles from home, had considered getting off his boat and finding a place to more safely weather the storm.  Both of us are lucky to be alive. And his mullet spread added a taste and good feeling to that good fortune.

Then there are also the many emails I received from you. Thank you from the bottom of my heart. Your compassion helped to drive away a good bit of feeling sorry for myself and reminded me of what is important in life.

On the surface it would seem that it is going to cost thousands of dollars in replacing equipment on the boat simply to get back to where I was.  But that isn’t entirely true because where I’m going now is better than where I was before. I’ve learned a lot from my experience. I’ve seen the Yin and the Yang — both are integral parts of this world but it is the actions and compassion of people, sometimes seemingly minute but powerful nonetheless, that make the bad doable. Perhaps that I lived at all also showed the compassion of God.

Prior to a few weeks ago, my boat was increasingly neglected as I was increasingly focused more on distractions. But now I’m back on it and I’m happier for it. Stepping aboard I can feel the adventure, I know she is capable of taking us anywhere in the world. Once again I look out into the Gulf of Mexico and wonder what it is like over the horizon. The distractions have been minimized, my outlook has changed and improved. And all it took was a little potentially lethal wakeup call shot down from the sky, along with some really good people like you. I feel better than ever standing in front of the navigation section at West Marine. Life is out there. It’s good stuff.

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