Making Time For Strangers In The Age of Covid

Although I wanted to spend the day fishing alone, my new friend for the day Mr. Alex, had other plans.

Making Time For Strangers In The Age of Covid

Although I wanted to spend the day fishing alone, my new friend for the day Mr. Alex, had other plans.

Photo by VisionPic .net from Pexels

I Went Fishing This Past Weekend

This past weekend I went fishing. I was determined to find a good fishing spot where there were no people. I didn’t have to wear a mask all day; I wanted to breathe fresh air. I went to my usual bait and tackle store near Dania Beach to buy live shrimp, As I arrived, a White couple donning MAGA hats were coming out of the bait store. I chuckled at the proud losers as I walked to the trunk of my car to get my bait bucket. Trumpsters were out all weekend in full-force, including boat parades. As they got into their car to leave, another car pulled into their parking spot. I wasn’t really paying attention because I was ready to get on with my day, so I scooted in the store to get my bait. I placed my order and waited at the register as the store employee went to the live bait tank to get my five dozen live shrimp.

About a minute later, a little old White man came in behind me with fancy, expensive outdoor gear. He was dressed nicely, as if he was going on a boat, a nice boat. You could tell he had money, but he wasn’t flashy. I greeted him with a customary Southern “Good Morning,” as I do when I’m out. As the employee gave me my bait bucket, he asked me where I was going.

I didn’t really know exactly, I just wanted to get out of the house. If there was salt or brackish water anywhere it was a possibility for me. The employee recommended some places for me to go, so I was listening intently. The little old man was listening too. He confided in the store employee he was a part-time resident from New York and was also looking for somewhere to go fish. So he gave both of us the same instructions at the same time. The older gentleman turned to me and said, “Do you know where it is?” I confirmed I knew where this suggested fishing hole was.

My Made A New No-Named Fishing Buddy

The little old man then asked how far it was away from the bait store. I told him about 5 miles. Finally, he asked if he could follow me there, which was surprising, so I confirmed he could follow me to the fishing spot.

The little old man then informed me had a boat, but he was too old to go out on it alone. That made me feel bad for him. I loved going out on the boat too, and when I had to give mines up because I couldn’t store it anymore, I was hurt. But shore fishing is much better than sitting in the house on any day, and me and Mr. No-Name senior citizen man were out, masked up, but out ready for a day of fresh air, even if we didn’t catch any fish.

As we waited for Mr. No-Name man’s bait, he confided in me he was a mere 83-years-old looking to get out for the day. He had a boat, but due to his high blood pressure, he sometimes he got a little woozy making handling his boat alone difficult. It was settled Mr. No Name was going to be my buddy today. I promised I would get Mr. No-Name man to the fishing hole safely. I did my best to let him know I wasn’t a threat.

Since I’ve stopped coloring my hair and allowed my salt and pepper to grow out, I’ve noticed older people trust me to help them. Just another observation of aging gracefully in South Florida. The store employee gave Mr. No-Name his bait. I waited on him to pay for his order and then we walked out to our cars together.

He had parked next to my car, so we loaded our stuff, and I told Mr. No Name Man to follow me.

We drove to the beach front park and found the exact spot the store employee referenced. We parked and Mr. No-Name was happy. I could see the smile on his face. There was a place for him to sit on a bench, plenty of walking room, and he could watch boats come and go, which is always interesting if you’re into boating. The money people spend on water toys here in Fort Lauderdale is unbelievable. If I had the money, I’d probably have a big sea toy too.

There were hardly any people out fishing in the area, which was a good sign. It meant we could take our masks off and social distance fish. I knew it was going to be a good day.

His Name Was Alex, Mr. Alex

As I got my wagon and all of my fishing stuff from the car, Mr. No Name unloaded his stuff too. He packed light, unlike me, highlighting the difference between women and men, and older people and younger people. I just thought it was the cutest thing. We each had everything we needed.

We locked our cars and headed to the water. On the way to find our spot I we hadn’t formally introduced ourselves. If we were going to be fishing buddies for the day, at least we should be on a first name basis. I turned to Mr. No-Name and said, “I’m sorry, but I never introduced myself. My name is Marley.” Mr. No-Name did a fist bump and said, “My name is Alex.”

It was official, me and Mr. Alex were best friends for the day.

Mr. Alex Catches All The Fish

I let Mr. Alex pick his spot first, because at 83-years-old you should just have that privilege for living this long through a pandemic. He got to his spot of choice and set up, then I took one about 12 feet away from him and set my stuff up. I was close enough to monitor him, far enough a way to social distance and fish without a mask. He asked me if I thought it would be okay for him to take his mask off as if I were his daughter, so like a good daughter, I said as long as he promised to social distanced it would be good, but if he was going to be talking to strangers up close, please wear it.

My new friend Mr. Alex agreed and placed his mask in his pocket.

After setting up, I removed my mask and enjoyed fresh air, quiet, sunshine on my face, and watching the boaters move in and out of the intra-coastal waterway.

Not long after Mr. Alex made his first cast, he pulled in the first fish of the day, a small Mangrove Snapper. That was a good sign. I clapped, excited he has success. Over the next hour he’d reel in a blue crab, a puffer fish, and a few more varieties of snapper before the tide began rising and he needed to move.

I wasn’t having any luck except getting my bait stolen, but I didn’t care. I was enjoying my freedom. Mr. Alex shifted to the other side of me about 12 feet down and set up his latest fishing spot. I caught a small pin fish. Mr. Alex asked for it to use as bait, so I took it to him. Before I knew it, Mr. Alex had caught himself a 5 foot shark that put up a great fight. I enjoyed watching him, because I knew fishing isn’t fun if you’re not catching, and catching a fighter is always fun. I reeled my lines in so Mr. Alex could have room to fight with his catch. The shark fought for about 10 minutes before he could land it. I walked over to see what he planned to do with it.

He wanted to take a picture to send to his son back home in New York. Mr Alex reached into his pocket, pulled out his cellphone and turned on his camera. I snapped several pictures of his catch for him, did a quick video, then we removed, placed the shark back in the water and sent him on his way.

Me and Mr. Alex high-fived. He was exhausted.

Thief trying to eat my life shrimp off the line. This iguana does not follow social distancing guidelines. Photo by Marley K

Mr. Alex fixed up his fishing line with shrimp again and caught several more fish before finally decided he’d had enough for the day. Fighting the shark had worn him down. He reached into his cooler bag and pulled out two bananas. He insisted I have one. So I took the banana and Mr. Alex broke bread in what would be our first and last supper. His wife called to check on him to make sure he was okay. I’m pretty sure Mr. Alex was speaking a modern Hebrew with what sounded like a little Yiddish. He talked to his wife quietly for a little while and hung up. As he began gathering his things, his son called. He spoke to his son in English.

He had joy in his voice telling his boy about his catches for the day.

Mr. Alex told his son he didn’t have time to talk to him because he had a fishing girlfriend and he had just caught a shark. I couldn’t tell whether Mr. Alex’s son knew if he was kidding, but from the sounds of their conversation, Mr. Alex was a regular trash talker. He had a sense of humor. Mr. Alex brought the phone near so I could say hello. I told Mr. Alex’s son I met him at the bait store today and that he was a very nice man, heaven’s forbid his son thinks his dad is 83-years-old picking up random women in the street (LOL).

His son thanked me for looking out for his dad.

My New Friend Leaves The Fishing Hole

After my chat with his son, Mr. Alex took the phone away, finished his conversation with his son, and hung up. It was late afternoon by this time, so Mr. Alex decided he was calling it the day. He gave me the rest of his bait and thanked me so much for sharing my spot with him. I told him it was not a problem at all. He was so nice. I enjoy being around old people; I don’t know why. I always have been that way.

I was sad my new friend Mr. Alex was leaving.

Although I wanted to be alone, I really enjoyed Mr. Alex’s company. He didn’t chat too much; he followed social distancing guidance, was funny, and most importantly, he caught fish. He was the perfect fishing companion. My kind of fishing partner.

He asked me where I lived and I told him, but I could tell as a part-timer, he had no clue. Because of his age and because I’m fully aware we live in the identity theft capital of the nation; I was cognizant not to ask Mr. Alex too many questions so as not to stoke fear or give the impression I’m a thief. You’d be surprised at the things people do to seniors here in Florida. Preying on seniors is a full-time job for criminals in this godforsaken state.

Mr. Alex and I agreed that if we met up at the fishing hole again, we’d catch up. He told me his kids lived out-of-town doing what kids do, living. Mr. Alex said his kids didn’t have time for him because they had their own families. Although he said it casually, I could also see that it would be something he valued, having his kids come down and take him fishing on his boat.

I have a captain’s license, and would’ve been happy to take Mr. Alex fishing out on his boat since he doesn’t have any family or friends locally who could go out with him, but only if and when he felt comfortable. I’m the perfect first mate, expertly trained by my ex-husband.

Just because you’re old doesn’t mean you have to stop living, and Mr. Alex clearly loved to fish. It’s just sad as seniors age we often forget to include them in the land of the living. I didn’t bother extending an invitation to captain to my new friend. I hope we both survive Covid to meet up another time.

There is nothing like being outdoors, especially with nice people.

Don’t Forget To Be Kind and Antiracist

I constantly find myself in situations with strangers because I make it a point to be kind to people, all people, not just Black ones. I know here on Medium I am pro-Black, but in my everyday life, I’m pro-humanity. We were put on this earth to care for one another. If you’re racist, you miss opportunities to connect with people you may have things in common with. Me and Mr. Alex connected because we loved fishing. He trusted me, a Black woman, to lead him to a fishing hole. I trusted Mr. Alex, an older White gentleman who just wanted to fish and get out of the house.

I didn’t care about his race or ethnicity. I saw a father and grandfather with no family or friends to hangout with wanting to do the same thing I wanted to do on a Saturday morning, buy bait and fish. We didn’t get into politics. Politics and fishing don’t go together unless you know you’re not in mixed company. Clearly he wasn’t racist because if he was, I’m sure he would have found another way to get to the water without a Black woman.

I wanted Mr. Alex to enjoy his day out, and he did. Our kindness and respect for another allowed us to enjoy a day amid a pandemic. Spending time with my new friend reminds me we are more alike than we are different. We shouldn’t miss opportunities to be kind to strangers, especially the elderly, in the midst of this pandemic.

I hope I get to see Mr. Alex again. He made my day, and he can fish his ass off.

Marley K in Quarantine 2020

Follow me: https://marleyk.medium.com

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