Girlfriend getaway offers lessons in longevity

Florida trip yields triple play of friends, fun and sun

March 31, 2011|Susan Reimer

Winter had not loosed its icy grip when I boarded a plane for St. Petersburg, Fla., and a weekend with Connie and Nancy, my best friends since the seventh grade.

"My best friends since the seventh grade" is how we introduce each other. It is a point we like to emphasize. Most marriages don't last as long as we have.

We've been trying to get together once a year since the kids stopped requiring our undivided attention, but it has been hit or miss. We are all still working, each of us has a busy season, and they never seem to coincide.

This time Connie had a conference in a fancy hotel, and each of us stopped finding excuses. The Vinoy Renaissance in St. Pete is a beautifully restored pink stucco palace of luxury, and we booked cheap flights from Baltimore, Albany and Seattle to take advantage of Connie's good luck.

Our trips together have a Lucy-and-Ethel-plus-one quality about them, and this one was no exception. Nancy misread her red-eye reservation from the West Coast, and if Connie hadn't stubbornly insisted that she was wrong, she'd have missed her flight altogether.

"She's arriving Friday," I emailed to Connie. And if emails can sound condescending, mine did. "For heaven's sake, she was valedictorian."

She wasn't, of course. Arriving Friday or valedictorian.

But Connie, who badgered our entire high school into making donations to Biafra back in the day, badgered Nancy until she realized she had to get herself to the airport, and quick. She was arriving Thursday.

Our trips always have that kind of misdirected quality, as if we are in a dream or a fog or a rapture. We start talking and walking and we end up, as we did this time, on a makeshift Indy car race course through the city instead of at an art museum. Then we look up and we are standing in front of a restaurant that we'd read about in a travel magazine.

We went to a beach and waded into turquoise water that went hundreds of yards toward the horizon before it even reached our knees. We drank wine before noon and ordered the catch of the day.

This is why we are still working, we decided, pushing aside our disappointment that retirement dreams are just that these days. We work so we can buy airline tickets to be with each other.

We wandered into a vintage clothing shop in the Ybor City section of Tampa called LaFrance and were dismayed to see that many of the selections could have come from our closets.

Vintage, we decided, was a good thing to be. Better than old. We wondered if we looked our milestone ages to the young people around us, or if we looked they way we felt — like three 20-year-olds.

We met an athletic-looking, handsome man on the steps of our hotel and asked him to take our picture. He seemed kind of annoyed but obligingly stepped between us and waited for the flash.

"Honey," I said, touching his arm gently. "You're adorable, but we want a picture of the three of us."

He looked confused, but he fumbled with the camera and took our picture before getting into a waiting car.

When an onlooker pointed out that he was former New York Yankee Johnny Damon, recently signed by the Tampa Bay Rays, we howled with embarrassed laughter. Connie fancies herself a Yankees fan. I used to cover sports.

We told our story to complete strangers and laughed again, harder each time. That would be the caption on this vacation with best friends since the seventh grade, we decided.

"Honey. You're adorable, but we want a picture of the three of us."

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