Over the past seven weeks I’d been to: San Francisco, Busan, the Oregon coast, Minneapolis, Asbury Park in New Jersey, Sacramento, Burbank, the Guna Yala Islands off the coast of Panama and had arrived in Sarasota, Florida at night after a 12-hour day of traveling from Panama City with a long layover in – I’ve forgotten. I mention all this to explain my confusion when, the next morning, a coworker mentioned how pretty the sunset was the night before and showed me a photo on her phone of the sun melting into the ocean. 

But we’re on the East Coast, I said.

We’re on the Gulf Coast, she said. The west side of Florida.

Ah, right. 

When I’m traveling this much, I forget things. Hotel room numbers, what type of rental car I’m driving, which way the window to the ocean faces. I’d be that music star asking the crew where we were each night before taking the stage. Hello, Sarasota! 

My time in Florida totaled less than 36 hours. Here is what I remember:

  • The Uber driver who delivered me from the airport to the hotel. She had a service dog in the front seat. His leg had been injured when she’d had to hit the brakes suddenly, causing him to fall off the seat and bang into her mother’s urn on the floor. The urn was made of copper, so particularly painful.
  • Finding my people on the beach gathered around a couple volunteers playing guitar and singing ‘70s songs as palm trees waved in the warm breeze and plenty of stars shone overhead. I stuck my toes in the ocean to make sure I was really there. 
  • Riding in a coworker’s convertible to eat fish tacos at Tommy Bahama’s.
  • How, in the walk from the car to the restaurant, a makeup artist… skincare specialist… I’m not sure… raced up to me, handed me a teabag of English Breakfast and asked if he could apply an under-eye product to my face. Too polite, or maybe too stunned, to say no, I let him. He only did one side, however, telling me to take a look in the mirror in 15 minutes and come back for the other eye after lunch. As we seated ourselves around the table, I felt the skin under my left eye tightening up and wondered if I looked like a Batman villain. 
  • The challenges Surfrider’s volunteers face establishing Ocean Friendly Restaurants in a decidedly ocean-unfriendly political climate. 
  • Feeling especially affirmed in my decision to attend the conference, despite my time there being limited, after multiple coworkers canceled due to illness.
  • Suggesting to Ryan and Caroline, two of my coworkers who were not sick, that we take in the rescued turtles and manatees at the Mote Marine Mammal Center. Manatees!
  • Wearing the yellow-and-orange plaid beach pants I’d picked up in Jersey just to be able to wear in Florida. Look at my Florida pants! I demanded of everyone. 
  • The warmth of that part of the world, the warmth of the people I was with. Of course the travel was worth it.