By Eric Snider
Alone, sleepless, in a hotel room at 2:30 a.m. is not a good place to be. That’s where I found myself on a trip for work not long ago. As a committed eight-hour-a-night guy, wakefulness makes me restless, which causes me concern, which morphs into worry. Sleep quickly becomes out of the question.
That night, due to a lot of stuff, I had what the great blues legends called a troubled mind. I peeked at my cell phone. Three more hours to my 5:30 alarm — way, way before I’m used to.
The hotel room was in Naples, Florida. I was there for a storytelling project, including a video shoot, for the Naples/Marco Island/Everglades convention & visitors bureau. Paradise has been the Agency of Record for Florida’s Paradise Coast for 13 years.
Lying there, I mused that this Naples location project was not such a great idea after all. Wouldn’t I rather be home in St. Pete, sleeping in?
As it turns out — no.
I met my partner at Paradise, videographer Daniel Reyes, in the lobby at 6 a.m. He wasn’t exactly chipper, either. We threw back some coffee. I nibbled a muffin. We dragged ourselves to the car, drove the short distance to the downtown docks. He started to offload the gear while I met Captain Mike Bailey of Ms.B.Haven Fishing & Eco Charters by his boat.
Our story’s working title was “Cook Your Catch.” Naples, which started out in part as a fishing village, has a cool tradition. Anglers can go out on a charter, snag something legal and edible, have it fileted at the dock, then bring it to certain restaurants in town where they’ll prep, cook and serve it — with sides.
We were out to document the process from hook to fork. A Michigan couple, Jordan and Stephanie Roberts, had agreed to be our “talent.” Stephanie had booked the fishing trip as a gift for Jordan on his 30th birthday.
The glow of sunrise washed over the dock, glinting off the boats. Wisps of clouds brush-stroked the crystal blue sky. The air was crisp. We boarded Captain Mike’s 25-foot center-console and cruised the channel toward the Gulf. Stephanie and Jordan were delightful. They wore matching gray Sperry top-siders. The heavy winds of previous days had died down and the waters were calm. The breeze flapped my jacket. I breathed in the fragrant coastal air. Started to feel a little better.
On our way to net some bait fish, Captain Mike stopped the boat. “I’ve got a friend I want you to meet,” he told us. His mate, Robert, grabbed a small piece of raw fish. Mike let out a loud whistle. From the trees glided an American bald eagle. Robert flipped the chum into the water; the bird stopped, hovered, then dove down and snatched it with his talons. Smiles lit up our faces. We offered a little round of applause.
My troubled mind began to fade. After all, I was out on a fishing boat on a gorgeous day, the kind of day that happens all the time in Naples, Florida.
A snow-white egret perched on the bow and hung around for several minutes, on the lookout for a meal. A short while later, Captain Mike idled over to some dolphins, which seemed happy to gather around the stern. He picked up speed and the dolphins fell in behind us, riding the wake. After a few seconds, one gracefully rose and dipped. After another few seconds, one jumped and splashed, then one jumped and rolled, landing on its back. This kept up for quite some time.
You can live in Florida for decades, as I have, and an impromptu dolphin show like this is never less than magical.
My trouble mind was fading away. I was transfixed by the nature before me.
We enjoyed a lovely, half-day fishing excursion, caught some keepers. After a relaxing ride back in, joined again by frolicking dolphins in our wake, we picked up the story at The Dock restaurant. Everyone there, from the owner, Gil, to the serving and kitchen staff, were accommodating. They couldn’t have been nicer. We had a sumptuous meal, and Stephanie and Jordan shared some of their cooked catch.
The ride home to St. Pete was pleasant. To borrow words from the Muddy Waters classic — trouble no more.