I went out to visit my mother in St. Petersburg, Florida this past week. It was late Friday afternoon and we were looking for something to do or somewhere to go. “How about going to the Don,” mused mom. She was referring to the prestigious Don Cesar Hotel, often referred to as the Pink Palace.
“I guess,” I said reluctantly, feeling like we should try someplace new. The Don is one of our favorite places to hang out on St. Pete’s beach…only I had just spent a couple hours there earlier in the day watching CSU lose in the NCAA tournament while out at the pool bar.
“Or, we could go to that big old house that’s now a restaurant,” I offered. “What’s that place called again?”
“You mean The Hurricane?”
“Yep, that’s the one,” I shouted. “Don’t they have an outside bar on top of the roof?”
“Yes. We could go watch the sunset. Wanna do that?”
I couldn’t say yes fast enough. Besides, there was something else The Hurricane was known for but I couldn’t remember. I know it has something to do with the bar on the roof and the sunset…but what?
Spring Break in Florida is where it’s at, especially during the month of March. College students from around the country flock south to line the beaches for a week of partying, NCAA basketball, sunbathing, and, of course, hitting the bars.
Given the crowds down by the beach, many of the local residents will purposely avoid going out to the bars and restaurants during peak hours…especially at sunset. I mean, you really have to like being around a lot of people, standing in long lines, doing a lot of waiting, and fighting to get to the front of the bar just to get a drink. But then again, isn’t that part of the Spring Break experience that comes with being in South Florida? I think so. Fortunately, my mother likes to go out and be in the mix. She’s also a people-watcher, like me, and there’s certainly no shortage of interesting people to watch on the beach.
So we get to The Hurricane and take the elevator up to the rooftop. Now, if you haven’t been to The Hurricane before, let’s just say the place has a lot of character. But that’s also part of its charm.
It’s about 7pm and the rooftop is packed. In fact, half the bar area is blocked off for a private party, making our side extremely crowded. With the sunset occurring around 7:40pm, we have maybe 40-minutes to get a drink and hopefully find a spot for optimal viewing.
We split up duties. I head left for the bar and mom goes right to secure a spot. It’s now 7:20pm, the pressure is on. Why are people cutting in front of me at the bar, I grumble to myself as another one slips by. But then I notice more and more spring breakers invading the rooftop. It’s every person for themselves I guess. We’re shoulder-to-shoulder now. I can’t see my mom.
Just then I hear those magic words, “What can I get you?” coming from the cute bartender with a long wedding verse tattooed on her back. I rattle off our two drinks and quickly load up and weave my way toward the direction of the sun, which is now turning orange. “Crap, we’re close to sunset!” I cry out, wondering what I’d do if I cannot spot my mom along the west side of the bar.
“Greg, Greg, I’m over here.” I look in the direction of the voice, clearly coming from the east side of the roof. “Over here,” shouts my mom, frantically waving her arm. The good news is she’s nabbed a table…the bad news is that it’s at the opposite side of the bar from the ocean.
It’s now 7:30pm and the sunset is well underway. Various shades of yellow, orange, blue and gold all merge just above the heads of the hundreds of people who are all standing in front of us. There’s even some pushing and shoving going on. Even though we’re standing, we can only see silhouettes of bodies from all the Spring Breakers who arrived after us but who are now in front of us.
“Do you think we’ll see the Green Flash?” my mom asks.
“Green Flash!” I say out of frustration. “We’ll be lucky if we can get a glimpse of the sun.”
It’s 7:38pm. The burnt orange sun is now touching the edges of the water. I can’t take it anymore. I stand up on top of my chair.
And then the most amazing thing happened.
The crowd became quiet…I’m talking trance-like quiet. It was like we were all frozen in the moment. All eyes directed towards the sun as it slowly eased into the water. You know that moment!
And then, all at once, as if on cue, a loud roar emerged from our rooftop as the sun ducked out of site. It was the same kind of roar that I witnessed a few weeks ago when Phil Mickelson sunk a long putt on the 18th hole to tie for the lead at a PGA tournament. Dead silence as the putt rolled and rolled towards the hole and then a wild roar as it hit the bottom of the cup!
I had goose bumps all over. I don’t recall ever seeing a crowd of people cheer a sunset before. It was the coolest thing. I then looked over at my mother and noticed a tear streaking down her face. Suddenly my heart became heavy as I could tell she was thinking about my father who had just recently passed. Of course, I said to myself, this is where they used to go! Needless to say, it was a bitter-sweet moment.
As the satisfied crowd began their mass exodus from the rooftop, I remembered what else the Hurricane was known for… it was the whole sunset experience.
I’ve seen a lot of sunsets before but never like this one. I think my father’s spirit may have been there with us as well. How else could you explain such a perfect sunset?