Saturday, January 24, 2004

Denise Duhamel - Hollywood, FL

With more than 13,000 miles very recently under our belts, it's pretty easy to say that traffic varies widely from town to town, state to state. With the possible exception of Beverly Hills on a Saturday afternoon, the stretch from Miami (where we and Winnie Cooper are spending a week) to Hollywood is the most discouraging. We spot the signs of U.S. 1, The Dixie Highway, and we imagine it will link us quickly to the north, but it's a soul-killing parade of endless red lights and jittery drivers who slam between lanes like they were lottery players looking for just the right combination. 

Additionally, our resting point while in South Florida has turned into a bit of a nightmare. Now, I don't expect every place to be green and beautiful like Granite Lake in southeastern Washington State, or remote and pristine like Death Valley, but nothing could ever prepare you for the Miami Everglades KOA Camp where we pulled in a couple of days ago. Motorhomes have been shuffled here as tight as any deck of playing cards. Need sugar from a neighbor, just slide your window open and tap the dude on the shoulder. Well, unless it's our neighbor to the west. All he's got is weed. Oh, and the classic rock radio that he plays all day, all night, even past the normally Nazi-strict "quiet hours." All parks have these hours, usually something like 10pm - 8am where everyone is supposed to tone it down a bit for the retirees. But not our dude.

On the first night, around 10:15 pm while Free was blasting "Feel Like Making Love," I strolled past the side of his place to see what was up. Party, maybe? All of his friends. A minor breaking of curfew. Good friends, good times. But it was just him, head slumped, doobie in one hand and Jim Beam in the other. When he spotted me he gave me a big grin, a welcoming smile. I reversed field and headed back to the relative quiet of Winnie Cooper.

The next night the music played on. Mostly 80s stuff tonight, Men at Work, Hall & Oates, but then back around to the oldies, the Moody Blues..."I'm just a singer in a rock and roll band..." Etc. We're here for 5 more nights.

Denise lives on the ocean under blue skies year round. She lives in Hollywood, Florida, a place full of retirees and vacationers. But she's young, hip, working, and getting all of the benefits most of us dull slabs have to wait until we're 65 for. So it'd be easy to hate her if she wasn't so wonderful - as wonderful as her work, I suppose I'd say.

A Rhode Island native, she's logged her time in Boston and New York, so sunny climes are a gentle and wonderful reward for all of that. She tells me about some of her favorite writing spots, a local coffee shop, the wide and windblown boardwalk just north of her apartment, the beach itself, just steps away from her building.

Like some of the writers I've met, Denise revels in the anonymity of a large, bustling city. She can escape in public places and take in the characters and stories only available to someone who's a great listener. She writes in notebooks while on the town, then comes home to her office to turn the scratchings into full-blooded poems.

In person, she's a dynamo, eager to talk about the powerful effect this newish place has on her work, her health, and her happiness. She's animated and lovely and we have a terrific session in the sunny and large living room where light pours in on us. I tell her about another poet who she knows and she's sincerely happy to hear some news of a good friend. I tell her about another poet I know here in town and she knows him, too. We talk about his recent new job and in this way we catch up like pals - even though we've just met.

I say my goodbyes and look for my wife. She's across from Denise's apartment complex, staring into the shiny waters of the Intercoastal Waterway where $250,000 boats bob past on their way to - wherever - does it matter? Neither one of us wants to get in the damn rental car and get back on that highway. I ask her if she'd like to live in Florida, and she says, "Only if we never have to drive."

True enough. But we know we have to get back to Winnie for the night. And the classic rock. Our dude waits, he and his pal Jim Beam. We drive and start making bets on what's playing. I think it'll be the Marshall Tucker Band's "Heard it in a Love Song." My wife opts for anything by Skynyrd.