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You get ten days, someone once told me. Ten days in all of your life that qualify as truly "great." That when you look back through the lens of time stand apart from everything else.
All the rest is just clutter.
And driving my rented Cadillac STS somewhere outside Jacksonville, just off the plane from Ft. Lauderdale, looking around for Bay Shore Springs Drive and the Marriott Sun Coast Resort, I thought that today had a pretty fair shot of ending high on that list.
First, there would be eighteen holes with my old college buddy from Amherst, Mike Dinofrio, at Atlantic Pines, the new Jack Nicklaus –designed course you pretty much had to sell your soul — or in my case, remove fifteen years of wrinkles from the face of a board member's wife — to even get a tee time on.
Then it was the Doctors Without Borders regional conference I was actually in town for, where I was delivering the opening address. On my experiences in the village of Boaco, in Nicaragua, where, for the past five years, instead of heading off each August on some cruise ship or to Napa like most of my colleagues, I went back to the same, dirt-poor, flood-ravaged town, doing surgeries on cleft palates and reconstructive work on local women who'd had mastectomies as a result of breast cancer. I'd even put together a fund raising effort at my hospital to build a sorely needed school. What had begun, I'd be the first to admit, as simply a way to clear my head after a painful divorce had now become the most meaningful commitment in my life. A year ago, I'd even brought along my then seventeen-year-old, Hallie, who freely admitted that at first it was merely a cool way to show community service for her college applications. But this year she was back again, before starting at UVA, snapping photos for a blog she was doing and teaching English. I'd even included some of her photos as a part of my presentation tonight: "Making Medicine Matter: How a Third World Village Taught Me the Meaning of Medicine Again." I wished she could be there tonight, but she was going through exams. Trust me, as a dad, I couldn't have been prouder.
Then later, after everything wound down, I had drinks lined up at the Marriott's rooftop bar with one Jennifer H. Keegan — former Miss Jacksonville, now regional field manager for Danner Klein — whose visits to my office were always charged with as many goose bumps and as much electricity as there was product presentation. The past few months, we'd bumped into each other at cocktail parties and industry events, but tonight ... hopefully basking in the afterglow of my moving and irresistible speech, with a couple of glasses of champagne in us ... Well, let's just say I was hoping that tonight could turn a day that was "really, really good" into one that would reach an all time high on that list!
If I could only locate the damn hotel ... I fixed on the green, overhanging street sign. METCALFE ... That wasn't exactly what I was expecting to see. Where the hell was Bay Shore Springs Drive? I started thinking that maybe I should've waited for the Caddie with the GPS, but the girl said that could be another twenty minutes and I didn't want to be late.
Bay Shore Springs had to be the next street down. I pulled up at the light, and started thinking about how life had bounced back pretty well for me after some definite rocky patches. I had a thriving cosmetic practice in Boca, annually making South Florida Magazine's list of Top Doctors, once even on the cover. I'd built my own operating clinic and overnight recovery center, more like a five- star inn than a medical facility. I'd put together a successful group of three storefront medical clinics in Ft. Lauderdale and up in Palm Beach, and even appeared periodically on Good Morning South Florida, "Dr. Henry Steadman Reports" ... Dubbed by my daughter as "the go-to Boob Dude of Broward County," my reputation cemented as creator of the Steadman Wave, the signature dip I'd perfected just above the areolae that created the seamless, pear shaped curvature everyone was trying to copy these days.
It wasn't exactly what I thought I'd be known for when I got out of med school at Vanderbilt twenty years ago, but hey, I guess we all could look back and say those things, right?
I'd played the field a bit the past few years. Just never found the one to wow me. And I'd managed to stay on decent terms with Liz, a high powered immigration lawyer, who five years back announced, as I came home from a medical conference in Houston, that she'd had one of those "days that made the list" herself — with Mort Golub, the managing partner of her practice. It hurt, though I suppose I hadn't been entirely innocent myself. The only good thing that came of it was that I'd managed to stay active in my daughter's life: Hallie was a ranked equestrian who had narrowly missed going to the Junior Olympics a couple of years back and was now finishing her freshman year at UVA. I still went with her to meets around the South, just the two of us.
But I hadn't had a steady woman in my life for a couple of years. My idea of a date was to cruise down to the Keys on weekends in my Cessna for lunch at Pierre's in Islamorada. Or whack the golf ball around from time to time to a ten handicap. All pretty much "a joke," my daughter would say, rolling her eyes, for one of "South Florida's Most Eligible Bachelors" — if he was trying to keep up the reputation.
Traffic was building on Lakeview, nearing I- 10, as I continued on past Metcalfe. I saw a Sports Authority and a Dillard's on my left, a development of Mediterranean-style condos called Tuscan Grove on the right. I flipped on a news channel ... Another day of U.S. missiles pummel-pummeling Gadhafi air defenses in Libya ... The dude had to go. Tornadoes carve a path of death and destruction through Alabama. Where the hell was Bay Shore Springs Drive?
Yes! I spotted the name on the hanging street sign and switched on my blinker. The plan was to first check in at the hotel, then head over to Mike's, and we'd go on to the club. My mind roamed to the famous island green on the signature sixteenth hole ...
Suddenly I realized the cross street wasn't Bay Shore Springs at all, but something called Bay Ridge West. And it was one way, in the opposite direction!
Shit! I looked around and found myself trapped in the middle of the intersection — in the totally wrong lane, staring at someone in an SUV across from me scowling like I was a total moron. Behind me, a line of cars had pulled up, and was waiting to turn. The light turned yellow ...
I had to move.
The hell with it, I said to myself, and pressed the accelerator, speeding up through the busy intersection. My heart skipped a beat and I glanced around, hoping no one had spotted me. Bay Shore Springs had to be the next street down.
That was when a flashing light sprang up behind me, followed a second later by the jolting whoop, whoop, whoop of a police siren.
A white police car came up on my tail, as if it had been waiting there, a voice over a speaker directing me to the side of the road.
I made my way through traffic to the curb, reminding myself that I was in North Florida, not Boca, and the police here were a totally different breed.
I watched through the side mirror as a cop in a dark blue uniform stepped out and started coming toward me. Aviator sunglasses, a hard jaw, and a thick mustache, not to mention the expression that seemed to convey: Not in my pond, buddy.
I rolled down my window, and as the cop stepped up, I met his eyes affably. "I'm really sorry, Officer. I know I cut that one a little close. It was just that I was looking for Bay Shore Springs Drive and got a little confused when I saw Bay Ridge West back there. I didn't see the light turn."
"License and proof of insurance," was all he said back to me.
I sighed. "Look, here's my license ..." I dug into my wallet. "But the car's a rental, Officer. I just picked it up at the airport. I don't think I have proof of insurance. It's part of the rental agreement, no ...?"
I was kind of hoping he would simply see the initials MD after my name and tell me to pay closer attention next time.
Instead he said grudgingly, "Driving without proof of insurance is a state violation punishable by a five hundred dollar fine."
"I know that, Officer, and of course I have proof of insurance on my own car ... I handed him my license. "But like I said, this one's a rental. I just picked it up at the airport. I'm afraid you're gonna have to take that one up with Hertz, Officer ... Martinez." I focused on his nameplate. "I just got a little confused back there looking for the Marriott. I'm up here for a medical conference ..." "The Marriott, huh?" the policeman said, lifting his shades and staring into my car.
"That's right. I'm giving a speech there tonight. Look, I'm really sorry if I ran the light — I thought it was yellow. I just found myself trapped in no-man's-land and thought it was better to speed up than to block traffic. Any chance you can just cut me a little slack on this ...?"
Traffic had backed up, rubbernecking, slowly passing by. "You realize you were turning down a one way street back there?" Martinez completely ignored my plea. "I did realize it, Officer," I said, exhaling, "and that's why I didn't turn, not to men —"
"There's a turnoff two lights ahead," the patrolman said, cutting me off. "I want you to make a right at the curve and pull over there."
"Officer ..." I pleaded one more time with fading hope, "can't we just —"
"Two lights," the cop said, holding on to my license.
"Just pull over there."
Excerpted from 15 Seconds by Andrew Gross. Copyright © 2013 by Andrew Gross. Excerpted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers.
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