Tampa was the 4th city I had lived in since leaving Indiana for Georgia in 1994 and I loved it. Never thought I would actually leave but it was about a week after New Years in 2003, my lease was up at the end of the month, I had no money and hated my job. The home I had created for myself was now a dead end. I worked from 4 pm until midnight, would go home and drink a bottle of Blackstone, pass out around 3 am and sleep until noon before doing it all over again. Once realizing my dream of becoming a high paid flight attendant on private jets was squashed, depression had set in and I had no idea what I was going to do. Then the phone rang!
‘Froggie’ needed 2 girls to come and help him in Vegas for a big convention and was hoping me and friend could go. The pay was $300 a day for 7 days. We were staying in a suite at the Venetian Hotel and taking a private jet to get there. As soon as we hung up, I cried. That was a lot of money, money I needed to move into a more affordable place and VEGAS, really??????? At 30 years old, besides the European adventure I just experienced, I had only been to maybe 5 other places other than Indiana my whole life. My shifts were covered at work, one of my closest friends agreed to come and 3 days later, we were in my car on our way to his mansion in Fort Lauderdale.
The drive there was so much fun! Typically it takes about 4 hours to drive from Tampa to Fort Lauderdale but somehow, it took us 8. After walking down the extremely long hallway to the other wing of his home, he handed us each a zanax and told us to sit tight until he returned. We were like 2 kids whose parents had left them alone for the first time. The room was huge and beautifully decorated with a giant bathroom and a bed we kept jumping up and down on while sipping wine and blasting music.
Around 8 am the next day we made our way to the kitchen to find some breakfast and didn’t see him until around 11, he was not an early riser. This was crazy, 2 months ago I had no idea private jets even existed before I worked on one and now here I am, as a guest. Our flight attendant was tall, around 50 and really friendly. Her and I bonded on the 5 hour flight which I thought was cool, but never imagined it would amount to anything. She mentioned how she was giving up her job to get back with her husband and move to Seattle after which I told her my story of how I ended up as a passenger on that jet. As we departed the plane, she waved goodbye and said we’ll see you in 7 days!!!!
Our suite had cathedral ceilings, a gym, giant living room, 10 person dining table and 2, very big bedrooms. The job was simple, we attended the conference during the day with him, taking notes, running errands, setting up meetings, easy stuff and we never began the day before 10 or 11 am. To be honest, after a few days, it was hard to tell what time it was. The Venetian hotel painted a good portion of their ceilings with blue skies and white, fluffy clouds so you would swear it was always day time. There were so many restaurants, bars and shops to choose from, you never had to leave. It was an Italian themed hotel equipped with real Gondolas that sailed through the Grand Canal floating beneath bridges, past cafes and under balconies as your gondolier serenaded you.
One night Froggie needed the suite to himself so he loaned us one of his body guards, a limo and gave us $1000 cash to disappear. We left the hotel, had dinner and drinks, saw a topless cabaret and still had a few hundred bucks leftover once we returned to the hotel so each of us took a bill and gambled. I was at the craps table, wasted, happy as a clam and yelling ‘mama needs a new pair of shoes’ as I tossed the dice across the table. That last part was a bit fuzzy, but I do remember losing every penny and not caring at all. In this trip and so mant others there are so many crazy things that happened, but I’ll save the good stuff for when I actually get paid to write.
On the flight home, everyone decided to sleep it off but not me, I had so much energy flowing that I was like a chatty cathy with our flight attendant. She and I sat in the back of the plane, sipping wine and talking the whole way back to Florida and just as we were about to land, she gave me an offer I couldn’t refuse.
The jet company she worked for in Fort Laudeedale needed to hire someone to replace her and if I was interested, she would put in a good word for me and see what happened. Plus, the giant house she rented on a canal had 3 bedrooms and really cheap rent so I could just take over her lease as well. Now, I lived in Tampa, the job was in Fort Lauderdale which meant I would need to move across the state on a whim hoping they would give me a shot and what if I was terrible at it and got fired? Then I would be stuck in Fort Lauderdale without a job and alone. I could always waitress and bartend again, not ideal, but it paid the bills. Besides, this wasn’t the first time I packed up and moved on a moment’s notice. There was nothing left for me in Tampa professionally; it had been 5 great years and I made some amazing friends who I’m still in touch with today, but it was time for a change, so I said OK!
I picked up every shift I could at the restaurant and started saying my goodbyes. With my friends it was easy, I knew they would visit, but there were 2 special people in my life I knew I would never see again, Ronnie the bum who lived in a shed behind the restaurant and Rose, my elderly neighbor and friend who I took care of.
Rose was ok with it; she was elderly and had lost many people close to her in life. Ronnie on the other hand was devastated. He was such a kind man who liked being a bum. He would work odd jobs sweeping parking lots or cleaning up trash for the local establishments. I would bring him leftover food after work and we would just sit and talk for hours. His shed was nice too, the owners of the business didn’t use it so as long as he was out of site during working hours, he could stay there for free. I drove the moving van with my dog in the front seat and my car hitched to the back over to his place to say goodbye. As I drove away, he held on to the door chasing after me begging me not to go, I almost took him with me but thought better of it.
It broke my heart to leave him; I cried the entire 2.5 hours drive to Alligator Alley. My poor puppy, once again we were on the move and mom was a mess. As I neared the end of the alley and started to see the bright lights of my new city slowly appear, I looked into my rear view mirror as if to take one last look and at that very moment, heard a large sound, like a door slamming shut on my past! To this day, that noise, whatever it was, made everything ok and then all of a sudden; I couldn’t wait for the next chapter.