Elke’s Memoir: Meeting People on Fort Myers Beach

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I came to Fort Myers Beach to relax, enjoy the beach and nature, improve my English and live a different life from the one at home. And so it happened that I went out almost every afternoon and met a lot of nice and interesting people here. Whereas at home I would go to my favorite Italian café and have a cappuccino at 4 o’clock here I went out for the sunset shooter and other drinks.

All this going out has taught me a lesson about my personality. I was always considered and considered myself to be an introvert but apparently Florida has brought out my extrovert nature.

I want to start with a German couple from Cologne. Actually I only met the husband while his wife was nursing the 100 plus bites she had got when collecting shells on Sanibel. She went to a doctor where she learnt that it was “only” the no-see-ums who had attacked her. And he had gone to a dentist twice and tried to recover by drinking more than one Margarita. I was not quite sure, though, whether it was the pain or the 2 doctors’ fees he had to recover from. In spite of their misfortune they considered Florida the best place to spend a wonderful vacation.

Talking to Bud from Pensacola made me think I should have taken an extra language course, “How to converse with people from Lower Alabama.” I had problems understanding him and he got tired of repeating every second sentence. But I got used to his accent after some evenings and we ended up by picking at each other because of our accents: Lower Alabama versus German accent.

And then there was the man with the difficult name I can’t remember. I had told him that I am a teacher having taken a sabbatical after more than 25 years of teaching. When I asked him what he was doing for a living, he whispered into my ear, “I am a gigolo, $200.” It took him quite a while to recover when he heard me asking back, “$200? For how many weeks?”

Spending an evening with Richard from Atlanta was definitely a pleasure. He had come to Fort Myers to build a store in Edison Mall. He told me about his wife and 7 kids, and especially about the youngest one, 6 years old, who always said on the phone, “I miss you, Dad.” I kept thinking about Richard for another reason: once he told me that he could not walk for a long time because of the pain in his legs from the wounds he had received in Vietnam. How strange for me to meet somebody here who had actually fought in Vietnam while we students in Germany and other countries of Europe demonstrated against the US intervention in Vietnam.

Miriam was a Belgian woman I met on the 50-bus. I could right away tell that she must be a tourist from Europe: she was carrying a sweater with her though the temperature was almost 90 F that day. And she put it on in the bus and off outside in the sun. I had done the same thing the week before, much to the amusement of the other passengers. But, what a nice bus driver from LeeTran! On the way back to the beach he switched the air off, a special service for 2 freezing European ladies. Maybe he saved us from catching a cold or pneumonia.

I considered Pedro to be the most mixed-up person I’ve met here. He owned a shop in Germany (Frankfurt) had a Spanish name, an American passport, could hardly speak English, had been raised in Germany where his father was in the service and Pedro had made an offer to buy a motel in Bonita. He thought he could live a better life here with the taxes being lower, the prices too with the warm climate and the very friendly people here.

How different from everybody was Jack. When he found out that I had studied theology and philosophy, he involved me in such intense discussions that I was reminded of my university time many years ago. So Jack started with Immanuel Kant, the great German philosopher and then went on, or rather back to the Ancient Greeks, Plato and Aristotle. Of course we also talked about the great American philosophers. I was impressed. And all that on a barbecue night eating grouper steaks and snapper. In the end I could not make up my mind what I enjoyed more, the fish or the conversation.

What a romantic beginning of an extremely short relationship with George from Indiana who had come here to buy property. It was the jumping dolphin that brought us together “Wow, did you see that?” And there he was, sitting next to me many years and visits ago, in Jimmy B’s Beach Bar the bar with the best view and of course with Betty and her famous sunset shooters. So we spent several hours together talking about virtually everything, personal, political, historical topics, different life styles in our countries etc. We both had the feeling to have known each other for a long time. And we went to eat ‘peel and eat” shrimp,’ first time for me.

I wondered what all those people thought about ME… that German middle-aged school teacher riding her bike up and down the beach, doing her shopping with the bike, involving people in conversation or getting involved. A typical European tourist?”

Well, I did not consider myself “typical’. I had my post office box, a card for the library, went to Aerobics twice a week, read the local papers, wrote letters to the editor, went to public meetings where I got to know Anita Cereceda, the first and present Mayor of the town of FMB. And I was able to stay here for almost 3 months enjoying every single day. Thanks for all the interesting conversations, acquaintances and friends 20 years ago and NOW.

Elke Lamberti

Elke Lamberti was in FMB during her sabbatical in 1995-96 when she wrote most of this article about some of the people she met then. She also published a book and wrote several articles about gender problems in education. She retired 13 years ago and several articles about gender problems in education. She retired 13 years ago and comes back to her favorite island every year in November and December.