Trouble in Cedar Key: Crossing Number Four

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By Gene Benedict

Crossing Number Four Bridge, that's what this is about. Number Four Bridge means lots of things to many people. Crossing Number Four to most locals means going to the mainland, leaving the Cedar Keys. Reasons locals cross Number Four Bridge vary. Florida is on the other side. The Cedar Keys are here.

I had lunch today with Claude. Claude is known as the oldest teenager on the Keys. He owns a Harley and he'd often don his leathers and cross Number Four. Usually, he had a local lady with him. She also wore leathers. He retired his bike after seventy-five years of accident-free riding. His sense of balance was getting uncertain. He still dresses often in black and he's never seen without his bandana. "I keep it on my neck so my neck will stay warm. And it eases the pain." It's a style he won't soon part with.

Today he wore a tee shirt depicting the Republic of Cedar Key. I remember that shirt and had one of my own for a while. By the time I got it worn in, broke in, using scissors and such, it was near about worn out. I've lost track of it. It was a limited edition, maybe thirty in number, printed by a local, Larry the barber. Larry was living proof of the legendary saying that a lot of local folks couldn't make it on the Florida side of Number Four Bridge. He and his wife, Cindy, left to live elsewhere more than once, but they always came back. Larry left for good the last time. He passed on somewhere in South Florida.

Then there's Luke. He sailed into Cedar Key with an uncle and his uncle sailed back out. That was so long past, no one remembers. Luke is originally from Colorado. For years he let us all know that. He's a good carpenter, good with a hammer and a saw, and he's worked, I believe, on every building on Dock Street and elsewhere in town. He's quite an artist. Pretty much everything he needs he gets locally. He never needed a vehicle.

With no reason to cross Number Four Bridge, Luke let his license expire. He didn't need one. He talked of one day building his mom a house on the Cedar Keys. Then she called saying she was flying into Louisiana. He was to pick her up in a rental car. His mom had planned a trip for the two of them along the Gulf and Atlantic Coasts.

Luke was suddenly in a hurry to get a Florida driver's permit. Soon he would be crossing Number Four to go on an extended trip with Mom. To say he was a bit apprehensive would be an understatement. Some of us took him to Florida to get certified and to give him some driving practice prior to the driving test.

The written test went well. Now he was nervous and out of time. A couple days before he was to meet Mom, Luke and I borrowed a car and drove to Cross City. He took the test and passed. The trip with Mom went as scheduled and her house is built. Luke has a truck. And, yet today, as before, he prefers to stay on this side of Number Four Bridge.

Some measure a lifespan in years. Some of us measure ours by the number of times we cross Number Four Bridge. For those who work elsewhere, there is an automatic waiver so that their work-related goings and comings don't count. If one is real good, some of the past trips might even be excused.

Even hurricanes will be weathered here on the Cedar Keys. But then again, if we see Jim Cantori of the Weather Channel walking down the street, we just might reconsider and cross Number Four Bridge to higher ground somewhere in Florida. But that's a big if...

In the meanwhile, my life span seems to get longer over time. How about years? Let's talk about that this week while we're out there looking for Trouble in Cedar Key.

E-mail: tnckgebe@yahoo.com