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Trouble in Cedar Key: 'Oh well, that's okay...'

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By Gene Benedict

Some years past, not that long back, there were three guys that enjoyed tripping together, Charles, Ed, and I. We all lived in the greater Atlanta area. Charles worked on his own under the auspices of a property insurance sales organization. He had the look of a professional and he dressed the part. Except at play, he wore a business smile, a white shirt and tie, well groomed, a hair cut once a week, with an expensive looking pair of glasses without which he couldn't see. When at play, his casual clothes were a cut above the norm. He seemed always to have a wad of cash in his pocket.

Ed had a company of his own. He was the only employee. He did technical placement for a living. He was a headhunter. His specialty was placing engineers with instruments and controls expertise into jobs in industry. Clients were Fortune Five Hundred companies. Ed was the oldest of the three, stately, with a full head of white hair. He wore casual clothes, not really so new, though he did have a suit from the sixties that he used when the occasion required it. His office was in his home, or his home was his office. You get the point. Ed seemed to be broke all the time. I think he spent more time counseling people out of work than in placing them in jobs. He was know as "the sage."

I was starting a control systems engineering company. I left the big companies because they had too many non-sensical rules that had nothing to do with engineering or providing a service or making money. I had a few good engineers and associates with excellent salaries, high performance bonuses, and if earned, a piece of the company. I wore what I wanted. I drove big cars because I liked them, I was the youngest of the group. Perhaps you'd say, the most adventuresome. But that was not so. Sometimes I had money in my pocket, but usually not.

The group had very little in common. I can't tell you how we got to know each other. We didn't hang out together. We all liked Ole Miss football though, so we went to a few games together. We never missed a Georgia-Ole Miss game whether in Athens or in Mississippi. The journey was important. We were all single. While Charles always seemed to be meeting his next wife, neither Ed nor I were into the pursuit. We did imbibe a bit from time to time, Charles maybe a lot.

Charles and Ed were both Mississippians. And if you've been around Mississippians much, sooner or later they discover they know in common at least one, if not many Mississippians. At one point, Charles taught at Ole Miss. And Ed, who studied under Thomas Wolfe and knew Eudora Welty, was a graduate.

Well, one trip for the three came about when Charles mentioned he'd just signed up a chain of filling stations, full service, with a group insurance policy. He needed to take pictures of one in a small town in Alabama. Why not use the advantage of an expense paid trip to have some fun. A one-day trip turned into a three-day weekend.

We decided to go to Gulf shores. Ed called his sister in Picayune. It turned out she was not busy but was tending to family in Mississippi. So Ed decided to ride with us to the Mississippi border, have his sister pick him up, and meet us back at the border Sunday. Two days later. Ed would be missing a couple days, but oh well, that was okay.

The trip was on. We took a large cooler, iced down so we'd not get thirsty. And we were off.

What a trip. After dropping Ed, Charles and I went to Gulf Shores. First stop was in the old town to see a girlfriend of Charles' in the real estate business. Charles didn't know till we showed that she had remarried. Nonetheless, she set us up for the weekend in a three-bedroom condo overlooking the Gulf at unbelievable rates. Charles partied. I walked the shore, read, wrote and joined him occasionally for a little partying. As the evenings wore on, I went to the condo early. How many times can you have the same conversation over and over again, each time with someone else? Charles came in late, he couldn't seem to get comfortable. I think he tried out every bed in that place including the living room couch.

It was Sunday and time to leave. Charles was having a tough time repacking, being that his stuff was all over the condo. I was ready hours before him. Finally we got off. We met up with Ed at the border and headed back. The cooler was empty and out of ice. And it was Sunday, blue laws and all. Not much was open on Sundays. Oh well, that was okay.

Things picked up again. Finally in late afternoon, we found the small town with the filling station that Charles needed to photograph. Out with the camera, great shots under the setting sun. The camera was out of film... The station was closed. The whole town was closed, it was Sunday. That's when Charles said, "Oh well. That's okay. I know a station in Atlanta just like this one..."

You know, that was some years back. I've lost track of Charles. Last I heard, he was sick and had remarried. Ed is lost, I think somewhere in Mississippi. I can't find him in Atlanta. We've all lost touch. We had some great times together. Those times are gone. But, "Oh well - that's okay..."

E-mail: tnckgebe@yahoo.com