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Madeleine Begun Kane


For months I resisted my husband Mark's vacation idea -- a Key West trip featuring a drive through the Keys in a rented convertible.

I don't know about you, but I associate convertibles with youth and coolness. And as much as I hate to admit it, Mark and I are quite a bit beyond the former ... and seem to have skipped the latter.

Being a supportive wife, I said: "That sounds great! Let's book it right away."

Okay, I admit it -- I lied. What I really said was:

"Us? Fly to Florida and drive a convertible to Key West? Hahahahahahaha!"

We went anyway, and the trouble began at New York's LaGuardia Airport, many hours before we set eyes on our rental car. We should have known we were in for a rocky ride when the luggage we'd purposely bought to satisfy airline carryon specs, got jammed in the gadget used to decide whether your stuff will fit on the plane. As it turns out, our luggage does conform to airline specs ... assuming the luggage is empty.

The flight was delayed, cramped, and generally miserable -- in short, the usual. When we finally landed in Miami, it was well after midnight. Nevertheless, we remained in optimistic, vacation-anticipation mode, as we lugged our worse-for-wear bags to the shuttle bus stop and waited for transportation to a certain rental company who shall remain nameless. And waited ... and waited ... and waited. We now knew why its rates were cheaper than the others.

For 45 minutes we were taunted by the sight of dozens of competitor shuttles. Meanwhile, we stooped over our baggage and plotted vengeance on the rental outfit, the airline, the travel agent, and everyone boarding the other buses.

Finally, our bus came, and we staggered onboard, took the multi-stop trip, retrieved our buried-under-identical-looking-luggage bags, waited on line, and signed paperwork which I'm pretty sure gave away at least one limb and our first born child.

Mark's fantasy convertible was now in reach, assuming we could successfully wander through the unlit parking lot and locate it.

Why was it so hard to find? We were foolishly searching for a white automobile. The one we rented was white, I suppose, in some former, carwash-acquainted lifetime.

Unfortunately, we were too exhausted to complain or do anything more than coax our bags into a trunk that made airline luggage restrictions seem generous.

For the next half hour I watched Mark try to figure out how the convertible part of the convertible worked, so we could enjoy the balmy, 2 a.m., 40 degree Fahrenheit air.

Mission accomplished, we were off on the first leg of our trip: 3 days in South Beach, where we could walk to everything and feel foolish for paying to rent an unused car.

But we looked forward to the four-hour Key West trek. Soon we'd be driving top down, taking in the sun, enjoying gentle, Florida breezes, and pretending to be cool.

Too bad the weather was a whole lot cooler than we are.

Mark probably wasn't envisioning gale force winds when he dreamed about driving a convertible through the Keys. Nor did his fantasy include the car alarm going off 3 times, while he was trying to load luggage into the trunk.

Despite the weather, luggage hassles, and dirty looks from the hotel doorman, we were off and riding top down. I sat shivering in the passenger seat, bundled up in several layers of tropical attire. Optimistic Mark was at the wheel in rolled up shirtsleeves ... and denial.

"It's sunny out," Mark said, whenever I mentioned the idea of raising the roof or putting on a sweater. He was saying those very words as we began crossing a Miami highway bridge and were struck by a sudden tropical storm.

Ever see a convertible roof turn into a parachute? The combination of wind, rain, and bridge crossing made ours do exactly that. I'm proud to say I never said, "I told you so," as Mark struggled futilely to close it.

As rain poured into the car, I offered to help.

"I can do it myself," Mark insisted, as he steered with one hand and fought the roof with the other.

Success! The top was up. All he had to do was lock it. But a huge wind gust hit, pushing and holding the roof an inch short of closed and sending a waterfall cascading into our laps.

Using brute force, he got it up again, but couldn't persuade it to lock. So he broke down and let me hold the lever closed until we could pull off the road and secure it.

At last, the roof was up and locked ... just as the rain stopped and the sun came out.

"Driving a convertible is really cool," Mark said hours later, as we were approaching Key West.

"You, my dear," I said, "are all wet."

© Madeleine Begun Kane. All Rights Reserved.
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