Remember Eastern Airlines? I do. And I’m forever grateful to the long-gone carrier for transporting me to a new world exactly 35 years ago, a world that I’ve never left. On June 24, 1974, I boarded Eastern Airlines flight 35 in Philadelphia, sat myself in seat 12A, a window of course. Scheduled departure was 900am. The Boeing 727 rumbled down the runway, and two and half magical hours later, a 15-year-old teenager from Philly found himself in Miami, Florida, eager with anticipation of catching his first glimpse of the Florida Keys, wherever they were. I didn’t know. Someone had to draw a map for me on a napkin.
I suppose it was an appropriate start for an expedition about the oceans: Wet. A cold January morning rain pounded the Washington, DC sidewalks as I dashed, carry-on in tow, to catch a ride to the airport. Fortunately, a taxi driver quickly took pity on the umbrella-less, rapidly saturating figure waving his arm on the corner, and, in keeping with DC taxi cab tradition, I was soon in deep and interesting conversation about current events and, of course, politics.
Until that tranquil morning in late June 1974, the sum total of my SCUBA diving experience had been in a landlocked state, in a stifling, moldy indoor YMCA pool in the Philadelphia suburbs and a Pennsylvania quarry, flooded with icy soup-green water. Barely comprehending the new world of pungent humidity, mountainous afternoon cumulus clouds, and lush tangles of flowering succulents I experienced at water’s edge during my first visit to the Florida Keys, I was wholly unprepared later that morning when I found myself seated in sugar-white sand with 40 feet of warm, clear aquamarine water above my head. As impossibly multi-colored fish passed slowly within reach before my wide 15-year-old eyes, my gaze broadened as I marveled at the towering jetties of coral around us, living layer cakes of corals upon corals, brown and mustard rock-like structures, encrusted with brilliant red, violet and orange coralline fans and branches, swaying in the warm, nourishing current and, like eager spring blossoms, reaching toward the dancing sunlight scattered on the surface above. [Read more...]