One of the things I will now insist on showing anyone who comes to Miami is John Pennekamp State park. It’s only an hour and a half drive to Key Largo, but I hadn’t been there since I was a kid and my parents took me on the glass bottom boat ride.
Last weekend Cousin Billy was in town all the way from New York City and I’m grateful that we along with my brother made the effort to get down there.
We hopped aboard the Snorkel Express, a large canopied boat captained by one of those overtanned comedians you come across at all Floridian tourist attractions. If his punchlines didn’t revolve around drinking alcohol, you can be certain they would involve his lack of concern for your safety.
The Snorkel Express cruised past the mangroves with the egrets wading in the water. Twenty minutes later we were five miles past the shore just shy of international waters, so you had to leave your cocaine and prostitutes at home, but since this was Florida you could bring concealed weapons.
We put our fins, snorkel, and mask on and dove into the warm water. There were about fifty other snorkelers who stepped off the anchored boat, so I was worried I would constantly be swimming into them, but fortunately the Atlantic Ocean is large. As I kicked toward the reef, I saw my first fish, a yellowtail snapper. Then a rainbow parrotfish, who get their name because the spectrum of colors on their scales puts to shame both rainbows and parrots. Then I was in the reef. It was only a few feet deep, but there are other ways to measure depth. The vibrant colors and full range of plant life blew me away. Fish with the most insane fluorescent hues could still find backdrops where they could camouflage themselves from the barracudas lurking at the edges.
As I swam underwater and observed the fish I had time to think. If everyone could make a pilgrimage out here our culture would convert toward vegetarianism. If you watched the fish for long enough, you could not deny that not only do they fear pain, but that they also have personalities. Some fish are bullies, while others are playful. How could any rational person not value the life of a fish if they observe it as a conscious creature?
When our time was up I swam back to the boat and even though the midday sun and the swimming should have zapped me of my energy, I felt alive with hope for humanity. But as the boat took us back I heard a couple people ask the captain the same question. “Is there a restaurant nearby where I can get a good piece of fish?”