The white paint had faded to a dingy gray and was flaking off in large patches, most of the siding should have been replaced years ago, while silently flickering in the grimy window a faded neon “open” sign sputters and blinks out its forlorn message. A collage of stickers from various fishing reel and boating manufacturers peeling along the edges and washed out from long exposure to the Gulf coast sun are plastered across the front door, affixed to the top is a small brass bell intended to announce the arrival of any timid soul brave enough to venture into the shadowy interior; it hadn’t worked in years not that there had been any traffic to announce. Had you bothered to glance up you would see the slightly askew hand painted sign inviting you to enter “Big Dan’s Charters & Day Tours” the bright red letters having faded in sync with everything else and even the gaily colored baby blue boats with their painted on smiles seem melancholy.
If you had ventured through those grimy doors you would find the dim light of the fading late afternoon sun filter through years of accumulated dust and dirt revealing three mostly empty aisles, a scattering of lures, loose hooks, and fishing line lay as if a child had tired of playing with them. Against the back wall a sturdy wooden counter held an old brass cash register, the only bright spot in the dilapidated space, affixed to the wall was a series of navigational charts illustrating the Tampa Bay waters as far south as Venice and North of Tarpon Springs, they were as old as everything else in Big Dan’s and many of the sand bars and channels had long since shifted or disappeared altogether.
On the right side a set of double doors matching those in the front led to a deteriorating dock and the one remaining vessel moored securely to the rotting posts where once had been Big Dan’s fleet of four fishing boats. The stately fifty-three foot Rybovich had been built in nineteen sixty-seven but seemed to fairly glow in contrast to its drab surroundings, every fitting polished, the paint gleaming as if it had just been applied, the rigging perfect, and centered on the transom in dark cherry red with a gold outline “Sally Anne”. Big Dan had dreamed of having his own Rybovich; when this one had become available in the summer of ’76 he had sold two of his other boats and paid cash on the spot for it. Daniel Thomas McSweeney, Jr, “DJ” had turned fifteen earlier that summer and remembered well how excited his father Big Dan had been. Even now so many years later it still seemed a shame he had so little time to enjoy it.
On the left side a doorway leads to the interior office dominated by an old steel desk, a rickety side table and an equally ancient filing cabinet, the only nod to modern convenience is a small flat screen TV perched atop the cabinet, the permanently stained coffee pot on the side table and DJ’s beer fridge humming contentedly in the corner. A half finished can of Yuengling having warmed past the point of sweating resides in a wet ring on the old desk blotter a dozen empty cousins occupy the floor in the vicinity of the corner trash can; all the while DJ snores in the old desk chair, it’s 4:27PM Tuesday afternoon.