Deb and I had a day out in Ft. Myers yesterday and it brought back memories. The city is about 80 miles south and west of us here in Sebring and although Deb wanted to buy a specific item, I just went along for the ride.
Deb had made a note of the exact directions to where she wanted to shop first and so I didn't need to use the large map we keep in the truck. But part way there, I just picked it up anyway as I wanted to see if I could remember how I got to Ft. Myers the first time back in 1989 when I was visiting Florida, and America in fact, for the very first time.
I'd flown into Orlando and immediately headed East to the Space Coast to visit the Kennedy Space Centre. After drooling there for MANY hours, I drove down the East coast over the next few days and ended up in Miami. After getting my fill of that city, I decided to visit The Keys some other time and headed West across the state to start up the West coast. This involved using US41 which runs across from Miami on the East coast, to Naples on the West and on up north to Tampa.......and goes right through Ft. Myers.
I used to think US41 was the infamous Alligator Alley road (where it crossed the state and took you through the Everglades) but I now know it's the Tamiami Trail and Alligator Alley is the cross state portion of I-75 which runs parallel to US41 but a bit further north. Ah well.
Anyway back in 1989 I drove into Ft. Myers on a hot summer's day and although I was capturing just about everything on a huge bulky full size VHS camcorder in those days, I don't have the footage here with me and so am relying on my (vivid) memories of the events which followed.
Entering Ft. Myers, I remember the large wide multi lane road (US41) with numerous retail properties set back on both sides. I came to what I now know to have been a strip mall but in those days that name was unknown to me. I'm not sure how I spotted this specific store in time to pull into the parking area but in any case, I was suddenly outside a gun store - something we just don't have in the UK. I just HAD to go in.
Once inside, my jaw hit my chest right away and rarely made contact with the top of my mouth the whole time I was there. There were guns everywhere - in glass display cases, strapped to the walls, even hanging from the ceiling. Ok it WAS a gun store I hear you say. What did I expect ? Well never having so much as SEEN a hand gun in real life, I'd no idea what to expect.
I had the place to myself and in no time at all was showing my inane tourist ignorance of all things relating to firearms. The owner was mildly amused and was happy to tell me how easy it was to get buy a gun in America in general and then specifically in Florida. I think the criteria back then was pick your weapon of choice, wait a few days for some checks to be done and pick it up when these were done.
Now when I say, weapon of choice, I mean just that. Forget a piddley little Saturday Night Special (see, I've learned a bit since 1989). Forget a trivial AK47. Up on the wall my eye was taken by something that resembled a short piece of down pipe from the guttering of a roof which was placed horizontally for display purposes.
I discovered this 'down pipe' was in fact an M72 LAW (Light Anti-Tank Weapon) and the store owner calmly told me anyone could come in off the street and buy it. By now we were chatting like pros and being a movie buff even back then, the only gun name that sprang to mind was the .44 Magnum as used by Clint Eastwood in the Dirty Harry movies. "The most powerful handgun in the world" was his catchphrase in the original movie when pointing it in the classic scene uploaded here on YouTube.
To give you some idea of it's 'power', here is a good 20 second clip showing someone firing it for the first time on a gun range. The first 'shot' is to get him used to squeezing the trigger and so there is no bullet in the chamber. But the next time......well see for yourself.
I think the sound of it being fired was enhanced in the movie with lots of extra bass or something to give it an even more impressive BOOM factor but the recoil is what's impressive.
I wanted to see one but there were none on display so I asked the owner if he had one anywhere in case I had missed it. He said he had his own and proceeded to get a gun case from behind the counter and placed it up on the glass top for me to see. Once opened, I saw this HUGE handgun set into a foam casing with all the usual cleaning bits and pieces and a few bullets also set into their own little foam areas.
I lifted out the gun and it was as heavy as it looked. I held it at arms length but didn't even want to pull the trigger and replaced it very carefully into it's foam bed as if it would suddenly go off all on it's own.
I was not, and still am not, a gun person.
I asked the owner if I could bring in my camcorder and do some filming and he said, sure. After getting footage of the store, I set the camcorder down on the far end of the counter so it was pointing back along towards me with the front of the store, and it's door, behind me. With it still running, I picked up a few guns and 'played with them' so I'd have footage of it all for posterity.
I was such a tourist.
The owner had given me some sort of impressively large semi automatic or fully automatic gun (I've no idea of these terms btw but need to get across that it wasn't a little hand gun) and in full view of the camcorder, I had it to my shoulder in full firing mode. I'd swung it to the right of the owner just as the door bell went and someone entered the store. It was the morning mail and in this case, it was being delivered by a mail woman. (ok that sounds suspiciously like an oxymoron if ever I heard one). At the sound of the bell to my left I reacted instinctively and swung my body around to see what was happening and of course the gun went with me - and ended up being pointed directly at the owner. Opps.
I think you can picture the scene. Enter mail woman to see someone pointing a weapon at a gun store owner ! It wasn't looking good for the Brit. My arrest and trial flashed before me. I'd have to plead temporary insanity or claim diplomatic immunity. Hell our countries have that 'special' ralationship after all so lets bring that into my defence.
But she never batted an eyelid, as we say. She said hi to the owner by name, placed the mail on the counter near him, said the classic "have a nice day" to him and turned around and left the store. I cracked up laughing (and with some nervous release of tension) and as the store owner hadn't even noticed me pointing the gun at him, I explained what had happened and why there was an expanding pool of slightly yellow liquid on his floor.
He said she was used to seeing customers pointing guns all over the place in his store and wouldn't have given me a second glance. I wasn't convinced and suspecting she was now calling for a SWAT team to descend on the store, I left the gun on the counter, picked up the camcorder, said a speedy thank you to the owner and shot off up US41 in my rental car and didn't stop looking in my rear mirror until I reached Tampa. I was in the clear !!
So yesterday I'd have loved to have found the store and gone in again.......but sadly we never went far enough south to get there.
Probably for the best. There might have been a faded wanted poster up on his wall from 1989 but then again, looking back on photos of how I looked 18 years ago, I think the present me would've been safe enough.
"Well, do you feel lucky, punk" ?
"Actually Mr. Eastwood, I do. I really do"