In my younger and more vulnerable years, my father gave me some advice I’ve been mentally sipping on ever since: “It’s five o’clock somewhere.” As with all my father’s wisdom, the sentiment amounted to a great deal more than what appeared on the surface. Five o’clock isn’t merely something that happens twice a day on a ticking clock, it’s a state of being—it’s living boldly without consequence. And no such man has ever embodied this joire de vivre quite like West Tampa’s resident Parrothead, Jimmy Buffett.

I made my business investing in those ubiquitous merchants of mirth found along all major interstates—chain restaurants. I found myself in West Tampa at the behest of my cousin Daisy, who described the peninsula as the proverbial El Dorado of tropical-themed dining. I figured that if I were to sow my wild oats, I would reap both profit and self-actualization in Cigar City.

I was renting a modest coastal-ranch cottage along the shores of the Gulf of Mexico. To my left, nothing but contaminated water and the emaciated husks of bloodless horseshoe crabs, but to my right—a palace, unlike anything I have seen before or since. The gates were comprised of the finest tiki torches radiating their piquant scents of patchouli and citronella all the way to the Sunshine Skyway Bridge. Two grandiose fountains stood like dueling geysers on the lawn—bubbling forth a crisp amber liquid that I immediately recognized as Landshark Lager. A majestic neon sign blazoned above the entrance simply read, “Margaritaville.”

Attendees were not invited to the Buffett manor—they went there. All of West Tampa’s aristocrats, from Hulk Hogan to the purveyor of OxiClean, would cavort around his twirling menagerie of slushie machines dispensing those frozen concoctions that might keep them hanging on. Every night we’d raise our hurricanes and toast our elusive host. In Margaritaville, a “hurricane” is not simply a destructive meteorological event, but instead, a tantalizing nectar that’s been known to cause similar amounts of property damage. White rum, dark rum, overproof rum, fruits of passion, and a lack of concern for the days ahead all harmonizing in the eponymous glass under the shade of a tiny umbrella.

On the night of his annual “Jamaica Mistaica” soiree, I stumbled my way onto his dock, relieving myself of the evening’s fifth hurricane, when I noticed a throbbing green light reflecting off the side of a steel drum. It must have been the Carnival Cruise ship coming into port, but in my imagination, it seemed grander and more exotic—like a Royal Carribean dreamliner. The mesmerizing fantasy was halted by a booming voice off my right flank: “A little too much relaxation, eh old sport?”

I cocked my head back to place the phantom voice and was met by a pair of kind, yet piercing blue eyes—eyes that might belong to a storyteller or a son of a son of a sailor. Eyes longing to catch that one elusive marlin that swam away decades ago… I knew without knowing how or why that I was staring into the eyes of one James Buffet.

We conversed about everything from our fondness for island escapism lifestyle-evoking music to the Cheesecake Factory. This was the first of many spirited discussions we would share on the circuitous road to becoming good friends. As the summer’s end drew near, the two of us became closer than salt and a margarita’s rim.

We traversed the Gulf in his seaplane, scouring the greater Tampa metropolitan area for that quintessential “cheeseburger in paradise.” His mystery to those in his social circle persisted, but I found myself learning more about the man behind the half-open Hawaiian shirt. He was in love once, she was an activities director on a cruise ship, and rumor had it she had been the model for Coppertone sunblock. He spoke often of her radiant beauty, her penchant for Maui Jim couture, and her lust for frozen cocktails.

You can only imagine my shock when I discovered my dear friend’s long lost beau turned out to be my cousin Daisy. Two souls whose latitudes and attitudes couldn’t be further apart. He, a man who emptied half his liquor cabinet and the whole of his heart into the welcoming throats of West Tampa. And she, a woman perpetually adrift on the lazy river of life, only concerned that the vacancy in her tandem inner-tube be occupied by possessions, not by a partner.

With Buffet back in her life, Daisy spent her afternoons basking in his collection of silk Hawaiian shirts while he admired her from a distance, transporting himself back to the Carnival Cruise ship of his memory. It became clear that everything—the signature cocktails, the gigantic novelty sunglasses, the existence of Margaritaville itself, were all constructed for her attention and pleasure.

Of course, all of this infuriated Daisy's husband Tommy, a man of comparably immense status and heir to the Bahama fortune. This love triangle culminated in a bitter altercation, Tommy and Jimmy opting to run the most destructive gauntlet known to sophisticated men of leisure—the fabled limbo duel. I’ll spare you the more gruesome details, but it resulted with Tommy fracturing one of his vertebrae and Daisy left choosing between him and Buffett. She had fins to the left, fins to the right, but her choice was always going to be Tommy. There is no denying the inevitability of circumstance.

There have been so many five o’clock’s since I last saw Jimmy Buffett that I’d lost count. He disappeared after his confrontation with Tommy Bahama. I spent the rest of my summer numbing the pain of losing a friend with a prescription of spongecake and mai tais (I had lost my taste for hurricanes). On my last night, I stood on the dock in Margaritaville wondering when Buffett first saw the green light of the Carnival Cruise ship—the wonder he must have felt in that moment.

He believed he had come so close to reuniting with his long lost shaker of salt, but the reality he was never strong enough to face, is that it’s his own damn fault. Buffet believed in the green light, the orgastic nostalgia that keeps 50-year-old Boomers grinding on each other in the asphalt parking lots of Camden, NJ, keeping their cups perennially filled with piña colada, keeping them young… until one fine morning—

So we party on, banana boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.

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