In 1977 I was living down in Tampa, Florida, and working as a salesman for IBM. Well, perhaps “working” is too strong a word… I was employed by IBM as a salesman – yeah, that’s it. I wouldn’t be stretching things too much if I said it wasn’t entirely out of the question for salespeople to take a bit of time off in the afternoon during the slow, hot and humid months of summer. Many an afternoon was spent off Clearwater, sailing Hobie Cats, drinking beer and soaking up the sun while listening to Jimmy Buffett and Pablo Cruse on the radio.
One day when my brother (Kenneth) was visiting from California, a realtor-friend of mine, Fred Snook, called and asked if we’d like to go catch some bay scallops with him on afternoon during the week (couldn’t really do it on the weekend because that would screw up the weekend plans 🙂 Before he could form the question mark at the end of the sentence, I said, “Sure, sounds great – we’ll be waiting for you.” He explained the few details we needed to know: bring swim trunks, fins / mask / snorkel and a pillow case. A pillow case – we going camping or scalloping? He assured me we’d need the pillow case to hold the scallops as we caught them.
Ah, I get it. Now, if you’re like me, you may be wondering right about now, what exactly does a scallop look like, especially when it’s under water. AmIright?
You’re about to find out – just play the first video below and you’ll see what we were hunting and what they looked like under water. I’ll be waiting on the other side of the video for you when you’re done.
Pretty cool, isn’t it? Those little buggers hop around without any plan whatsoever.
Anyway, our afternoon playdate with the scallops arrived and up to my house pulls Snookie (all good ol’ boys gotta have a nickname like snookie, durf, bubba, etc… the movies haven’t actually made that stuff up.) in his Lincoln Mark III with a 15′ aluminum skiff in tow. Turns out we’re gonna be stylin’ before / after we’re divin’… must be good to be a realtor in Tampa.
As we head off, Snookie says we’re driving about an hour north up Hwy 41, then we’ll turn in to the Coast a bit and ease our way through some real Country Southern folks. Ah, having lived in Florida for almost 7 years (interrupted by that Southeast Asia tour, courtesy of Uncle Sam), I’d been around more than a few real Country Southern folks and to tell you the truth, as soon as we turned off 41, I began to feel like I’d hopped on board the Disney Jungle Cruise (gone bad).
Deep South, single lane dirt road, HUGE trees absolutely covered with Spanish Moss and just a trickle of sunlight filtering down. If I remember right, the radio station became fuzzy, too. Seems we drove back in there about 45 mins or so, twisting and turning, lurching and weaving through the ruts in the road… until –finally– there was a clearing up ahead with daylight shining down.
Woo Hoo, we made it!
And then I saw it: tucked off to the side by the edge of the trees was a little ramshackle bait shop / cigarette / whiskey / stump juice (moonshine) kinda place, with just the right sprinkling of local folks hanging around outside.
To get a better picture of what I’m talking about, just watch the next 4 min video and, hey, it’s got a catchy tune that I’m betting you already know! See you on the other side 🙂
Snookie, we make a wrong turn someplace?
Nope, this is the place… let me do the talking.
Ah, I felt better already – Snookie was on the job.
As Snookie headed over to talk to them, my brother and I piled out of the car and walked toward the locals, Fred, and the store. As we neared the group, we heard a bit of laughter and then one of the guys says to my brother and me, Your friend says this is your first time scalloping – you boys sure you know what to do?
Sure, we brought our scallop-whistles!
Lots and lots of guffawing headed our way, then one of them said, Scallop whistle’s? where’d you hear of a thing like that?
Well, I-uz talkin’ to this ol’ boy tuh-other day, tellin’ ‘im we-uz goin’ scallopin’ and he says we’ll need a scallop whistle to catch our limit – and it just so happens he sells ’em, would we like a couple?
Sure, we want to catch our limits so sell us your two best whistles, mister.
Now, I’m not completely sure, but I think one of them started dancing a little jig like you just saw in that video – he couldn’t believe his good fortune to have such a couple of city-boys like Snook, my brother and me fall in his lap.
You know, we sell local scallop whistles, would you like to buy a couple to help you get more of our scallops?
I declined, but thanked him for thinking of us, just the same. About that time, Snookie backed the boat in to the water and we headed out for a few hours of catching bay scallops in the coastal flats North of New Port Richey.
By the time we got back to the dock and pulled the boat out, it was getting late but, as fate would have it, the locals were waiting for us.
How’d you boys do? How’d those out-of-town scallop whistles work for ya?
We did great! (holding up 3 pillow cases absolutely stuffed to the top with scallops) At first we had a tough time getting used to the whistles underwater, but after a few minutes, we figured ’em out, used ’em right and the scallops just swam in to our bags – it was amazing – never seen anything like it.
They were crushed. Absolutely dumbfounded. They’d never heard of such a thing, especially from a carload of fancied-up city boys like us.
After we’d strapped the boat to the trailer and just beginning to drive toward the road back to town, one of them waved to us and said, Hold on there. So we stopped. He came over to the car and said, You boys aren’t from around here so maybe you don’t know this, but there ain’t no such thing as scallop whistles – you was had by that guy that sold you the whistles.
I leaned over Snookie toward the driver’s window (where this ‘ol boy was) and said (with a Cheshire Cat grin on my face), We may be city boys, but even we know there ain’t no such thing as scallop whistles… so, who’s been had?
It took a second or two for what I was saying to sink in, but he smiled and pulled back away from the car saying, You boys have a safe ride home and come back any time ya like.
It’s been over 30 years and I haven’t been back since, scallop whistle or no. I never saw Snookie after I left Florida to return home to California in late ’77. My brother, Kenneth, and I speak on the phone every couple of weeks or so.
In the years since then, I’ve probably made more than 2,000 scuba tank dives and multiples of that free-diving for abalone off California’s North Coast. I’ve taken hundreds of fish, maybe a thousand abalone, hundreds of lobsters and hundreds of scallops, but I’ll tell ya, none of them tasted as sweet as the scallop-whistle catch we brought home that night.
Thanks for visiting, be well and write when you get work.
btw, Pan seems to be doing much better – thanks for asking – and has been helping me complete my book-writing project by spending part of each day in her chair in the shade on the patio while I work. I’ll give her your love.