I should be writing this entry on the first day in March, but it’s leap year so I’m not. I’m writing it on February 29, 2016. You see, every four years a day is added to the shortest month of the year—that month being February—in order to keep the Gregorian calendar aligned with the Earth’s revolutions around the Sun. The question is: Why?
It’s all in the math. It takes the Earth a little over 365 days to circle once around the Sun (365 days, 5 hours, 46 minutes, and 45 seconds to be exact). It’s important to be exact because if you left it at 365 days, you’d lose almost six hours each year. At the end of a hundred years, you’d lose almost a full month (twenty-four days, once again to be exact). So, every four years we add an extra day to make up the difference, which means that the next leap year will be in 2020. Just think presidential election cycle: when America picks a new president, the whole world leaps (and holds its breath). But not every four years.
If that were the case then we’d be following the Julian calendar (invented by the Roman general Julius Caesar). The Julian calendar had only one rule: any year divisible by four was deemed a leap year. But this approach produced too many leap years. So, fifteen-hundred years later the Gregorian calendar (named after Pope Gregory XIII) booted the Julian calendar out of office, making the Gregorian calendar the internationally accepted timekeeper. The Gregorian calendar has two very important rules. The first rule you know: the year has to be evenly divided by four. The second rule you don’t (probably because it was dreamed up by some reclusive theoretical mathematician): if the year can be evenly divided by one hundred, it is NOT a leap year, unless the year is also evenly divisible by four hundred; then it is a leap year.
Ouch. My head is spinning.
Don’t worry, that won’t happen again until the year 2100 (and again in 2300 and 2500 ad infinitum). But this is not what this entry is supposed to be about. It is supposed to be my arrival in Daytona Beach, because today, February 29, 2016, that’s exactly where I am—Daytona Beach. But let me backtrack a little.
After leaving Chicago, I arrived at my sister’s house two days later (I could do it in one long, thirteen-hour day, but it’s a much nicer drive spread over two days). I’m not there long, only over night. In the morning we head out for a six- or seven-hour drive to Panama City. That’s where our stepsister, Wendy, is spending the winter with Charlie, her husband of forty or more years. Wendy should have showed up in Dragonfly, my childhood memoir. After all, the mean stepfather in Dragonfly was none other than Wendy’s natural father. But she and her sisters don’t: it was just too complicated to explain the details of every single relationship. And besides, Wendy being the oldest and I being the youngest, we really didn’t know each other that well.
I’m sorry I didn’t, because in getting to know her over the last few years I learned that she experienced as much of her father’s wrath as I did. It appears he had it in for the extremes: me, the youngest boy, and Wendy, the oldest girl. But Wendy doesn’t like to talk about those dark years too much (unlike me who could go on forever). Instead, she’s created a large and loving family with Charlie. The neo-Freudians among us would say that we create what we lack in childhood: Wendy created a large and loving family, the one she never had but always wanted; I created books because they seemed a better refuge than human relationships. In any case, it’s not something we talk about too much.
I head out bright and early the next day, leaving my sister with Wendy and Charlie, and head toward Daytona Beach. It’s a good eight hours or more to Daytona, easily done in one day. And immediately I start to kick myself that I didn’t plan on two. That way I could have stayed overnight in St. Augustine, my old surfing haunt. But when I get to St. Augustine, via I-10 and I-95, it’s late afternoon and I want nothing to do with my old haunt. It’s crawling with tourists (February is still high season for snowbirds down for the winter). Traffic through Old St. Augustine is at a standstill. Sailboats keep the drawbridge up way too long. And the beach, once I finally get there, is unrecognizable. Where the local surf shop used to snuggle up against the pier with nothing else around, now there are condominiums as far as the eye can see.
The sight pains me and I want to get as far away from it as possible. Soon I find myself on the beach road heading south. I pass Butler Beach, Crescent Beach, then Matanzas Inlet. Soon I hit a lonely stretch of highway south of Palm Coast, around Painters Hill, and all my memories of living in Florida as a teenager and young adult come flooding back all at once, overwhelming me. I didn’t think this trip would be a sentimental journey back in time, but for a brief moment it is. And then I hit Ormond Beach, just north of Daytona.
The condominiums reappear, along with dozens of garishly painted strip malls selling the most useless items known to man. I pull into a parking lot to get my bearings. I’m looking for directions to the Airbnb I rented for the next few days. It’s in a quiet residential neighborhood on the west side of the Halifax River. I find it, take Rt. 40 west over the river, and turn left onto Highway 1. As I head south through a congested commercial strip, I notice something: signs welcoming motorcyclists to Bike Week. A lot of signs. Although I checked the official 2016 Daytona Beach Spring Break website, I didn’t check the dates for Bike Week. I don’t know. It just escaped my mind.
I guess I should have, because… Yep, you guessed it: this year Bike Week runs from March 4 through March 11. Although technically Bike Week doesn’t start for another four days, it’s a big event and there’s a lot to set up. That means of the more than 500,000 bikers expected, a good 100,000 of them are already in town. And I can vouch for it—after playing trivia at the Daytona Taproom with a group of bikers from South Dakota while munching on a quarter pounder topped with grilled mushrooms, Swiss cheese, and hemp seeds.
I guess even bikers like to eat well.